Do you ever get the feeling your students aren’t hearing a word you say?
They may be quiet.
They may be looking at you.
But you know they’re not actually listening.
Maybe it’s the blank expressions. Maybe it’s the sighs and yawns.
Maybe it’s the agonizing boredom etched on their faces.
But you just know. You just know that if you were to send them off to work independently or in groups, they’d be lost.
Hands would go up all over the room. Heads would swivel. They wouldn’t know where to begin.
Many teachers experience this frustration every day and for every lesson. In an effort to combat it, they talk louder. They become more animated.
They move around the room, wave their hands around, and repeat themselves again and again.
But it never seems to get any better, and they can’t help feeling like a comedian dying on stage. “Is this thing on?”
One common denominator among those who struggle with getting students to listen is that they talk too fast. They string their sentences together with little break in between.
This can be a tough problem to fix because most teachers don’t realize they’re doing it. In fact, they’ll look you in the eye and tell you that they believe they speak very slowly.
But there is a difference between how you speak in day-to-day life and how best to speak to a room full of students.
Nearly all teachers would benefit from slowing down and inserting lengthier pauses between sentences.
Pausing, in fact, is one of the most important skills for capturing and keeping attention. It can also improve behavior, eliminate boredom, and make your instruction more interesting.
The biggest benefit, however, is that when you give the signal to begin work or follow a direction, your students will know what to do.
There are three strategic ways you can apply pausing to your teaching practice and see immediate, and often dramatic, results.
The first is to make a conscious effort to pause a beat between each sentence. This will force you to slow your rate of speech.
It will make you more thoughtful and more efficient in your word selection, which will result in a more impactful message.
It will also curb any tendency to ramble and think out loud, which are two surefire ways to bore your students.
The second strategy is to occasionally pause right in the middle of a sentence. This too will result in the same benefits as above, but will also help students concentrate on what you’re saying.
It breaks up the rhythm of your speech, which can quickly grow monotonous. It brings students back into the fold whose minds have started to wander.
The third and final strategy is to periodically insert lengthy, even awkward, pauses into your instruction.
This is best done right after an important point.
It gives students a chance to download the information, reflect on it, and consider how it pertains to them. It tells them, without you saying so, that what you just said is especially worthy of their attention.
It also causes students to anticipate and make predictions about what’s coming next—which not only improves learning and retention but also grooves a habit good students do naturally.
Furthermore, a lengthy pause gives you a chance to assess how well your students are following along.
It lets you know when or if to adjust your message, support it, or move on. It gives you the ability to keep your students guessing, off balance, locked in, and on their toes.
A long pause also adds drama and intrigue to even the most mundane topics. It’s a critical element of effective storytelling and can help make your subject come alive for your students.
The Space Between
Using these three pausing strategies will make you a better teacher.
They’ll make you more interesting and likable. They’ll make your words more meaningful and pull your students deeper into whatever you’re teaching.
You’ll lose that nagging, demoralizing feeling that no one is listening.
Curiosity will replace boredom and your students will have the room they need to breathe and think, to reflect and predict.
Instead of slouching down and away in their seats, they’ll lean toward you.
Like a field of daisies reaching for the sun.
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