The class period is humming along, and at the 20-minute mark, I am excited about how students are about to experience the cognitive need for trigonometric ratios. While introducing the activity, I look at their faces and notice a glazed look for many, 3 yawns, 4 students looking out the window, 2 students that are fidgeting, and 2 more with heavy eyelids. I am at a critical juncture in the class period. How should I proceed? Do I push forward? Do I raise my voice? Do I call students out for not paying attention? Do I use wait time? I’ve tried all of these strategies with very limited or no success.
All of these and other behaviors signal that students have lost focus. Research shows that the attention span for older students (and adults) is 15-20 minutes. For younger students, the attention span is even shorter. Yet, in a typical classroom setting, we expect students to pay attention for an hour at a time, listening to the teacher and comprehending the material. It’s interesting that we perpetuate this instructional behavior even while the science tells us to do otherwise.
Throughout the course of a school day, students do a lot of sitting. When sitting for an extended period of time, blood pools in the lower region of the body, creating less oxygen flow to the brain for cognitive function. Over the past few decades, schools have also decreased the amount of time dedicated to recess and physical activity and replaced it with more seat time. Sitting for long periods of time increases health risks, such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol levels, and obesity. At least 60 minutes of exercise a day is recommended to combat the effects of too much sitting.
What can I do, as a teacher, to refocus student’s attention and decrease the amount of time that they’re sitting?
Integrate movement into your instruction on a daily basis. This applies to all ages of learners, including adults. I began doing this in my classroom (and even in my presentations!) and it really does make a difference.
Here are 4 strategies to implement movement in your classroom:
- Try a brain break. For example, have students stand, shake left hands with a partner, and say their entire name backwards. Another example: have students stand in a group of 3-4 and form different shapes using their arms.
- Give half the students a name of a different natural element and the other half of the students the symbol. Have the students write these on a sheet of paper and move to opposite sides of the classroom. Crank up some music and have an element snowball fight. After 30 seconds, each students picks up a snowball and finds his or her element partner.
- Place materials for students to pick up in different corners of the room. Set up stations around the classroom with different tasks for students to do. Have students do a Stand and Talk with someone across the room.
- Plan and implement a kinesthetic lesson. For example, assign a different punctuation mark to small groups of students. Each group has to create a sound and a movement to illustrate the punctuation. Have the groups perform their punctuation. Display and read a passage aloud to the students. The second time through, each group performs their punctuation in the context of the passage.
Get started by trying a movement strategy every day for a week. Watch their faces and emotions while they’re moving. Yes, your room may be loud and noisy for a short amount of time, but see what their attention and energy level is after they move. You won’t find anyone yawning.