Archive for the ‘Weekly Feature’ Category

Third Anniversary Wishes

March 18, 2013

Hi and welcome back to Attentionology for K – 5 Teachers!

Attentionology is celebrating its third anniversary this month as an international education and enterprise blog. Thanks for visiting.

I like to think of myself and my Attentionology readers as a “global family” of educators and enterprising women and men in more than 115 countries that recognize the impact of increasing distractions on our lives and the lives of those we’re entrusted to serve.

In preparation for “celebrating” Attentionology’s third anniversary with some BIG news coming soon, I was reading through some answers that I offered in 2010 about the development of this blog – answers to a set of questions that some educators I was working with at the time asked about why I created Attentionology for K – 5 Teachers.

"My wish is that Attentionology serves as a creative and timely resource for you."

“My wish is that Attentionology serves as a creative and timely resource for you.”

I’ve decided to share those Q’s and A’s with you now because they reaffirm the “mission” of Attentionology for K – 5 Teachers to serve as a creative and timely resource for elementary school educators.

That’s my wish, shown in my pic here, as the blog enters its fourth year.

Q to me: What have you noticed about attention spans decreasing in students?

A: Over the ten years that I’ve been teaching in Wake County, NC  schools, the sixteenth largest school system in the US, I’ve personally observed children’s attention spans diminishing more each year. That’s what motivated me to begin writing my blog.

But, I wanted to know what other teachers were thinking and seeing in their classrooms. So I started a survey that I’ve taken into schools where I teach writing skills through poetry and narrative writing.

Teachers and support staff like assistant teachers, media center specialists, and so on, basically have been seeing the same thing…decreasing attention spans. A lot of educators suggest that it’s a combination of factors that are causing this…exposure to constant information, distractions and constant animation on media outlets, including hand-held devices and TV.

A lot of educators agree that kids and adults, as well, expect to be entertained 24/7, and they expect to be served – whatever that means – including in school teaching – instantly!

That makes a teacher’s job tougher than ever…my thinking with the Attentionology tools and tricks that I’ve designed is that you use strategies that are proven attention-getters to get kids’ attention and then get them focused on learning.

I’ve been compelled, really, to create tools and tricks to catch and keep K – 5 kids’ attention because when I’m scheduled to teach for only one week in a school, I’m under pressure to get a lot done in short order. Schools have invited me back from year to year because I help them reach their goals – improved academic and personal success for children –  in a small amount of time. The reason…I use my Attentionology tools and tricks.

Q: What are some of the attention-getting tools and tricks you’ve used?

A: I vary them to suit different grade levels. There’s obviously a big difference between children in early, middle and upper elementary grades. When I write my blog I work to show how different attention-getting strategies can be adapted to different grade levels. I like to offer a lot of variety so that teachers can pick and choose what will work best for them.

Starting in the early grades, one of the most popular tools I’ve created is called “Listen Star.” Listen Star is simple to make or buy. I’ve seen some stars on wands, like you see in my blog pic below,

"Listen Star" has "magical listening abilities."

“Listen Star” has “magical listening abilities.”

in dollar stores and toy departments of “big box” stores. Inexpensive teaching tools are best!

Listen Star is a star shape with a face of some sort on a wand. The one I use has bells that jingle when I make the star “fly across the classroom sky.”

As an attention tool I introduce Listen Star as a “friend” who’s joined me in class. I tell the kids that when they see and hear Listen Star “fly” that’s a signal for them to hush – just for a moment – and listen to me.

Works like magic! I’ve had teachers write me and tell me how well Listen Star has worked for them.

In the middle elementary grades I like to invite kids to “travel through their imaginations.” I use an image of a train.

I ask kids to raise their hands if they’ve ever been on a train. Some do. I tell the class that we’re about to “board a train to travel to the wonderful world of words” when I teach writing. Then we “zoom off” to our private quiet writing zones. This approach also works pretending to travel to a “science station” or a “math market” or whatever suits your curriculum.

For the upper elementary grades, like fifth grade, I’ve had a lot of success with a theatrical technique of acting like I’m on the phone when a student calls out in distress over a homework assignment. “Oh, hold that thought,” I’ll say to the student, “got a call, wait a minute, nope, the complaint line isn’t open!” Enough said.

Q: What are some other tips you have for the beginning of a school term?

A: One of my most popular blog posts is a Cornucopia of Attention-Getters.

When fall is around the corner, teachers can invite students to give thanks for the opportunity to learn by choosing from a cornucopia full of extra credit activity apples in their classrooms. The extra credit option gets kids’ attention (and is suitable for any time of the year with an appropriate symbolic container for apples, such as a basket in the spring.)

This is a tool that teachers can advise their classes to be on the lookout for…creating anticipation is one of the keys to Attentionology.

In a world that puts a premium on entertainment, teachers have to use entertaining tools and tricks to catch and keep K – 5 students’ attention.

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

Talk with you again soon, and please share comments any time so that we can better serve Attentionology’s “global family” of readers.

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet


A Show of Hands

March 11, 2013

Hi and welcome back to Attentionology for K – 5 Teachers!

In my corner of the world Daylight Savings Time has just begun, marking the near start of spring. I love the resulting longer hours of sun in the afternoon – more time to spend outdoors digging in dirt to plant flowers.

