How to get and hold attention: stop telling your students to “pay attention!”

Eric Jensen wrote an edifying post about this, which is well worth reading on his site.

In essence, he makes the point that there are much better ways of ensuring attention than asking for it.  Here I have re-produced his tips for making children want to pay attention.  As I mentioned, the original post is on Eric’s site and is an engaging read.

  • Use prediction. Ask students to make a prediction on something related to your content (the process, outcome, circumstance(s), etc.)  BTW…They care more about the outcome. Then help them get vested in their prediction by making the prediction public (“Raise your hand if you believe that …”) Next, increase the stakes of the prediction (“Those that predict correctly will get one free homework pass this month. Now, let’s find out who was right.”) Prediction forces the brain to care about the outcome because we get vested in being right.
  • Use the brief “pause” and chunk technique. Give students a stand up break of 30-90 seconds (the “pause”) to give them mental processing time for the content. It also adds a sense of anticipation or even importance to the content. Brief breaks just to stretch may help focus (Ariga,A. & Lleras,A., 2011). Be sure to also break your content into 5-12 min. chunks (depending on grade level).
  • Prime the learning with small hints, appetizers and teasers ahead of the content to create a pre-attentional bias to the content.
  • Start getting “buy-in” to the content. This is the “hook” that fosters attentional vigilance.  Then, add a strong goal-acquisition to the activity, keeping them vested in reaching the target goal.
  • Do a fast physical activity (like Simon Sez) first to activate executive function areas with the induced strength from the brain’s internal focus-inducing chemical, norepinephrine and working memory ally, dopamine.

How to be an outstanding teacher, or at least have an outstanding ofsted lesson (Paul Dix)

Source – The Guardian website:

1. Step back and look at your teaching space, does it scream outstanding?

2. Meet the children at the door and talk to them about their prior learning as they walk into the room. Show that you know them, know where they are in their learning and know what they need to do as they step over the threshold.

3. Have a first five minutes that creates curious, questioning, engaged children. Cheesy ‘starters’ are old hat and won’t stand out from the crowd.

4. Teach and rehearse 2/3 amazingly well drilled routines that you can click into at a moments notice.

5. Ensure that children leave with an idea/target/question/task. Use writable wristbands or stickers or writing notes on their arm. Show the inspector that children literally carry their learning with them.

6. Take small risks alongside the big ones. Wait the extra few seconds for an answer, show a passion that risks spilling into over excitement and give time to self organised work.

7. Make learning obvious and on show. Give time for thinking and self study but have an active collaborative outcome that demonstrates what has been learned.

8. Prime your trickiest student to demand ‘flipped’ homework at the end of the lesson as if their life depended on it!

Whole Brain Teaching 2

I have relaxed into the Class-Yes and the children now respond brilliantly to this, regardless of activity, noise level etc.  Next step for me and the class is to improve Teach-OK, as this dwindled slightly, after initial enthusiasm.  The partner teaching and choral response aspects fit well with Read-Write Inc and Maths Makes Sense, both of which are working extremely well in our school.

Over the weekend I read about the very promising AfL technique known as Pose, Pause, Bounce and Pounce!  In this, teachers refrain from playing “ping-pong” with questions and answers, instead playing “basketball” drawing out evaluative responses from other pupils.  For example:

  1. The question is posed to the whole class
  2. Thinking / reflection time
  3. Throw the “ball”  to Pupil A for their answer
  4. The ball is returned to the teacher, who bounces it whilst all pupils think about Pupil A’s answer
  5. Pupil B is “pounced” on (asked for views and evaluation on Pupil A’s original answer).
  6. Continue to develop as appropriate

I love it!  The depth and breadth of answers is incredible.

Whole Brain Teaching

This works.  It is efficient, it is effective, and the children love it.

We had a huge amount of fun today when we practised the “Class-Yes“.  Everyone ended up smiling and it has to be amongst the most positive of methods of bringing attention back to the teacher.  The children responded instinctively, with enthusiasm and – by the end of the day – as though they have been responding to “class” with “yes” since their first days in reception.

In brief, the teacher says “class” and the children say “yes”.  It sounds simple and it is.  But it is absolutely powerful in shifting their focus from work to the teacher.  There is none of the resentment that some children have when asked to finish their work – possibly out of perfectionism or initial lack of momentum.  They want to comply; in fact, it happens involuntarily after about three or four practice runs.

I can feel it becoming part of my teaching DNA and I cannot wait to demonstrate it to colleagues as part of a series of model lessons I am teaching this term.  It was impossible not to share the technique with others today and I envisage some of them using the idea in their own classrooms.  Also, I really cannot imagine a primary school situation where it would not work on some level.

Teach-OK” was slower to embed, but I can see how it will become a powerful part of my teaching toolkit, especially when allied to the concept of micro-lectures (30-60 seconds of precise, focused input, which the children then teach each other).  I am, it has to be said, impressed!


Whole Brain Teaching techniques

Watch Chris Biffle demonstrate six highly effective call and response and choral response techniques with college students.  This is awesome!  I really can’t wait to try with my class tomorrow.  Intuitively, it seems as if it ought to be both highly effective and fun; the latter should have a positive impact on the former.