March – the apex of teaching. Congratulations! You’ve reached the summit where teaching and learning are at their peak.
It’s a wonderful time in schools ~ you’ve done all the preliminary work to maximize learning! You know your students and what makes them tick. Your students are clear on the expectations and routines and everyone is just in execution mode!
Usually at this point in the year there are few surprises and everyone is pretty comfortable in the routines of the school day. Yet, what we know about learning is that in some cases routine can actually diminish attention and take learning off-line!
When things become too predictable and routine, the brain stops paying close attention. The brain is constantly working to automate things so as to conserve energy. At times your voice, yes, your teacher voice!, can become the background noise that gets little to no attention. In fact, students’ inattention or looks of boredom might just be a display of their highly functioning brains!
We need to re-ignite focus and learning. We do that with variability.
So, time to change it up! Just a bit. Not too much. Not too little. Just enough to catch their attention! Novelty actually seems to slow time down. That’s why we feel like time goes faster when we age!
As the authors of the book Surprise put it, “we feel most comfortable when things are certain, but we feel most alive when they are not!”
So, check out these five ways you can re-engage, and re-focus your students with some variety. You might just find a simple change in routine or environment is just enough to re-invigorate and re-inspire yourself as well!
And remember, variety is the spice of life, not the entrée, so just a little change can re-engage the brain to pause and note, ‘Hey, somethings different here. I better pay attention!”
5 ways to re-engage focus with novelty
1) Change the room! Give a fresh look to your seating arrangement, add a plant, change a bulletin board, hang a new poster or student work, or move your desk. If you don’t have many options with your seating arrangement, at least give students a fresh look at the room from a different perspective with new neighbors! Consider adding a lamp or new light (the less fluorescent the better!) to shift the tone of the room. You’d be amazed how one light can shift the entire room and ambiance. Softer, dimmer lights help calm the brain-body as well.
2) Add some music. Instrumental is the way to go. Background music shifts the entire environment; you can use it during transitions, or independent or small group work time. Music fills the space and we attune to it, so be sure to choose the energy of the music that you want your students attuning to – whether it’s calm, studious, or energetic to support a quick clean up! Finally, engage your students in experimenting with how different music impacts their ability to focus or pay attention.
3) Change up your routine at the beginning of class. Consider taking time out to pause and breathe for a minute. Inviting students to ‘do nothing’, but take a minute to check-in with themselves and relax is so welcomed! Model life-long learning- tell your students more and more research points to the breath impacting our ability to focus, find our calm, decrease our stress. Invite them to join you in experimenting and see what it feels like. If you’re up to challenge yourself, consider inviting them to stand up and stretch. Sitting all day is no good for the body or the brain! You might be surprised how much more focused they can be after getting some time to adhere to their biological needs of movement and stillness.
4) Break from your script. There are countless ways to do this! Teach a class outside. Make a Prezi instead of a PowerPoint presentation to share information. Invite students to take a lead in reviewing the DO NOW. Create a new greeting at the door or have a student be the greeter as well. Have students stand up for turn and talks or move around the room and talk with other peers.
5) Add in or change up your exit ticket. Focus on self-reflection and self-efficacy by asking students to rate themselves on a scale of 1-4 for today’s content:
1) I’m just learning. (I need more help.)
2) I’m almost there. (I need more practice.)
3) I own it. (I can work independently.)
4) I’m a pro. (I can teach others.)
Most importantly, be creative. Remember, from a neurological perspective, novelty attracts attention, so play with it and have fun! Maybe even just take a different route to work one day, try a new restaurant, or bring a colleague a coffee. Enjoy the spice of life!