Kids and adults alike “dig” digging in every season, don’t you think? In the spring, we dig to plant vegetables as well as flowers; in the summer heat, there’s digging in sand; in the fall gardeners dig to plant bulbs for the next spring; winter snow makes for digging out, at least for many.

Digging with my hands yesterday got me thinking about the awesome tools that our hands are – all of our hands – adults and children in every nation.

Digging plants seeds and builds foundations, and those thoughts of hands at work made me remember a visit last fall with a special group of first graders.

Their HAND-i-work offers a cool attentionology trick that you can use too…

A Tree of Seasons Bulletin Board is a "show of hands!"

A Trees of Seasons Bulletin Board is a “show of hands!”


Look at the row of beautiful trees in my blog pic here and you’ll see a show of hands.

This is easy-to-make art work, perfect for students in early grades.

  • Start the activity by inviting your class to raise their hands high with their fingers spread wide apart.
  • Ask them to note how their hands look like the branches of a tree.
  • Pass out large sheets of construction paper and instruct the kids to place one hand towards the top of the sheet and trace around their hand with a crayon or marker. NOTE: The teacher whose bulletin board is shown above had the kids dip their hands in poster paint and print the treetops – another option for you.
  • Pass out brown paper and have students cut long tree trunks to glue below the handmade branches.
  • Invite kids to choose which season they want their trees to be in and give them art supplies that they can cut and glue to the branches to suit their chosen seasons.
  • Post the finished Trees of Seasons on a bulletin board with a header.
  • Optional: Use the “visual feast” as a prompt for a writing activity related to trees and/or seasons.


"Our hands are amazing tools! Let's make them dig."

“Our hands are amazing tools! Let’s make them dig.”

Look at the teacher in my blog pic here.

She’s engaging the class in an attention-getting  HANDS-on activity that helps kids explore the amazing tools that hands are.

The teacher and students are acting out the process of digging.

This activity is leading into a discussion about the many ways we use our hands.

Think of it! The curriculum connections between hands at work and subjects in elementary education are endless and wonderful.

"Let's sort through these books to find something special for each of you."

“Let’s sort through these books to find something special for each of you.”


Are there any hands busier than those of a teacher?

Look at the teacher in my blog pic here, helping her students find books in the school library.

Have you and your students ever talked about the power of hands?

Throughout history, strong hands have created communities, cared for people, animals and the land itself, carved spectacular works of art, crafted communication devices…the list goes on and on.

Teachers and parents know, too, that one of the best things that hands can do with arms extended is give hugs. No doubt about it…hugging always catches and keeps attention!

Remember, you don’t need to be a magician to work magic in any instructional setting.

Talk with you again soon,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet

The Magic Hat – Mid-Week Focus – Coaching Themes for Teachers

March 6, 2013

Hats off to teachers…it’s time for Mid-Week Focus!

Mid-Week Focus is all about quick and easy ways to approach teaching to keep kids on task in any instructional setting.

Let’s share insight and practical ideas. Let’s blend fun with function, and LET’S USE PROVEN COACHING TECHNIQUES TO GET KIDS IN THE GAME OF LEARNING!

In the US, March Madness in basketball’s NCAA is coming soon. Watching how coaches, including “Coach K,” Duke University’s world-famous basketball coach, work with players has gotten me thinking that some of the tools and tricks they use to command attention can work for teachers too. 

SURPRISE PLAYS – Want to catch your students’ attention and make them laugh to start a school day in an upbeat mode?

Try this…Pull out a baseball cap from under your classroom magic hat, shown in

What's under the magic hat today?

What’s under the magic hat today?

my blog pic here.

Slip the cap on your head and call out, “Okay team, let’s get ready to play the game of learning!”

All eyes on you now, continue your coaching theme to lead into a math lesson, for example, with these words…“I’m going to pitch you some math problems (not a baseball) and I need you to be ready to hit the answers out of the park.” (meaning give correct answers)

At this point, you can transition into a more standard teaching mode to complete your math lesson as you need to.

Most kids love sports, as do many adults, including teachers. The variety of sports played around the world offers unlimited possibilities for linking popular sports with coaching themes that teachers can apply to teaching.

WINNING ATTITUDES – Help kids made the connection between the importance of positive attitudes in winning at sports as well as winning in life.

Try this…Ask sports-lovers in your class to raise their hands. When hands fly, invite a few students to name their favorite sports.

Find out if they like to play that sport or watch it as a fan, or both. NOTE: I’ve used this activity to lead into writing time, inviting kids to write stories with sports as the focus.

"Does a good attitude help us win in sports and in life?"

“Does a good attitude help us win in sports and in life?”

Hold up a poster about Attitude, like you see in my blog pic here.

Open up an age-appropriate discussion about what attitude has to do with winning, winning in sports, winning in life.

Discuss what you and your students think is a good attitude. Ask what winning means to them. Offer other examples that connect winning with the importance of working hard, staying focused and on task.

If you introduce this coaching-themed activity at the beginning of a school term, offer this to the class, “Let’s have a winning season!” (meaning a school term with good learning results)

THE LANGUAGES OF SPORTS – Use sports “lingo” to draw kids into lessons and activities. 

Try this…Call your “team” together at the start of a day to review your schedule. Describe each planned activity as a “PLAY OF THE DAY.”

