The effect of attention grabbers: Classity-class! …Yessity-yes!

Engaging students from the first moment in a lesson is an art form. In a day where students hunger for instant gratification and often require an entertainer as opposed to a teacher, this unique set of student engagement strategies fits the bill.

We as teachers experiment with many ways to capture student focus: counting down, clapping, raising our hands, and so on. With varied student populations at any age or level, in any setting, the “Whole Brain Teaching” call and response technique is truly a best practice. This is an effective attention-getter before or at any time during a lesson. Using call and response, the students respond verbally to the teacher with the same inflection and tone with which they were called. This strategy calls students’ attention to the speaker, allows them to speak while giving the speaker their attention, and requires their response and engagement. At the point of response, students are engaged and open to the information being presented.

For instance, when utilizing the “Class” call and response at any given point during the lesson, the teacher begins by saying the word “class” any way he or she prefers, and the class in turn is responsible for mimicking the teacher’s voice and volume level by responding “yes.” So if the teacher says, “Hey class!” then the students respond, “Hey yes!” Likewise, if the teacher says “Classity-class!” then the students say back to him or her, “Yessity-yes!” This strategy gives students the opportunity to respond appropriately, while giving them a needed verbal release during instruction, and allowing them to enjoy mimicking the speaker. The sillier, the better — student focus increases!

An additional call and response technique to increase and sharpen student focus is ”Hands and Eyes”. This strategy can be utilized at any point during the lesson as well.  When students need to refocus, the teacher simply says, “Hands and eyes on _______.” Students respond in turn by focusing their attention on the chosen person or object (such as the board) and clapping their hands together, leaving them clasped in front of their bodies. At the same time, students are also responding verbally by repeating the words of the teacher in the same manner. This method, again, gives students the opportunity to speak out during a time when they are quiet and listening, and allows them the opportunity to have fun mimicking whomever is speaking, while focusing their attention in a novel way.

There are many other “Whole Brain Teaching” strategies to be explored and utilized within the classroom. These two call and response methods have been proven timelessly effective. In a day when capturing and maintaining student focus is increasingly difficult, these techniques are among the best practices in the educational realm. If you have more ideas, please do share in the comments!

Get creative with formative assessments!

Formative assessment is a vigorous and engaging tradition that we as teachers should be committed to cultivating in every classroom. Why is it such an essential part of learning? It serves as an assessment tool for teachers, probing for understanding, and guiding decision-making about future instruction. Formative assessment creates a supportive environment in which the teachers and students learn and teach each other effectively, and instruction is tailor-made to fit each learner.

Formative assessment is an ongoing, fluid experience – a spontaneous, on-the-fly process that guides teachers toward understanding which resources to utilize with specific students according to their specific needs. Analyzing student work is a valuable part of formative assessment, as it clarifies which pieces of the learning process students might not understand. As an effective teacher, be prepared! Know the content that you’re going to cover, and have an understanding of the progression you want your students to make to achieve that ultimate goal. Utilize a plethora of questioning strategies and focused observations, engaging students in the learning process with a sense of urgency, and closely monitoring their progress and comprehension. Students should be entrenched in the content of the curriculum, entirely present with each other, and focused in the process of learning.

An effective formative assessment system gauges student understanding and nurtures retention. Teachers are able to pinpoint student strengths and weaknesses, down to their most minute need. Formative assessment results are used to drive instructional strategies and resources. These results should be effectively and easily communicated to students, teachers, parents, and administrators in a consistent and easy to understand format. When teachers analyze data and use it as a tool to tweak the curriculum, the curriculum becomes dynamic and alive, not just a static document.

There are literally hundreds of ways and opportunities to formatively assess students. Education today is moving away from the sole use of traditional paper and pencil assessments. Valuable formative assessments now come in a plethora of forms, adding interest and engagement to the classroom while still providing the information needed to differentiate instruction and guide student learning.

A tried-and-true method of formative assessment is the “Ticket-Out the Door,” or the “Exit Ticket.” Students compose a written response to a question posed by the teacher, and are allowed to leave the room (or in many cases, transition to the next subject) only if their response meets the approval of the instructor. Similarly, teachers may utilize this strategy as a pretest, having the students complete an ”Entrance Ticket,” or a “Ticket-in-the-Door” to gauge student knowledge on the topic of the day.

