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    by Mike McHugh

Establishing A Point of Contact - Part 2
Date Posted: May 29, 2008

The first goal, therefore, of any teacher must be to bring students to the place where they are truly focused in their consciousness on the subject being presented. As previously mentioned, all teachers will have some distractions to contend with as they seek to get their students’ minds properly engaged. In some cases, these distractions will arise from an external source such as outside sights and sounds, interruptions from visitors or other students, uncomfortable seating arrangements, or extremes in room temperature. Not all distractions, however, will spring from external sources. As previously mentioned, young minds have the natural tendency to wander far away, with little or no prompting. For this reason, instructors must try to help their students to abandon those thoughts that would keep them from being able to concentrate on the key point(s) of their daily lessons.

Home educators should incorporate the following teaching strategies as they seek to establish the attention of their students:

  1. Eliminate as many external distractions as possible by doing things like providing adequate lighting, removing unnecessary noise (i.e. phones, radio/television programs, etc.), ensuring that the seating for students is reasonably comfortable, and striving to make the temperature in the study area moderate.

  2. Teachers can also help to ease the burden of their students to stay attentive by limiting the scope of a particular topic to “bite-size” chunks, rather than to a wide spectrum of complex concepts. For example, geography instructors could ask pupils to learn the names of major rivers in one region of a continent, instead of requiring them to memorize all of the rivers located throughout the entire continent.

  3. Very few students have the capacity to pay close attention to a teacher for more than twenty minutes at a time. Particularly in the case of young children, instructors need to limit their lecture time and include other teaching strategies into their daily lessons. Instructors must take care to bring in a healthy dose of variety into their teaching routine if they want to keep youngsters alert. Adding an element of surprise or curiosity into a daily lesson, can often keep students properly focused. Science or history teachers, for example, could bring in objects to the teaching process that students could attempt to identify or operate.

  4. The specific manner in which teachers address their students can go a long way towards helping them stay focused. One important technique, is for teachers to ask personalized questions of their students in order to keep them “on their toes.” General questions have their place, but students will seldom stay alert unless they are trained to anticipate direct questions without formal notice. Students will also benefit from instructors who include plenty of interesting examples, parables, or stimulating word pictures in their efforts to communicate.

  5. As a general rule, teachers will best maintain the attention of students by speaking to them in a “down to earth” familiar language. Teach to communicate, not to impress, and you will find that most students will stay engaged with the instruction you are seeking to give them. As often as possible, select teaching themes that focus upon issues to which students can readily relate. The human mind tends to perk up when it is confronted with subjects to which it is personally acquainted. For this reason, if a teacher desires to explain the destructive power of a tornado/hurricane, he should begin by reminding his students of any instances in which a tornado/hurricane may have struck in their region in the recent past. This is often known as the technique of interest by association.

  6. Educators can encourage students to stay attentive by developing a series of comprehension questions/quizzes that are related to their topic of study that can be answered in a “game show” format. Children love competition, and games styled after shows such as “Jeopardy” or “Wheel of Fortune” can be just the thing to keep children attentive. Spelling bees are simply one other example of how to bring variety and competition into the teaching routine.

  7. Instructors can and should incorporate the use of a wide variety of visual aids and hands-on learning techniques with their students as they strive to get or keep students focused. When placing information or pictures on the blackboard or on hand out materials, teachers must be sure to present such details in an orderly and logical manner in order not to confuse or distract students.

As any teacher can testify, it is comparatively easy to teach those who are ready and eager to be taught. To hold the attention of such students is no major accomplishment. The simple fact, however, is that very few students are willing to approach the learning process with an eager and attentive disposition each and every day. One of the major challenges of teaching, therefore, involves the process of getting and holding the attention of pupils whose thoughts are focused on anything but the lesson of the day.

The intent of the preceding article has been to guide educators to the place where they can begin to incorporate teaching strategies that will empower them to capture their student’s attention without having to resort to brute force. Sooner or later, most teachers come to realize the futility of trying to bully or force children to pay attention during a teaching session. Displaying fits of anger or shouting threats in order to demand attention may seem productive to some teachers, but these tactics rarely, if ever, provide any lasting results. The truth is that forcing children to pay attention through fits of anger and shouting yields only temporary results at best, and often requires instructors to stay angry most of the time in a futile effort to keep their students focused.

It is my prayer that home school instructors will refuse to utilize anger and intimidation as they seek to get their children to pay attention while they are being taught. In place of such false and humanistic schemes, I trust that home educators will choose to be imitators of God as they seek to capture their student’s attention with a “still small voice” of wisdom, creativity, and inspiration.

Copyright 2008 Michael J. McHugh

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Biography Information:
This column is written by the staff at Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights, Illinois. As a pioneer in the homeschool movement, Christian Liberty ministries has been operating a full service, K-12 home school program for over thirty years and a Christian textbook ministry (Christian Liberty Press), since 1985. The mission of Christian Liberty is to provide parents with quality, affordable educational products and services that will enable them to teach their children in the home and to train their children to serve Christ in every area of life. A more extensive explanation of the CLASS home school program can be obtained at www.homeschools.org.
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