attention, choices, Student-centered

How Do You Get Kids to Pay Attention?

I see a lot of articles discussing how to get the attention of students and am continually amazed at what these advice pieces seem to miss.  Often the advice includes asking questions, which I agree with if they are the right kind of questions; please don’t ask them what page you are on, that does not count as a great question.  It also includes giving students an incentive “The first 5 kids to buckle down will get to pick what we do next!” Or even to have a vote on something totally irrelevant to snap them out of their boredom; “Raise your hand if you like Christmas!’ 

It is not that I am better knowing, but I shake my hand at all that is missed through these suggestions.  How about instead of bribing or tricking students into pay attention, we offer them learning opportunities that they actually want to pay attention to!

I know most of us are under guidelines for what we need to teach, but, a lot of us also have a choice in how we teach that.  How about we transfer the choice to the students?  How about rather than telling them what to do, we explore it with them, thus creating natural buy-in.  Now I am part of a scripted math program as well and there the rigidity is more noticeable.  Instead of bribing the kids, we work hard and then we get to do more in-depth explorations.  I change it up often, even if it just means having the students move around and we do a lot of $2 whiteboard activities that involves all of the students rather than me standing up in front talking.

The point is; if we want students to pay attention, make it worth their time.  We cannot keep expecting them to pay attention just because we want them to.  Just because we were forced to pay attention in class doesn’t mean we should do the same thing to our students.  It is our chance to not do school to them as it was done to us.  Take it.

2 thoughts on “How Do You Get Kids to Pay Attention?”

  1. I think we forget that the attention span of students is not infinite. Can we really expect them to hang on our every word for seven hours a day? I like to use a lot of humor when I am "lecturing" because I think that it makes the learning more fun. It also helps keep kids paying attention. In my lab I spend very little time giving whole group instructions, I just put the lesson on the blog so they can get started. When I need their attention I say something like, "Hey everybody, eyes on me." Then I wait until everyone has a chance to finish what they are doing. That shows I respect what they are engaged in enough to let them get to a point they can comfortably stop. I actually learned this lesson from personal experience because when I am in the middle of something I cannot disengage myself immediately, I need a few seconds (or minutes) of transition time. We should definitely treat our students like we want to be treated.

  2. Dear will, As always your comment has taught me something as well. I don't give kids the few seconds to let them finish whatever they are doing. Even with my well-meaning signals I expect them to stop right then; what a control freak move that is. Thank you for making me think and grow.

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