Get students excited about the plans by making sports connections with different subjects. For example, as you point to the time slot for reading, mention how Sam and Julia have improved their reading skills in the last weeks, becoming stronger members of your class’ reading “team.”

Teachers that use coaching themes show students an added level of care. Kids relate. Result: they’re more motivated.

"Just look at that bowling score!" Bragging rights are for teachers, too.

“Just look at that bowling score!” Bragging rights are for teachers, too.

MAKE PERSONAL SPORTS CONNECTIONS – Engage your class by showing them pictures of you playing sports or games that you enjoy.

Post shots on your class website, for example, or bring photos to class, like I’ve done to get kids’ attention with coaching and sports themes.

In my blog pic here, I’m grinning about a high score, showing off for fun after a bowling game.

MODEL AN ACTIVE LIFESTYLE – News about the health risks of inactive adults and children is on the rise. Not surprisingly, the alarm bells are sounding in communities where there’s a concurrent increase in the amount of time that kids spend indoors with electronic devices.

Try this…Surprise your class one day by NOT dropping them off at the

Teachers who occasionally join in gym time model an active lifestyle...and get kids attention!

Teachers who occasionally join in gym time model an active lifestyle…and get kids attention!

gym for P.E. (physical education). Stay for a day and get in the game, following the gym teacher’s lead, like the teacher in my blog pic here.

COACH, TEACH, REACH – Engage reluctant learners by offering sports-related incentives in class.

Try this…Set up a small basketball net in your classroom.

At designated times, reward students for correct answers, effort, attentiveness, showing respect – whatever you choose – by allowing them to take a shot at the net with a small toy basketball, like you see in my blog pic below.

Offer coaching-themed and personal words of encouragement, like “Way to go Alexi!” (wearing a red shirt that day) “The star player on Red Team scores BIG!”

Chances to shoot to win with focused "Hot Shot Kids" make a good reward for K - 5 students.

Chances to shoot to win with focused “Hot Shot Kids” make a good reward for K – 5 students.

Successful coaches command attention by forming strong emotional bonds with their players as they guide them with specific strategies to win games.

Winning teachers can do the same, generating excitement about the learning process to achieve academic goals.

Talk with you again soon,

BarbaraThe Lovable Poet

Make Teaching Magic with Magnifyers

March 4, 2013

Hi and welcome back to Attentionology for K – 5 Teachers!

Are you familiar with the English expression, “Sometimes big things come in little packages?” I’m thinking that may be true for gifts of jewelry, but for teachers giving the gift of a good education, making things bigger is often better.

Magnification helps children and adults see more clearly. Making magic with different kinds of magnifyers is a classroom-tested attention-getting trick for teachers.

In children’s hands magnifyers become instructive devices that are fun to use. Holding a magnifying glass in hand is an active way to look closely at something. Sight is the result, but the ACT of looking helps the learning process.

"Okay great, boys and girls, now we can see the pictures much better!"

“Okay great, boys and girls, now we can see the pictures much better!”

Any teacher that uses a document camera or a computer to project images on a screen or SmartBoard, (like the teacher in my blog pic here) is working with magnification.

Today’s Attentionology post offers a few tricks to try using the magic of magnification.

Play I Spy a Good Listener Hold up a magnifying glass – a large toy one available in many “dollar stores,” (at least in the US) or in toy stores.

In your best “detective voice” announce that you’re looking to spy good listeners.

Move around the classroom as you look into the magnifying glass and lean towards students who readily respond to you in a positive way. Kids will get a “kick” out of your easy “theatrics.”

If you want to take this activity a step further, single out kids that are showing excellent looking and listening skills. For example, you can note to the class the Jorge and Isabel are paying close attention by following you around the room.

Test students’ listening skills further by asking them to repeat a short math equation, if you’re using this trick as part of a math lesson, or to repeat a short rhyme, for example, if the magnification trick is part of a language arts activity.

Let’s Look More Closely at Words The magnifying glass I’m holding in my blog pic here is an antique; it belonged to my great-grandfather.

"Let's look more closely at the words we choose to use."

“Let’s look more closely at the words we choose to use.”

I’ve shown this decorative glass to students as a lead-in to writing time. “Let’s look more closely at the words we choose to use,” I’ll say, explaining that many of the words we use in English and other languages of the world come from an ancient language called Latin.

I’ve found that kids love learning bits and pieces of Latin; word origins fascinate them.

"Who wants to come up with the magnifying glass and focus in on this number?"

“Who wants to come up with the magnifying glass and focus in on this number?”

What Time Is It?Draw young children’s attention to a teaching clock, like the one in my blog pic here, by letting kids take turns “zeroing in” on one number at a time with a magnifying glass.

Tell the class that it’s important to be able to keep track of time, like detectives keep track of leads on a case!

Track Back in TimeInvite students in grades 3 – 5 to use magnifying glasses to study maps of earlier civilizations in Social Studies.

Simply showing your class a magnifying glass sets up a mini-history lesson, an opportunity to track back in time to the origin of magnifying glasses themselves…

Many historians agree that it was the Romans (back to Latin!) who discovered magnifying glass in the first century, A.D. Research suggests that the Romans found that glass that was thicker in the center and thinner around the outer edges magnified an object being observed.

Score a Science Connection Hold up a toy or real magnifying glass and ask your class if they know how it works. Answer: modern magnifying glasses are double convex lenses that make objects appear larger than they are. Explain the difference between convex and concave, showing convex with the magnifying glass.

