#TipforTuesday: Maintaining attention, a Buddy's perspective
Kids want to move. Every teacher has students who are constantly fidgeting, trying to find some way to keep their body occupied while they learn. This is perfectly natural behavior, and it’s something teachers need to recognize and incorporate into their own lessons.
A lot of people are kinesthetic learners, who work best when they can touch or interact with something physical. This poses significant challenges for online teaching. A traditional classroom offers a variety of opportunities for physical action, from playing learning games to the simple act of putting pen to paper. It is a unique challenge for the remote teacher to translate these physical activities through the computer screen. Even if the teacher isn’t standing next to their students, it is still possible to engage their bodies and their minds at the same time.
One of the most effective physical teaching strategies is TPR. TPR stands for Total Physical Response and was created by Dr. James J Asher. It is based upon the way that children learn their mother tongue. Parents have 'language-body conversations' with their children, the parent instructs, and the child physically responds to this. The parent says, "Look at mummy" or "Give me the ball" and the child does so. These conversations continue for many months before the child actually starts to speak itself. Even though it can't speak during this time, the child is taking in all of the language; the sounds and the patterns. Eventually when it has decoded enough, the child reproduces the language quite spontaneously. TPR attempts to mirror this effect in the language classroom. TPR is a form of call and response, where the teacher performs a physical action related to the lesson which the students then repeat. For example, if I had a story where my main character was painting a wall, I would have my students take an imaginary paintbrush and make painting motions with their hands in front of the camera. Most students respond very positively to this approach because they get an opportunity to play around a bit and just be silly.
It can be too easy for teachers to press on from activity to activity without thinking about their students’ engagement. Stare at a computer screen for too long and anyone will start to lose focus, especially younger children. It is vital to “wake up” students periodically throughout the lesson by getting them to move in some way. Admittedly, the students can’t move very much without getting off-camera. Part of the challenge of designing good TPR is figuring out activities that are both fun and contained enough to keep the student in their seat. It’s an important balancing act that can really improve the mood and focus of a classroom.
TPR can be used to teach and practice many things.
Vocabulary connected with actions (smile, chop, headache, wriggle)
Tenses past/present/future and continuous aspects (Every morning I clean my teeth, I make my bed, I eat breakfast
Classroom language (Open your books)
Imperatives/Instructions (Stand up, close your eyes)
Bringing in props is another way to build a more physically engaged classroom. Students learning online are usually in their homes, a much more relaxed and casual setting than a traditional classroom. It’s quite common to see students surrounded by stuffed animals, their favourite posters, or even the curious brother or sister who wants to take a peek at the class. Teachers should make an effort not just to impart knowledge to their students, but to get to know them as well.
Nothing gets a student more excited than talking about things that they love. I’ve seen on a number of occasions one of my students grab something from their shelf or their desk that related to the lesson and show it to me. Teachers should encourage their students to bring things from their room and their life into class, both to add a tactile element to the discussion and to show personal appreciation for their unique perspective.
The basics for the traveling teacher as most of us are:
Finger puppets: these are the kind of props that will never go out of fashion and are always a sure winner in the classroom. Not only are they very light and small but they can be bunched together and packaged very easily. They have been very useful for me when I try to explain fiction and nonfiction.
Flashcards: again, another engaging and attractive prop that is very transportable and does not require much storage or effort. One tip given by our teachers is to laminate your flash cards to protect them on your journeys.
Plastic magnet letters: if you still remember 4th-grade science class pretty much most things in a room will be magnetic in some way. Magnetic letters can be a life saver because you can literally stick them anywhere and still explain what you need to in the lesson. You can also add some extra learning into the class by sticking them to things kids may not have seen before
Whiteboard and markers: some of you may be thinking of those huge whiteboards you see in traditional classrooms but, no, we mean the baby versions of those. Small rectangular shaped versions that are super easy to transport around and durable against the elements, these are perfect for trying to illustrate something to your students that you were finding difficult to explain. We all know how arduous it can be to learn new things, so providing your class with a visual will only aid the process. It also gives you a chance to show off your art skills!
Teddy bear: at first glance, you may think you read that wrong, but nope! We really mean a teddy bear! This cute little prop can serve many purposes; beginning with the most obvious which is a friendly, welcoming and familiar visual for your students to have. The teddy can also be made to be an extra student in the class, thus giving teachers a way to explain a physical concept without needing to be physically present.
Having students move and interact with their environment can make a huge difference even in an online class. TPR lets students play and have fun while reinforcing the teacher’s lesson objectives. Props and other objects allow the students to have a sense of participation and ownership in their own learning process. These tactics can avoid a lot of the pitfalls common to remote teaching and make sure the class focused, smiling, and ready to learn.
Frank has been a buddy with us now for around half a year and has proven to be very popular with our young Breadies! In his work outside of IQBar he works in a school for deaf children, teaching, interpreting and translating.