by Mike McHugh
One of the chief enemies of learning is distraction in the minds of pupils. A lack of adequate attention during times of instruction strikes at the heart of learning and causes a multitude of problems for both teacher and student. On occasion, apathy or a lack of attentiveness in learners can result from illness or fatigue, in which case the best remedy is for the teacher to postpone his lesson until the student is physically ready. Regrettably, however, the remedy for dealing with students who can’t stay focused is not always as simple as having them get a good nights’ sleep. More often than not, students who struggle to pay attention are not merely tired or sick, they are in need of someone to get them and keep them mentally engaged in the learning process. This need can and should be addressed by teachers who have been trained in the fine art of motivating students.
The teaching suggestions listed below will provide teachers with the type of information they need to be more effective in keeping students attentive. These suggestions were penned by John Milton Gregory in 1884, but they continue to provide very relevant guidance to any teacher who is currently endeavoring to keep students motivated and focused.
- Never begin a lesson or lecture until the attention of the pupils has been secured. Study the faces of your students to determine if they are mentally alert. If you feel the need to test the readiness of your students for learning, you may want to ask them a few opening questions to see how quickly they respond.
- Pause during your lesson or lecture if and when the attention of your students is lost, and wait until it is completely regained.
- Never wholly exhaust the attention of your pupils. Stop and take a break as soon as signs of fatigue appear. Permit students to stand and stretch during breaks, or perhaps get something to drink.
- Be sure to adapt the length of the class exercise to the ages of the pupils. The younger the students, the briefer the lesson. Whenever possible, try to ensure that your classroom has plenty of fresh air flowing into it. Students of all ages will stay more alert when fresh air is present.
- Arouse attention when necessary by bringing variety in to your presentation. Be sure, however, to keep the actual lesson points clearly in view.
- Show your students that you are actually interested in the subject matter. Interest and attention often go hand-in-hand.
- Present those aspects of the lesson, and use such illustrations as will correspond to the ages and maturity of the pupils.
- Whenever possible, appeal to the personal interests of your students as you present each lesson.
- Find out and utilize the favorite stories, songs, and subjects of the pupils so as to awaken their interest and attention.
- Try to eliminate any unusual noises that routinely impact the classroom. (This includes cell phones and pagers)
- Be prepared as the teacher to provide students with thought-provoking questions that are at the pupil’s level.
- Make your presentation as attractive as possible, using illustrations, visual aids, and all legitimate devices. Do not, however, let these devices become so prominent that they actually turn into a source of distraction.
- As the instructor, exhibit and maintain true enthusiasm and genuine interest in the material being presented. Consistent enthusiasm is contagious.
- Study the best use of gestures so as to know when and how to use hand movement and eye contact. Students generally respond well to a teacher’s earnest gaze and lifted hand.
It is rather obvious as one considers these teaching tips, that the task of keeping students alert and engaged is not always simple or easy. Caring teachers who employ these teaching strategies, however, will be rewarded with genuine results that can be measured in a marked improvement in student achievement and in an improved attitude toward learning. Instructors who take the time to make their students learning experience more interesting will often discover that they also have less need to discipline students for behavior problems. Good teachers are not lucky, they are good because they took the extra effort to present subject matter to their students in a dynamic and varied manner. If you truly desire to be a more successful teacher, go and do likewise!
Copyright 2006 Michael J. McHugh
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