Tell students that magnifying glasses have been key to scientific and medical discoveries. How? Early magnifying glasses led to modern-day microscopes.

Get to the Heart of ArtSome museum educators use magnifying glasses to help kids understand the concept of studying – not just looking at – paintings and other works of art. Museum visitors are not permitted to actually get too close to pieces on display, but a magnifying glass symbolizes investigation.

In school you can enrich the art curriculum by introducing art prints or

"What do you 'spy' that these Egyptian figures are doing in this painting?"

“What do you ‘spy’ that these Egyptian figures are doing in this painting?”

framed copies of art work, like the Egyptian parchment painting shown in my blog pic here.

Invite students to take on age-appropriate challenges, using a magnifying glass to look for subject, color, placement, lighting, etc. in the work of art.

If you like these teaching tricks, let your students know that you’ll offer more opportunities to use a magnification glass in class.

In fact, eventually you may catch and keep kids’ attention before you begin a lesson simply by holding up your magnifying glass for all to see and repeating your goal of spotting good listeners. The magnifying glass can become an attention-getting signal for students.

Using tools of magnification – cameras, computers, glasses – models curiosity and critical thinking. Getting a closer look aids understanding and mastery of skills.

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

Talk with you again soon,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet

The Magic Hat – Mid-Week Focus – Special Needs Kids

February 27, 2013

Hats off to teachers…it’s time for Mid-Week Focus!

Mid-Week Focus is all about quick and easy ways to approach teaching to keep kids on task in any instructional setting.

Let’s share insight and practical ideas. Let’s blend fun with function, and LET’S GET EVEN MORE CREATIVE ABOUT HELPING CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS SUCCEED!

Every time I encounter the words, special needs, usually with reference to children in K – 5 classes, I find myself thinking this…we all have special needs. We’re all different, but none of us lesser than others.

At least that’s the ideal. Just ask Temple Grandin who I had the honor of meeting last year. (Read the post I published about her, Meet the Master for Teaching Children with Autism, on 08/20/12.)

What's under the magic hat today?

What’s under the magic hat today?

Temple works a special kind of magic every day!

Autism, as well as a wide spectrum of other developmental and physical disabilities, presents a huge challenge to teachers and parents.

If you’ve worked with children and families navigating life and learning with special needs, then you know that the ideal is often far from the reality of it…all the more reason to reach for more creative ways to help children with special needs enjoy success in school.

Browse under the Magic Hat for special tools designed especially for special kids…Read on…

TOOLS FOR GETTING ALONG – Trick for Grades K – 2

  1. Bury plastic toy tools in a sandbox on your playground, like you see in my blog pic below.

    Can you find the toy tools buried in the sand?

    Can you find the toy tools buried in the sand?

  2. Schedule time outdoors when the weather is expected to be sunny.
  3. Announce to your class that you’re going on a dig (opportunity to introduce the basics of archaeology if that fits your curriculum) to find special tools.
  4. Ask kids to name tools, such as a hammer or saw.
  5. Take the class outdoors and invite kids to take turns digging in the sandbox for toy tools, being sure to involve children with special needs. (Assign assistant diggers to kids with physical disabilities.)
  6. On your return to class, ask the children to hold up and name, if they can, the tools they’ve found.
  7. Open a discussion about how tools help people do things, such as building toy boxes.
  8. Explain that some tools come in different forms, not hammers or saws, but tools that help us make friends and get along in school and elsewhere.
  9. Offer examples of these “different tools,” such as shaking hands when meeting someone for the first time, smiling, looking directly at someone when speaking with them, etc.
  10. Read the poem, Getting Along, printed below. NOTE: I wrote this poem as part of a collection for children with special needs.

Getting Along

How will I get along in this world?

For some, the learning is easier.

The pleases, thank-yous and how-do-you-dos,

Covering your nose when you’ve sneezed, “Ah-choos!”

Understanding a joke, knowing when to laugh out,

Controlling your feelings when you’re out and about.

For me, there’s confusion, where do I fit? 

Frustrations add up; I can’t find the tools I need in my kit.

My mind works differently from most of my friends,

I struggle to fit in, goals can turn into dead-ends.

Teach me, please, but let me be me.

I’ll try to fit in; I must also be free!


TAKE IT OUTDOORS! – Trick for Grades K – 5

Speaking of being free, as I’ve written in the last line of my poem above, have you discovered like I have that children with special needs function much better when daily schedules allow “down time?”

"I'll try to fit in but I must also be free!"

“I’ll try to fit in but I must also be free!”

What better place to enjoy free time – time to “just be me” – than outdoors on a sunny day.

Playgrounds are where children can literally jump for joy, like the boy in my blog pic here.

Students with physical disabilities love playground time, too. Invite a child in a wheelchair to throw a ball up in the air with volunteer runners on standby to retrieve the ball.

I liken the life of many special needs students to that of people faced with living in a world where others speak a different language.

It’s an ongoing struggle for children with certain kinds of special needs to understand what’s being presented in class and also to learn effective and appropriate means of self-expression.

