The ability to ask for and receive your students’ attention is crucial.
It’s crucial because it saves precious learning time. It improves listening and performance.
It allows you to give instruction anytime you need to and know that it will be heard and understood.
It’s also a sign of a well-run classroom.
The good news is that it isn’t difficult to teach.
It isn’t difficult to groove the habit of politely responding to your call for attention within just a second or two.
It can even be a lot of fun.
Step 1: Explain why.
It’s good practice to explain why what you’re asking of your students is important and worth practicing—in all areas of classroom management.
This is a critical step in motivating them to not only go along with your expectations, but to agree with them on the basis that they make the classroom better and more enjoyable.
This underscores the importance of selling not just your lessons, but anything and everything you want your students to be able to do well.
Step 2: Choose a signal.
Many teachers prefer train whistles, bells, and other manufactured sounds to signal for attention.
And although these can work fine (as long as you remain in the classroom), your voice is a better option—because it will help develop the habit of listening attentively whenever you speak.
It will develop the habit of consistently following your directions.
It’s an act of respect that will affect how they view you as the leader of the classroom. I recommend a simple: “Can I have your attention please?”
Step 3: Expect an immediate response.
The biggest mistake teachers make is allowing students more time than they need to respond. This is key.
When you frame your expectations in any terms other than immediate, your students will push their response time back further and further.
The result is that you’ll be waiting for their attention for increasingly longer periods of time until, at some point, they just won’t bother.
By expecting your students to be looking and listening to you before you even get to the end of your sentence, you’ll never have to wait and rarely have to reteach.
Step 4: Model it.
Your students need to see exactly what giving you their attention looks like. To that end, sit at a student’s desk and pretend you’re working independently or as part of a group.
You may also want to model other common scenarios like, for example, if they’re up and getting a tissue or playing a learning game or rotating through centers.
Have a student play the part of the teacher while you engage in the activity. Upon their signal, stop what you’re doing, turn your body to face them, and listen without moving.
Step 5: Make practice fun.
Practicing routines and expectations with a spirit of fun will always result in greater buy-in.
If you give your students something silly to say while they’re pretending to work in groups, or engaged in other scenarios, learning will be faster, deeper, and longer lasting.
Any nonsensical phrase will do. In the past, I’ve used “hey, hey, whaddya say,” “murmur, murmur,” and “blah, blah, blah,” as well as a few others. The goofier, the better.
Allow them to talk for 30 seconds or so, and then ask for their attention. Practice until they’re able to be still, silent, and looking at you in less than two seconds.
It’s best to put the routine into play as soon as possible.
Release your students to work on their group projects or gather science materials or anything else that causes them to get up and move about or talk to each other.
Wait no more than five minutes, and then give your signal.
If they don’t get it right, if they don’t respond exactly as they were taught, then run through another round of practice. Send the message that you really do mean what you say.
Nailing down this one routine is important because it makes everything easier and affects so many areas of learning and classroom management.
It saves loads of time, improves listening, encourages group responsibility, and allows you to have instant and total control of your class anytime you need it.
It’s correlated with respect, politeness, and the pursuit of excellence.
It’s worth getting right.
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