Another quick and effective formative assessment, “Show What You Know,” can also be used at the end of the lesson. This is simply a higher order or critical thinking question posed at the very end of the lesson after the lesson summary. Students write their response to the question in a complete sentence on a sticky note, and post it on the “Show What You Know” board. This gives the teacher an “at-a-glance” view of whether students understand the concept presented or not.

The “Text What You Learn” strategy engages students at a high interest level, and allows teachers to formatively assess student knowledge of a concept quickly and effectively. At the beginning of the class, students use their cell phones to text in a response to a question that the teacher has presented through the Poll Everywhere software. Responses are projected on a SMART Board, and students are given the opportunity to self-assess, and see what their peers have learned. This provides valuable information to the teacher on how to move forward with the lesson.

Edmodo has a free micro-assessment called Snapshot which provides assessment feedback by student and standard. Progress can be monitored by choosing the standard(s) to be assessed, and utilizing the standards-aligned Math and ELA questions (for grades 3-12). Snapshot displays information on student mastery of standards, and with prioritized recommendations, teachers are able to customize lesson plans and improve the performance of individuals. There is even a built-in calendar and time limit selector option, so teachers can schedule Snapshot for the most opportune time during lessons.

Socrative is a super simple tech tool teachers can use to enhance classroom engagement, assessment and individualization of content. This is a free student response system in which students respond to the teacher through a series of educational exercises and games via any web-enabled device: smartphones, laptops, and/or tablets. Socrative takes teachers 3 minutes to set up and takes their classes 20 seconds to load. Easily differentiated, Socrative can be tailored for any learner.

If you don’t have that level of technology in your classroom, you can do a “quick write” at the beginning of your class. Ask students to provide you with a brief summary of what the homework was about, or what the key point in the reading was last night. They can either hand these in to you, or you can have students share them with a Collaborative Pair Partner or group — all to truly pinpoint where the lesson should begin.

Whatever tool or strategy is chosen, formative assessment is a culture, of sorts, that teachers create in a learning community that is dynamic and engaging.

Don’t let tech scare you – how to digitize your classroom!

As a teacher, I have a love-hate relationship with “what-ifs.” On one hand, I love dreaming. I love wondering about what’s possible if we make changes to learning environments, curriculums, and expectations. These thoughts propel me forward and empower my students to do great things. However, “what-ifs” can also put up boundaries to innovation. What if students make poor choices online? What if the laptop becomes too much of a distraction in learning? These kinds of “what-ifs” stifle innovation and can easily paralyze my teaching.

This past year, my school was lucky enough to pilot a 1:1 laptop program. I was a bit nervous incorporating this program into my classroom. I said to myself, “What if I can’t control all of this technology?!” Despite my worries, we went forward with the pilot program. Things didn’t go perfectly. However, through these mistakes my students and I learned a variety of life-lessons:

1. Staying on task

Before the 1:1 program students would find ways to be off task. They would pass notes or stare up at the ceiling. But now there was a beautiful shiny object in front of them at all times. We had to work together to find ways to stay focused. I loved seeing my students become more aware of their temptations and set better boundaries for themselves. They wrote themselves reminders and held each other accountable.

2. Paying attention to people 

About half way through the school year, my students became obsessed with an online game. Their recess became consumed with trying to beat the high score. Even class conversations surrounded who was currently the leader. Shortly after I realized this, we sat down for a heart-to-heart. I shared with them my observations and told them I didn’t want to see them on their screens anymore during recess. I saw relief wash over their faces as I freed them up to be social again. We challenged each other to pay attention to people and have real conversations about real things. We learned why it’s important to look up.

3. Helping others improve

Going 1:1 changed our classroom environment. Suddenly everything was collaborative. Through Google Apps for Education, students were able to easily share their work with one another and receive feedback. We learned to work together and seek out many voices throughout the creation process. A proud moment was when I discovered that each student had shared their final essay with an average of four other students. They are working together to become better readers, writers, and teachers.

So yes, the “what-ifs” of going 1:1 can be scary, and I promise you students will make mistakes. But I believe it’s worth the risk. My students and I learned so many life lessons through both the mishaps and the success stories — I would say our pilot program was quite a success.