Creative attention-getting tools and tricks work triple-duty with “special populations”…

  1. help teachers teach
  2. help children learn
  3. show love and care for children’s welfare

Check out these related previously published Attentionology posts for more ideas: Helping Kids Cope (11/21/12); Prevent Bullying (08/01/12); Tricks to Manage Moodiness (07/16/12); Contract to Worry Less (09/19/11) and Re-focus Attention with Loneliness Busters (08/29/11).

Talk with you again soon,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet

Go from So-So to Super!

February 25, 2013

Hi and welcome back to Attentionology of K – 5 Teachers!

Parents need sitters; teachers need subs (substitute teachers)…on call to care for their children or students when circumstances require time away from home or school.

Kim Hopkins, a substitute teacher, standing in an elementary school gym office

Kim Hopkins, a substitute teacher, standing in an elementary school gym office

Meet Kim Hopkins, shown in my blog pic here.

Kim subbed for the P.E. (physical education) teacher at a school where I recently taught.

I asked Kim if she liked substitute teaching.

Her reply – the best part is the flexible schedule. Said Kim, “It suits me because I have two children of my own and I like to get home in the afternoon to be available to them.”

Ever served as a substitute teacher? As a popular American comedian once said in similar grammatically incorrect words…Often, “they don’t get NO (or at least, very little) RESPECT!” 

I’ve noticed over time that the first words that “regular” staff members offer to school visitors, usually in a teacher’s lounge (a common meeting place), isn’t “Hello! What’s your name? Can I help you?” It’s “Who are you subbing for?” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been first assumed to be a substitute teacher at schools where I’ve worked as a writer-in-residence, I’d be rich!

Has your experience been like mine – subs sometimes seem to lack their own identity at school, at least in others’ eyes? This dilemma can make it difficult for subs to catch anyone’s attention, let alone go from so-so to super by exceeding expectations for their “performance” in class.

Maybe some subs like life this way because “low-profile” does have some benefits; but maybe not.

How can substitute teachers make on-the-job days go from so-so to super, benefiting not only themselves but also the students they reach and are charged to teach? Answer: Pack portable attentionology tools and tricks! 

Read on and remember – catchy portable resources work for anyone seeking to keeps kids on task…

1) Rocks – Tuck a pack of small decorative landscaping rocks in your school bag (recommended for students in grades 3 – 5).

When you first write your name on the board in the class where you’re subbing, tap the board with marker or chalk and tell the kids to remember your name.

Announce that you have a surprise for “rock-solid” students – those who pay attention during study time – before the end of the day or period.

Just before dismissal, walk around the room and pass out one decorative rock to each deserving kid. Tell each one that you appreciate his or her “rock-solid” school work with you.

On the day I talked with Kim Hopkins, the sub shown in the blog pic above, she was planning to use another cool (but less portable)

Kim Hopkins demonstrates rock climbing in a physical education class for kids

Kim Hopkins demonstrates rock climbing in a physical education class for kids.

attentionology tool in her P.E. classes – a rock climbing wall (shown in my blog pic here).

Safety rules and liability coverage in place, it would be awesome to have access to an eye-catching ready-to-climb wall in any instructional setting.

Teachers could use such a resource to:

  • promote physical fitness.
  • help students develop critical thinking skills, figuring out the best climbing route.
  • build self-confidence in kids.
  • motivate children, using climbing time as a reward.

Teachers can also use rock climbing walls that can be installed in instructional settings to inspire interest in exploration. Google rock climbing walls and mountain climbing for information and virtual travel sites.

2) Giant Letters – Slip a giant letter E (or the correct letter in your alphabet) into your school bag. When you introduce yourself as the substitute teacher for the day whip out your giant letter E, like you see

"Does this big E stand for E - A - S - Y?  No!"

“Does this big E stand for E – A – S – Y? No!”

me doing in my blog pic here.

Hold up the E for all to see; ask the class to guess what E stands for, adding, “Is E for E-A-S-Y?” “Say NO – NO – NO!” “E is for E-F-F-O-R-T!”

Note how totally focused the class is on you.

Close your “giant letter E presentation,”  by announcing your expectations for the day, saying, “Please don’t think for a minute that because you have a substitute teacher for the day, effort is on vacation. I’m counting on good work so that I can give a good report to __________________” (the teacher you’re subbing for).

3) Small Puppets and Stuffed Animals – Wrap a little hand puppet or soft toy, like the little lamb you see in my blog pic here,

A little lamb can be a substitute teacher's best friend!

A little lamb can be a substitute teacher’s best friend!

in a piece of fabric or inside a book for the early grades to take to school.

Young children (grades pre – K – 2) especially love stuffed animals and puppets, and they’ll be delighted with you when you tell them that you’ve brought a “little animal friend” along for the time you’re going to be the class’ substitute teacher.

You can lead into teaching time and score BIG motivation for listening and learning by telling the class that your “friend” is taking “a nap” – something young children easily understand – and suggest that you all get some good work done – the math lesson, reading, etc. that the teacher you’re subbing for has left with her/his instructions before “meeting” your “friend.” Call the toy animal by an endearing name, like “Sunshine.”

It’s common knowledge that young children find security with familiar people, places and schedules in school. Having a substitute teacher breaks their regular pattern. Watch kids in early grades quickly warm up to you when you tell them that you’d really appreciate them helping your “friend, Sunshine,” feel comfortable in class by speaking nicely to the little animal when it “wakes up” from its nap.

Score more classroom management success with this trick. Young kids will gladly keep their voices down if a little animal is “sleeping” nearby, pretend or not.

