Maintaining student focus can be a bit of a challenge. Talking and keeping students focused are a daily concern for many teachers (myself included).  Having a well managed and organized classroom is the key to a successful learning environment.  I hope that you are able to use some of the ideas listed in these pages. If you have suggestions for Maintaining Student Focus that could benefit another teacher, please send me an email.  Not all suggestions will make it onto the website, but your time and thoughtfulness are appreciated.  Please be sure to put "Maintaining Student Focus" in the subject line.
Thank you,
Mrs. McDavid 

 

Maintaining Student Focus
How to Get Their Attention & Control Talking

Maintaining student focus in the classroom is a troublesome area whether you've been teaching for years or are just starting out.  The number one problem in the classroom is "talking".  What can you do to maintain student focus and control talking in the classroom.  If you want students to sit quietly and not talk, then you are in for a long ride.  Students need to talk, especially young students.  Talking is a necessary tool in acquiring information.  There is no better way for students to understand what they are learning that to discourse with another student....to share ideas...to discuss what it is they understand to be true.   Talking only becomes a problem when it negatively impacts instruction.  

First, ask yourself, when are students talking?  Are students talking during instruction, while your are giving instructions, during work time, or are they talking about a project?  It is okay for students to talk while they work.  They may not always be talking about the work at hand, but as long as they are focused on their work and it does not impose upon someone else, then talking is okay.  Although off-task talking is acceptable, talking off-task for too long is not acceptable. Should a student or a group of students talk off-task for too long, simply walk over to them and ask them to share what they have been working on.  Students are immediately back on task and no-one has been singled out.  In regards to noise level, students can be taught to use a one-inch voice (a sound just above a whisper) so that they do not interrupt the learning environment for someone else.  If students are talking during instructional time then this can present a problem.  Students need to learn when it is appropriate to talk and when it is necessary to listen.  

The following techniques are tools that can be administered for teaching students when it is appropriate to talk and when it is necessary to listen.

My Time....Your Time
This approach teaches students that when the teacher talks or gives a signal it is "My Time" (the teacher's time) and students are to listen and be attentive.  "Your Time" (the student's time) teaches children that there will be a time set aside for them to talk, discuss concepts, and complete work without disrupting the learning environment.  During "My Time" students are to be silent, eyes are to be on the teacher, and students are to be listening.  During "Your Time" students may complete class work, group assignments, get supplies, or sharpen pencils.  Be specific.  Inform students of the things they can do during "Your Time".  When using this approach follow through on consequences.  Should someone talk during "Your Time" there should be a swift penalty.  For example, when a student talks during "Your Time" quickly correct the student by saying "I expect everyone to be quiet and listening when I am talking" then give the student a short time out (3-5 minutes away from the group).  Be consistent with the consequences you enforce.   

Walk the Room
The best approach to classroom management is monitoring your students and giving praise for a job well done.  When students begin a task it is important for the teacher to walk the room.  Be sure to stop by each student's desk and acknowledge their progress.  It may sound like it takes a lot of time, but it is really quite simple.  Encouraging a student can be as simple as a pat on the back, a thumbs up, whispering "good job" or "WOW!", or a quick phrase of affirmation...."I like how you remembered to write neatly" or "I like how you followed the directions".  Children love to hear that they are on the right track. This is also a good time to listen in on student conversations and monitor the work they are doing.

Use Signals
Many times behavior disruptions can be quickly corrected through the use of signals.  As a teacher it is important to develop signals that allow you to tell a student that behaviors are unacceptable. 

Quiet Fingers: Gently tap on the student's desk to get their attention and bring them back into focus.

Warning Cards: Quietly walk to the student's desk and drop of a warning card.  To make a warning card, cut brightly colored paper (construction paper or card stock) into a 4 x 6 card.  Label each card with a gentle warning, such as "You Are Off Task" or "Warning", and then laminate for durability.  The student gets the reinforcement they need and you limit disruptions in the classroom. 


You Are Off Task

Stop Talking: When students are talking during instruction, simply stop talking.  Look students in the eye and give a quiet signal such as an index finger over the lips.  Once students are quiet, which should only take 10-15 seconds, remind them that during instruction time they are to be silent and paying attention to the teacher.  Use this time to remind students of your expectations and then resume with your lesson.

