As a student, it was always increasingly difficult for me to concentrate and focus in the spring. I was always SO ready for the school year to end and spent most of my time chatting and daydreaming. I reached out to some friends and asked for their tips that they use to help their students focus.
I help my students focus by playing music. Depending on your school's policies, you can use Pandora. Just make sure you choose the setting that allows you to avoid any explicit language... I didn't know about this setting, and a song came on that had very vulgar language. My students had never seen me run to the computer so fast! I thought I had chosen a station that didn't have this...ummm, apparently not! A lot of teachers also play classical music, and the students appear to like this a lot (surprisingly)!
Keep things interesting! Lots of activities, fast pace... Never give them a chance to get "lost".
I work on a lot on teaching them how to learn. It's all about process in my classroom, and because I break things down in steps, it's easier for them to focus on each one.
I keep some of my lights off; I have three rows and try to only use two at any time. I also ask them to put their phones face down on their desks and close their computers before giving very important directions.
To help my middle school students focus, I did three things:
A) I bought several yoga balls and let students sit on them; they could bounce a little bit but their feet had to be on the ground the whole time as I did not want kids falling off or rolling all over the classroom.
B) I let students get up and walk around the room quietly if they said it would help them focus more. Both boys and girls loved using the yoga balls but it was the boys who wanted to walk around the room. Since my middle school classes were small--the most I had was ten students--walking around in the back or around the perimeter was not an issue. I knew from reading education articles that boys often need to move around due to their energy levels and also that it helps kids with ADHD. I was happy to let them walk around but made it clear they could not disturb other students when they did. What was interesting was that the boys themselves knew when they needed to get up and move, and their behavior during these times was fine.
C) When students had independent or shared reading to do, I let them sit wherever they wanted. I had a table in the back of the room that some students liked to work at and others liked to sit on the floor. My feeling was that if students felt comfortable, they would be better able to concentrate on the work they had to do. When I was a student, it was hard for me to sit in those hard chairs for any length of time so I wasn't about to force my students to do something I couldn't do myself!
I tell my students what parts of the brain help them focus with tangible benefits and which parts work against their focus and takeaways. That's all it takes! They love it!
For me, the most effective way to re-gain the focus of a student is to just lay my hand on his/her desk while I continue on with the lesson.
My general philosophy: student learning is positively correlated to student engagement. My first goal is to get students engaged in the Algebra topic. Prepare yourself to be horrified… I don’t require students to raise their hands to answer my questions. I don’t wince when two or three students answer at once. In fact, I encourage it and try to reaffirm all the correct answers I heard. Now, if a student has something creative to say, a hand needs to be raised so that I know to share the floor; that, I enforce.
A wise friend shared with me, “Unless the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same, change will never happen.” I want my students to change, to transform from their sluggard, uninterested, UNFOCUSED state, and become involved in Algebra. The thought of raising a hand to just participate can be a hindrance to my goal (a goal the student and I may not share). You might say -- What about thinking time? A quick student may answer all the questions and set the lesson pace faster than the majority of the class can handle. Absolutely true; there are times that thinking time must be secured for the group. At least 25% of my class questions follow this model: “I want to see 10 (5,7,8) people who know before I hear the answer. What is ….(the actual question)?” Students begin to signal me, and I acknowledge that I see them by counting up to the target number. True, students often signal with a quick up and down with their hand, but the less motivated just give a perceptible wave and eye contact. No one is required to keep their hand in the air while we wait for all to think. Once the target is met, I repeat the question and let all respond (or I may try to ferret out a bluffer by choosing a student that signaled).
This is by far one of my more common sense focusing strategies, not nearly as impressive as other tools I use. However, I too often see this rule in classrooms: “Raise your hand to speak.” The heart of this old rule is respect for the classroom structure, respect for the speaker who has the floor at the moment, remembrance that you are one of many in this group which requires some order for all to move forward. The classroom has evolved. Lose the “Raise your hand” rule and weave the heart of the message into new rules like “Support the learning momentum of the classroom.”
Sometimes I play Pandora. I was surprised how much quieter the loud classes are with a little music to listen to while they work.
Be interactive. Let students show their work on the board, or at the document camera. Ask lots of questions. Walk around the room. Help individual students at your desk. Monitor and adjust.
I've tried many different things but what has worked the best for me is the 5 second countdown to get their attention. By 1 nothing is in their hand, eyes are one me, talking has stopped. As for staying focused during a task I try and make the task engaging and meaningful. I teach science and so I do a lot of hands-on learning and inquiry investigations using technology.
I have done many different things to help my students focus. Sometimes I do whole-class brain breaks and other times I put a statement on the board and have students walk to one side of the room if it's true, the other side if it's false. Usually getting my students moving for a minute or two really helps!
I also let students stand in the back of the room, sit at my desk, or play with play-dough as long as they are working.
I try different types of teaching styles. I'll do whole group instruction, small group instruction, hands on activities, and then we might even watch a brain pop or Bill Nye. I try to do at least three different ways to get the content across and make sure that I got them in one of those ways!
Turn off the lights. Put on some music. Let the students decompress after lunch. It calms them down and helps them to focus.
A quiet, safe, respectful environment works wonders.
Other than that, it is to put the agenda on the board with examples of the expectations. Projects always have 3 or 4 examples for each grade along with a rubric for the students to know what I’m looking for and what is expected.
If it is a long unit test or standardized test, I'm not afraid to hand out a jolly rancher or lemondrop :)
Hand grips! I know, I know it seems silly, but it works WONDERS for the students that need to be moving. Cheaper than an exercise bike, and less distracting than those yoga balls.
Focusing in my classroom came easily when I introduced Interactive Notebooks. With a 42 minutes class period there was no time to goof off and we had to be "balls to the wall" from bell to bell. Students quickly saw the value in creating their own resource one page at a time and knew that if they stayed on top of things then they would succeed.
I have very small class sizes (average about 10 students per class), so it's not difficult with such a small number of students. I find that communicating what needs to be accomplished each day and keeping them engaged with interactive notes and activities naturally do the trick.