Bottom line…of course subs need to follow the guidelines spelled out by the teachers that have hired them, but there’s no rule saying that substitute teachers can’t bring their own strategies to school.

Subs can enrich class time for themselves and their students by using portable attentionology tools and tricks to make school days go from so-so to super!

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

Talk with you again soon,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet


The Magic Hat – Mid-Week Focus – Catchy Communications

February 20, 2013

Hats off to teachers…it’s time for Mid-Week Focus!

Mid-Week Focus is all about quick and easy ways to approach teaching to keep kids on task in any instructional setting.

Let’s share insight and practical ideas. Let’s blend fun with function, and LET’S ALL – TEACHERS AND PARENTS – KEEP COMMUNICATION LINES OPEN TO HELP CHILDREN GET THE BEST EDUCATION POSSIBLE.

Eileen Batson, communications guru

Eileen Batson, communications guru

Meet a communications expert, Eileen Batson, shown in my blog pic here.

I first introduced Eileen to readers last November (11/28/12). She has graciously agreed to serve again as a guest blogger on Attentionology, offering us a second set of “tricks” to achieve effective online communications.

Eileen works with individuals – educators and parents, business owners, authors and artists – to help them reach desired audiences, including elementary school students.

More about Eileen’s good work in a while. First let’s check out the new pointers she shares below.

According to Eileen, one of the most valuable actions that parents and teachers can take to ensure a good education and overall well-being of children is this…keep the link between classroom and home strong throughout the school year by using attention-getting communication tools and tricks.

Eileen is aware that creating and maintaining these “links” may seem like a daunting task, especially considering school breaks, the track system, and the number of students a teacher has in her/his class(es).

But, it’s doable, she believes. Eileen offers the following Parent Teacher Communication Tips to try, using technology whenever possible, and other resources such as the “good old telephone.”

1. Contact parents with good news regularly with calls or emails.

As most teachers know, the most important thing to remember when creating rapport with a parent at the beginning of a school term or initially at any time is to make the first phone call a positive one.

Getting in touch with a few students’ families or guardians per week is likely manageable during a planning period or after school. I suggest that you put the names you select to contact each week in your planner; you’re more likely to follow through with this strategy.

2. Create a Web Site for Yourself and/or Your Class.

A Web Site doesn’t have to be fancy to be effective. I suggest that you design or get assistance designing a basic Web site that includes the following:

  • important contact numbers
  • your email address
  • a short biography and picture of you and maybe you interacting with students
  • an overall explanation of your “yearly mission” as a teacher
  • an outline of what you will be teaching
  • a brief statement about the importance of students using notebooks and an agenda
  • your homework policy
  • your grading system
  • tutoring (if any) you or other staff members offer after school
  • a recommended student supply list
  • your expectations and goals for the term/year
  • suggestions for parents on how they can reinforce student learning in language arts and reading using pictures and helpful Web sites

You can set up your site using WordPress or Blogger.

3. Publish a Pamphlet.

If, for whatever reason, you’re not able to manage

Color catches attention; no doubt about it!

Color catches attention; no doubt about it!

a Web site, there’s huge value in distributing a  traditional newsletter or pamphlet to parents during Open Houses or when you conference with them about their students.

Microsoft Publisher can help you design and print an attractive, informative newsletter or pamphlet (with a colorful cover like you see in the blog pic above).

4. Set up a social network on or where students and parents can message their teacher and each other.

This creates a sense of community and belonging.

What is Gaggle’s communication suite enables educators, students and parents to communicate anytime and anywhere. Gaggle ( is dedicated to providing safe email accounts for students. The tools that Gaggle provides allow schools to feel secure when giving their students email access.

On the Gaggle Network, teachers control what can be written and who can correspond with the students. Messages with inappropriate words are automatically re-routed to the teacher’s account. This allows the teacher to decide whether or not the student gets to see the message.

Check out the awesome communication features of the Gaggle Network:

  • Gaggle Email: Allows safe electronic communication for schools and students.
  • Web-based service for access anywhere with constant filtering and control of student accounts.
  • Gaggle Blogs: Provide a place where students can share their thoughts, ideas, and creativity in a secure environment. Teacher blogs can be shared with parents for easy home-school communication.
  • Discussion Boards: Support curriculum and extend learning with ongoing classroom discussions. Teachers can create boards restricted to specified students and classes, with all of Gaggle’s filtering in place.
  • Parent Accounts: Provide accounts for parents to easily communicate with teachers and their own children, but prohibit contact with other students. Parents can access and review their child’s email messages, locker files, and blogs.
  • Gaggle SMS Texting: Provides safe teacher and student mobile texting, with all incoming and outgoing text messages filtered and logged thru the Gaggle SMS Gateway. By utilizing the Gateway, individual cell numbers are protected with only Gaggle’s number displayed.

Great information, Eileen; thank you! 

As a publicist and owner of Batson Group Marketing and PR for 25+ years, Eileen Batson consults, holds workshops, and speaks on public relations, social networking, marketing and blogging.

She is currently on the Board of Directors for Women’s Power Networking and Co-Organizer for their Crabtree Chapter in Raleigh, NC (US). Martin Brossman and Anora McGaha selected her chapter on public relations for inclusion in their book Social Media for Business. Eileen lives in Raleigh with her husband, award-winning author and publisher Jon Batson. Visit Eileen at

What will be under the magic hat in coming weeks?