Getting Student's Attention
Students love to work together in groups or with a partner but there are times when their excitement for learning gets the best of them and the noise level becomes too loud for a successful learning experience.  These strategies have been proven to be successful in getting students quiet, focused, and in control in a quick, creative format.

Give Me Five
To get students' attention, give the "Give Me Five" signal.  Each finger represents a signal. (1) eyes looking (2) ears listening (3) mouths closed (4) hands still, and (5) feet quiet.  When the teacher says "Give Me Five" students are to hold up their hand while thinking of these five things to show that they are ready to listen.
 

Clap or Tap a Pattern
When the teacher needs to get the student's attention, there are several patterns that a teacher can clap or tap.  

(1)  The teacher can say "Clap once if you hear 
       me"   "Clap twice if you hear me"   "Clap three
       times if you hear me".  By the third  clap 
       everyone should be at attention and focused on
       the teacher.  

(2) The teacher can tap a table two times followed
       by three quick claps. 

(3) Lead students in tapping out "Shave and Hair
       Cut".  The teacher taps a table two times,
       follows with two quick claps, and ends
       with two taps on a table.

 

Quiet Lights
When students become too noisy, one strategy that works is to use quiet lights.  Simply turn the classroom lights off until the class becomes quiet.  This should only take 10-15 seconds away from the exercise but will get the student's attention and provide a positive reminder for students to return to their work with more focus. 

Flying High
Flying High is another strategy for when students become noisy during group work or partner work. Locate a plane whistle from any toy store or school supply store.  When students become too noisy, blow the whistle followed by the phrase "You Are Flying Too High and You Need to Bring Your Noise Level Down".  The kids really think the plane whistle is neat and its a humorous way to get their attention.
 

Using a Train Whistle
Train whistles are becoming more common in the classroom and they are a neat way for quieting students and bringing them to attention when the teacher needs to speak to the class whole group. 
Train Whistles can be purchased from any teacher supply store or hobby store.  To get the student's attention, blow into the train whistle with two long blows followed by "Shhh, Shhh".  It sounds like a train pulling into the train depot and the kids really love this strategy.  I have a train whistle and the kids comply quickly with this quick, fun strategy.
 

Using a Teacher's Bell
Use an old fashioned teacher's bell to get student's attention.  Teach student's a designated number of rings to quiet down or to transition between subjects.

End of Day Reflections
During the last 3-5 minutes of the day students can sometimes become unfocused, talkative, and generally off task.  One way to keep students quiet, focused, and in their seats is to provide a reflective writing assignment at the end of the day.  Provide students with a writing journal where they can record one fascinating or fun fact they learned from the day's lessons.  It is important to allow students an opportunity to share their reflections.  This can be done during down time the following day or during a designated time for sharing.  During reflections, students may have a unique statement or reflection that can be added to a class chart for everyone to see.

Keeping Students Organized
Keeping students organized is a wonderful way to keep them focused and on task.  By using a binder and designated folders, students will no longer scramble to locate misplaced papers. At the beginning of the school year ask parents to submit a 1-1/2 to 2 inch binder, 6-portfolio folders, and a pencil pouch.  The next step in organizing the binder is to provide students with address labels in order to label their folders for the following subjects:

1. Homework

2. Reading

3. Language Arts

4. Spelling

5. Math

6. Science/Social Studies

The Homework folder is where students place their homework and any papers that need to be signed or returned to school.  The inside of the homework folder can be labeled "Return to School" on the left pocket and "Keep at Home" on the right pocket.  Included in the front of the binder is loose leaf paper and a pencil pouch to store important tools such as pencils, erasers, sticky notes, paper clips, scissors, glue sticks, etc.  When students become organized, desks become neat because every paper has a home in a specific folder.  When students need to locate their work, they know exactly where to look for it.  It is important to remind students of where their papers belong and to be firm about students not storing loose paper in their desk.  By providing students with a binder and portfolio folders, students are able to keep track of all their school papers and won't loose things nearly as often.  In order for students to truly be organized, the binder should travel back and forth between school and home on a daily basis.  

Student Work Folder
Another way to keep students organized is to provide a Student Work folder.  Students keep their pending work in the folder and it frees loose papers from being scattered across the top of the desk.  This is especially useful for students who can only focus on one thing at a time.

             

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