International Festival of Attention-Grabbers – United Kingdom

Hi and welcome back to Attention-ology for K – 5 Teachers!

“Come as you are; leave as a star!” When I recently read that invitation to a workout at my gym I immediately pictured a similarly worded poster outside an elementary classroom door – beautifully expressing a teacher’s mission – surely catching the attention of students entering the room or passing by it.

Who posted the gym notice? Answer: Naomi Nicholls, a fitness instructor whose first love is dance, as you can see in the joy she exudes in my blog pic below.

Naomi Nicholls channels her dance skills into teaching.

Naomi started ballet classes at age 4. She and her family lived in the small village of Sturry outside of Canterbury, England, southeast of London.  Naomi continued her education through college and beyond – the first in her family to go to university – after first completing her years in the “Infants” (ages 4 – 7) and “Junior” (ages 8 – 11) groups at Sturry Primary School.

Naomi remembers school as “must do” and ballet lessons as “very much want to do.” “I took private ballet classes, exams and all,” explains Naomi, “in the city center of Canterbury.” “The lessons were strict,” she says, “but ballet was an escape that made me feel free; time seemed to disappear.”

What did Naomi’s ballet teacher do to catch and keep her attention? I inquired. Naomi happily recalls Ms. Mary Woodman, a former professional English ballet dancer, engaging Naomi and the other young students in a dance called The Fairy Wingmaker. As Naomi describes it, the dance had seven steps. “We would pretend that we were sewing our wings. Then Ms. Woodman would have us pretend to prick a finger, get up and act like we were sulking, kiss the pricked finger to make it better, skip to show the healed hand, then slip on our wings and begin to dance with our arms moving, gliding up and down. The dance closed with us blowing kisses to the audience.”

Talk about magical tricks to catch and keep attention! Naomi’s perfect memory of a ballet dance she learned at age 5 is testimony to Ms. Woodman’s teaching skill – and to the power of dance/movement instruction to help students come as they are and leave as stars.

The Fairy Wingmaker was all mime, dance and instrumental music – no words,” recalls Naomi. ” “In ballet, you have to tell a story with no words; in ballet class I learned performing skills that I use as a teacher now.” she concludes.

Teachers with little or no professional training in dance and theater can still treat teaching as a performing art. If you work with kids in grades pre-K – 2, you can play a game I’ve created, modeled (and abbreviated) after The Fairy Wingmaker, to get students ready for a lesson. Tell the class that they will be making wings to “fly into their private quiet learning spaces.” Bring the class together in a circle on your classroom floor and follow these steps:

Follow Me!

  • Walk around the circle and pretend (mime) to give each student a pair of wings.
  • Pretend (mime) slipping on the wings, like you would wrap a cape around your shoulders. Ask the students to do the same.
  • Pretend (mime) to test out your wings for flying. Move your arms up and down like a butterfly or bird. Instruct your class to do the same, sitting in place.
  • Walk with your wings “flying” to where you’ll begin your lesson. Invite the students to stand and “fly” back to their desks or tables and be seated, ready to listen and learn!

Looking back at her early years, Naomi points out that both Ms. Woodman, her ballet instructor, and Mrs. Freeman, her first primary school teacher, taught Naomi the importance of presence; a lesson she uses in her own teaching, along with catchy phrases like Come as you are; leave as a star! and The music made me do it!, adapted from programs of Les Mills, popular with fitness centers worldwide. “Dance creates presence,” asserts Naomi, as shown in her pic below.

Movin’ to music helps us make mind/body connections for learning.

“Dance commands the audience’s attention and it’s invigorating, she says.” “But, it was Mrs. Freeman’s calm manner – her calm itself – that was also an attention-getter for me in school,” Naomi adds.

Pretty cool, don’t you think – being able to command children’s attention by movin’ and groovin’ and then establishing a quiet calm in class, enabling students to quiet themselves and focus as you want them to do.

Remember, you don’t need to be a magician to work magic in instructional settings!

Talk with you next week,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet

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