YOU can help decide by scrolling down and leaving a comment about topics you’d like The Magic Hat – Mid-Week Focus to address.

Check back with Attentionology for K – 5 Teachers again soon,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet

International Festival of Attention-Grabbers – Ohio (US)

February 18, 2013

Hi and welcome back to Attentionology for K – 5 Teachers!

As March draws near, schools in many parts of the world are preparing for testing time. The word itself – test – is enough to send some kids into a “tizzy.”

Kids aren’t alone in their fears, asserts Scott Bitner, M.ED, shown in my blog pic below.

Scott Bitner, M.ED, sporting a favorite hat

Scott Bitner, M.ED, sporting a favorite hat

Scott’s research and experience as a Tutor and Consultant with Learning Solutions suggests that the foundation of test anxiety is in adults, not children.

What’s the attentionology connection?

Teachers can use strategies that, in Scott’s words, “remove the threat of testing,” and improve the likelihood of positive outcomes for students, teachers, schools and communities.

Scott stresses the importance of helping students:

  • increase mindfulness
  • focus on their strengths
  • block out “noise” when they’re preparing for and taking tests

Speaking of “noise,” Scott has “a bone to pick” with the Common Core Curriculum that’s been adopted by most states in the US. “Before Common Core,” says Scott, “I believe that we had a really good model for teaching science, as an example. We used a curriculum that built a ‘scaffolding’ for learning, beginning with general studies in elementary school.”

Where’s the Scaffolding for Learning Now? – Scott, shown doing

Scott Bitner following up on research related to preventing test anxiety in kids

Scott Bitner following up on research related to preventing test anxiety in kids

research in my blog pic here, has served as a Science Specialist in Middle School; worked with K – 5 groups, and with “at-risk” students.

In his estimation, the Common Core Curriculum “has unfortunately forced teachers to introduce more sophisticated concepts at an earlier age, before the ‘scaffolding’ is there. Students are becoming overwhelmed. Overwhelmed kids tend to get anxious.”

Is Test Anxiety Increasing with Your  Classes? – Have you noticed, like Scott has, that more and more students seem anxious and that test anxiety is increasing in school?

“Sometimes the result is that kids tune out,” Scott observes. “I think that some kids take what I call ‘commercial breaks’ in the middle of class. They’re thinking, ‘I don’t understand what the teacher is saying, so why should I bother trying?'” Teachers need tools and tricks to keep kids on task…

Colorful STICKY NOTES are multi-functional!

Allow elementary school students to borrow sticky note test helpers as needed.

…attention-getting tools and tricks, like posting Sticky Note Test Helpers (shown in my blog pic here).

Write a few words of encouragement on sticky notes and post them on a bulletin board for students to borrow as needed.

You might help alleviate children’s anxiety.

Enormous Learning Expectations – 

In Scott’s thinking, learning expectations have increased exponentially outside of school, as well as inside the classroom.

He expresses his concern this way: “Look what we’ve done to kids in the last twenty years, in the US at least. In our drive for them to have a better life than our own (and to stay competitive in the world economy when they grow up – my words) we pile on the activities. There seems to be a perception that if kids aren’t involved in a huge number of after- school activities, they’ll fall behind. I’d like to get back to letting kids be kids.”

When Scott was a kid himself, his home was Munroe Falls, Ohio (US), a suburb of Akron. Scott attended Old Trail School in grades 2 – 5. “It was a private country day school built along tow paths that mules walked, back during the construction of the Erie Canal.” Scott’s dad was a Science and Geography teacher in the middle grades; hence Scott’s attendance at Old Trail School (and his path into teaching – like father, like son.)

Attentionology Masters – What teacher got Scott’s attention? “All of my teachers were good,” Scott says quickly, “but Ms. Schell, one of my third grade team teachers, really stands out in my mind.” Ms. Schell was a math and reading specialist – an interesting combination by today’s standards. According to Scott, “She made it clear to me and my parents that I was there to learn.”

Scott admits to being “a bit on the lazy side” as a kid. “Ms. Schell had a disciplinary approach like a favorite grandma,” he recalls. “She was someone I always felt I could go to because she was never angry but she did express sorrow at some of my behavior.”

Scott elaborates on Ms. Schell’s management style: “She’d say that she really hated to have to fail me, but that I needed to learn my lesson.” After one failed grading period and a series of parent teachers conferences, Scott puts it this way, “Let’s just say that failing didn’t happen again.” Ms. Schell got Scott’s attention and helped set him straight, he recalls, by being kind but firm. “She was no-nonsense, but very approachable.”

Fast- forward to elementary education in 2013; Scott believes that “we can have instructional rigor without conveying to kids that they have to pass the test or be forever doomed.”

Scott’s work with students and other teachers has strengthened his position that the educational community should, in his words, “let teachers teach in a more relaxed manner.” He asserts that teachers and students (in the US) today suffer from “an ever-increasing volume of mandatory objectives, scripting, and unrealistic timetables.”

“Kid are NOT widgets; teachers are NOT factory hands; schools are NOT manufacturing facilities,” says Scott emphatically.

