Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Keeping the Kiddos Engaged" - A tale of Stamina

Every beginning of the year I swear I brag about my kiddos.
Best. Group. Ever.
They are so engaged, so focused, so quiet!
    blah. blah. blah.
and every year, around November the floodgates explode and I am introduced to an entirely new class.
We get it together, sail through till April - crash and burn right after Spring Break.
REfocus. And end the month of May in style.

Yep, it's pretty much been a pattern.

That is, until this year.
November's "New Class" has already arrived. loud,  unenthusiastic, and severely lacking in focus.
I am happy to report, however, that we are working hard and gaining momentum in our strive toward  being engaged BODY and MIND in the act of learning.
Much of this is thanks to many past November/Spring Break research moments and some trusty tips that all teacher's utilize but sometimes need to be reminded of around this time of year...

Trusty Focus/Engagement Tips I've Collected:
1. Just like we practice stamina with readers, practice your "focus" stamina. When having the students sit on the carpet, have them look at you for 20 seconds (perhaps start with 10 - even that can be difficult for some at first). If someone looks away, start the count down over. I up this till they can focus, undistracted, for 30 seconds. This may seem silly, but it is helpful in teaching their brains to hold onto something for a long period of time before looking away. It is also a great way to get their eyes and attention - just start "10, 9, *.." and there is no need for the "all eyes on me" spiel :0)

2. Create movement moments. I'm not talking brain breaks, while these can be affective in getting students refocused, these are unrecognized moments of movement. Going to the carpet for a quick modeling, standing up and teaching a partner, sitting at their desks and working, back to carpet for more instructions, debriefing while standing in a circle. This keeps students mentally engaged due to the physical stimulus but does not interrupt their mental learning lines.

3. Remind students to track the speaker even when it is not you speaking. For example, Alexis raises her hand to answer a question, Teacher responds, "Alexis - Eyes are on?" Class responds, "ALEXIS" be sure that all eyes are on Alexis - all focus is on the speaker, including physical hands being down and ears listening intently.

4. Teach students some form of hand clapping echo or vocal response - I choose to utilize the shout out "Snapshot" to get students attention quickly for instructions or a lesson. Their response is a unison, "CLICK CLICK" with their eyes on me. This year, due to the lack of focus, I added hands on their heads, however, I do not usually need this much from fifth graders. Whatever you choose, make sure that you require ALL eyes on you and a complete stop to all other activity. If this does not happen, have the students return to their previous activity and do it again until you have all eyes- never wait until they are ready to listen, require them to listen on your command, not their own time.

5. Teach students HOW to cooperate before having them actually cooperate to learn - This year, I had to spend the ENTIRE first week working on team group activities not only to encourage cooperation, establish group norms, and check for agreement, but to practice KINDNESS and COMPROMISE! Boy did this group need it! These particular group activities are not usually "educational" in content - they focus on teamwork, checking for agreement, and most important, failing. .. and trying again :) Remind the kids that FAIL stands for First Attempt In Learning!

6. Create clear and strong independent expectations such as "Ask THREE before me" and NEVER repeat instructions after you have asked if there were any questions. Also, create consistent partner work including, "Come to the carpet when both you and your partner are finished", Turn Eye to Eye Knee to Knee to your partner, Teach your partner, Check for Agreement, and Turn and Talk.

7.  Make sure to eliminate hitchhikers while performing group work. DO NOT have assigned "jobs" such as time keeper, writer, etc.. and WORST - Idea creator! These box students into a role, eliminate thinking from certain kids, place all responsibility on others, and create no cooperation (we've all been in this type of group!). Make sure that when students work together, either in large groups or partners, ALL of them participate in ALL areas equally. Require ALL students to share ideas, write, color, draw, discuss, and share purposefully.

8. Allow for "learning chatter". It is important for students to TALK while learning! To keep a silent classroom all the time is NOT allowing learning, plus it is asking for off task behavior since there isn't a safe time to be comfortable and let go while learning. A loud, chatty classroom is often stressful to many teachers because it feels "out of control." However, appropriate learning chatter is AMAZING when you realize they are discussing their learning! Plus, if you have an effective "call back" system (ringing a bell, clapping, vocal echo) then there is no stress in bringing them back together quickly, focused, and silent.

9. Calling on students randomly without an answer or idea is hard for all of us. Imagine if your Principal put you on the spot at your next staff meeting. It is embarrassing, no matter what age you are. An alternative to "pulling sticks" or calling on the "off task" student is to require ALL students to THINK and respond by either raising their hand, thumb, writing, etc. You may end up only calling on ONE student, but waiting till everyone in the room has an answer tells them that you are interested in ALL students thinking and learning. Remind them to never allow someone else to do their thinking for them. Another idea is to allow students to build off of each other or aid each other when called on. For example: Billy is called on but has part of the answer - ask someone to "expand" or "build off of" Billy's response. Judy is called on but does not have the answer - allow her to "pick a friend" The friend then talks to JUDY and Judy then repeats to you what the friend shared.

10. POWER TEACHING. Enough said. Now, I personally do not utilize the entire system. As always, whatever works for you and your students is what you do. What I like about the system and use is the "TEACH" 'OKAY" and call back "Class Class" "Yes, Yes" I also changed the mirrored words to a simple "MIRROR" with the hand in front of my face so the kids know I want them to repeat what I am about to say. I explain this to show that you can use any system any way you want to help your kiddos be more engaged, focused, and learning :)

Sources: 
*My mother. The greatest teacher I know.
*http://www.edutopia.org/classroom-student-participation-tips
*Teach Like a Champion Professional Development Book
*Teacher Channel
*Personal experience - 4 years of trial and error

What are some of your best ENGAGEMENT MANAGEMENT tricks??? 
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