Tonal Attention Tool – A Tambourine

Hi and welcome back to Attention-ology for K – 5 Teachers!

I remember visiting a class of fourth grade students a few years ago and noting how well the teacher commanded her class’ attention with her guitar. We had about five minutes until I was expected to begin teaching writing that afternoon so I had an opportunity to sit in the back of the classroom and listen to her wrap up a math lesson with a musical recipe for success. 

This creative teacher had written lyrics about the division of numbers – simple lyrics that reinforced the basic concepts – to help students remember them. She sang as she played the guitar and invited the students to sing along, repeating the lyrics after her. I watched their faces and realized that her music was offering her students a positive association with math instruction. Would that I had that when I was in school! (Math has never been my best subject.)

I sat there wishing that I knew how to play the guitar (and better still, how to sing as well as this teacher!) and then it hit me – I could play a tambourine instead. My tambourine is easy to transport and no extensive musical talent is required to shake it and make it into an effective attention-getting tool! 

It’s true – I don’t use my tambourine to help teach any specific subject, the way the guitar-playing teacher does,  but I do use it to catch and keep students’ focus during instruction time. You can play a tambourine, too; it’s easy to shake!

The history of the tambourine plays into its power to catch and keep attention. This untuned percussion instrument dates back to most ancient civilizations in Europe and Asia and is associated with joy and victory.

When I introduce my tambourine as an attention-signal in school, I make a connection between the history of the tambourine and learning for my students to consider adopting into their own thinking.  I offer the idea that getting a good education is a personal victory and the best learning is full of joy.

How exactly do I use the tambourine as an attention tool? I set it on a desk or table near where I’ll be standing to teach and announce to my class that the tambourine will serve as a signal to re-focus if we need to do that today. I demonstrate the sound I’ll make with the tambourine to cue the class to hush for a moment when they hear it. That sound begins with a rhythmic shaking of the metal discs around the instrument’s circle of wood followed by a loud tap on the top of the tambourine that abruptly ends the sound altogether.

It’s the sudden stop of sound that catches the class’ attention.

The ability teachers have to easily control the sound level of a tambourine helps make this acoustic instrument the powerful attention tool it can be. Shaken gently, the tambourine is like a whisper. Popped on the stretched leather top of the instrument, the tambourine is like a shout. Mixing up the sound level keeps students alert to your work.

Whispering is a powerful attention tool. Special education teachers who work with students with emotional and behavioral problems report that children often shut off when teachers shout or yell.  Whispering, they say, commands much more attention, because the children have to really listen to hear.

I’ve seen special education students, as well as those in so-called “regular” classrooms, respond attentively to the whisper and shout of the tambourine because the instrument offers them joyous moments during the school day.

Remember, you don’t need to be a magician to work magic in instructional settings!

Talk with you next week,

BarbaraThe Lovable Poet

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Barbara Cleary has been serving as a resource to hundreds of educators for more than 25 years. An award-winning writer, producer, teacher, and trainer, Barbara’s focus is on offering easy, fun tools and tricks that support K-5 curricula and assist teachers with classroom management.
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