An Eagle Eye On Attention

Hi and welcome back to Attentionology for K – 5 Teachers!

A recent article by Matt Richtel published in the New York Times offers more evidence that children are becoming less and less able to stay focused in our digital age.  You might try to access Richtel’s writing online; its alarming title and subtitle read: Growing up digital – wired for distraction? Stimuli feared to threaten learning.

Richtel’s article raises the same dilemma that I hear over and over from teachers searching for effective ways to catch and keep K – 5 students attention. In a nutshell, educators worried about decreasing attention levels in students wrestle with how to address the problem. Should we and should parents adamantly limit, and in some cases deny, children’s access to the instant click and switch of technology or should we pour resources into developing more digital-based teaching resources?

The former option clearly has us paddling against the current. The latter option falls into a school of thought expressed by the phrase, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” What’s an educator to do?

I’m of a mind that we should embrace both options, leaning in whichever direction best suits our professional and personal circumstances. That’s why I created my blog; my goal is to offer tools and tricks that take technology into account but are not technology dependent.

Last week I was teaching at a school where a large percentage of the students have very little access to computers either in school or at home. The teachers I worked with teach third grade. It was interesting to me that when I asked each of them individually what strategies currently work best for keeping students on task, they all gave the same answer.

Here it is…a new attention tool that you may adopt for your classroom:

THE EAGLE HAS AN EYE ON YOU – It just so happens that the eagle is the school mascot, the teachers told me. The eagle is a powerful symbol in the US but any bird that is able to fly high can become an attention tool in the capable hands of any teacher worldwide.

Choose the applications you like from the following options:

  • Beak Quiet Please – Explain to your students that your hand represents the beak of the class attention bird. Tell everyone to watch for whenever you hold up your hand, open and close it like a beak. When students see the beak open and close, it’s a cue for them to get quiet.
  • Flying By To See Who’s On Task – When you introduce the class attention bird, tell students that they might see you “flying by” to look for good workers. Demonstrate a bird’s wingspan by holding your arms out as if to fly. This attention trick is best when limited; you’ll know the right moments to use it.
  • Wing Catch – Just before lunch one day, I watched one of the teachers with whom I worked last week, walk around the room “catching” students who looked ready to line up for the cafeteria. She made a motion with her arms as if they were wings turning inward to catch prey, but her voice was gentle as she told students what she was doing. They responded quickly in a positive way.

Talk about high-tech vs. low-tech! The above descriptions of using a bird as a classroom symbol for attention is about as low-tech as you can go. Yet, I witnessed the power of this tool.

We can say for certain that attention-ology strategies that call on students AND teachers to use their imaginations stand a good chance of success.

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.
Quick tips for common classroom conundrums: K-5
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Solution: Show toy cars and pretend to make them zip across a page, telling the class that good writing includes action words (verbs) that have "zip." Ask the class for examples of "zippy" verbs like zoom, race, flash, rush, etc.

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