Strategies for Success – With Scott’s strong background in science, he recognizes the benefits of evaluation. In his consulting work, Scott’s quick to say that strategies for preventing test anxiety need to be based on individual teachers and classes. “No one formula offers a fix for low test scores,” he says, but Scott always recommends re-evaluation of:

1) the curriculum, instruction and materials – what we teach and how

2) the make up of students in a class

3) the interactions of students with the teacher and each other

One teaching and test-preparation strategy that Scott’s seen work well is peer learning and review. “Teachers know which kids are grasping concepts, and it’s helpful to mix kids with different strengths into groups that enable all students to benefit from peer learning and review,” he asserts.

Scott recommends another effective test-preparation strategy that many teachers may already follow: do a formative assessment in a format and writing style that’s similar to the actual upcoming test. “Practice testing is helpful,” he suggests. Do you agree?

Addressing test anxiety is extremely important,” says Scott. “We’re working with the first generation in the US of K – 12 students that have never known anything but standardized testing. Okay, all teaching is preparation for a test in a way” (as in the ‘tests of life’), “but there’s a limit to how much of a load we can all carry.”

About his criticisms of the Common Core Curriculum? As Scott – ever the science teacher – says, “If we don’t rock the boat, we won’t know where the instability lies.” You can follow more of Scott’s thinking on his blog at

Talk with you again soon,

Barbara The Lovable Poet

The Magic Hat – Mid-Week Focus – Creating Visual Feasts

February 13, 2013

Hats off to teachers…it’s time for Mid-Week Focus!

Mid-Week Focus is all about quick and easy ways to approach teaching to keep kids on task in any instructional setting.

What's under the magic hat today?

What’s under the magic hat today?

Let’s share insight and practical ideas. Let’s blend fun with function, and LET’S CREATE “VISUAL FEASTS” TO ADD “PIZZAZZ” TO OUR DAILY SCHOOL SCHEDULES. 

“Visual Feasts” are under the magic hat today.

I still laugh every time I think about my fifth grade teacher; the one who gently “burst our young bubbles,explaining in class on the day before spring break that “kids think that vacations are for them. Well they are, and I hope you have fun on break, but I got news…teachers need vacations too!”

It’s no news that we can’t be out of school as much as we might like, but we can enjoy mini-vacations – or call them little celebrations – that sustain us through “same old” routines by creating visual “feasts.”

Browse below for ways to jazz up your educational corner of the world, catching kids’ attention in the process.

SEIZE YOUR FAVORITE SEASON – Love the fall of the year?

Watch kids' eyes grow big when you throw a pile of fall leaves in the air!

Watch kids’ eyes grow big when you throw a pile of fall leaves in the air!

Start a school day by “throwing caution to the wind.”

Grab hold of a pile of colorful real or silk leaves, like you see in my blog pic here.

If fall isn’t coming soon for you, tell your class that you know it’s _________________ (current season), but you just can’t wait for fall!

Surprise! Surprise! Throw the leaves in the air and offer this quick rhyme as they drop to the floor…

Falling leaves float by,

Orange, red, yellow, green,

Falling leaves in autumn,

What a lovely scene!

Depending on how much time you have to wrap up this attentionology trick, you can…

  • ask for volunteers to “hand-rake up” the leaves, keeping count of each pile, reporting the number when the cleanup is complete.
  • quickly sweep the leaves to the side of the room so that no one will slip on them.
  • read another nature poem from a book or online resource using a SmartBoard. (Google “poems about ___________ (the season)”

LOOK WHAT POPPED UP IN CLASS! – Masterpiece paintings are “visual feasts.” Can’t get to museums or galleries as much as you’d like?

Georgia O’Keefe, A Sunflower from Maggie, 1937, oil on canvas, 16 x 20 in., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Alfred Stieglitz Collection-Bequest of Georgia O’Keefe, © 2007 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Photograph © 2012 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Alfred Steiglitz Collection - Bequest of Georgia O'Keefe, C 2007, Photograph C, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Georgia O’Keefe, A Sunflower from Maggie, 1937, oil on canvas, 16 x 20 in., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Alfred Stieglitz Collection-Bequest of Georgia O’Keefe, © 2007 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Photograph © 2012 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Bring the art in and brighten up your day!

Find an easel to keep in your classroom.

One afternoon, after students leave for the day, set up the easel in a prominent place and display a print on it of an eye-catching painting, like the one in my blog pic here.

(This painting and other masterpieces are featured in my 12/03/12 post.)

Select a print that appeals to you and opens up learning opportunities for your students. You can…

  • ask the class as you prepare to take attendance if they notice anything that’s popped up in class since yesterday, then feign surprise when they point to the print.
  • begin the day walking to the easel, announcing your mini-museum. Build observation skills by advising students to “be on the lookout” for new art, coming soon. 
  • use the title of the print to spark creative thinking. For example, the sunflower in the painting above is “from Maggie.” “Who might Maggie be?” you ask, then, “why do you think that?”
  • invite kids to write a story based on what they see in the painting.
  • take the class on an age-appropriate virtual tour of the museum that has the painting you’re displaying in its collection.
  • allow time for students to draw and color their own “fun flowers,” (a “take-off” on sunflowers) if the art work is of flowers.

IT’S MAKE A WISH DAY! – Valentine’s Day will be celebrated tomorrow in many parts of the world, but the balloon in my blog pic

"It's Make A Wish Day!"

“It’s Make A Wish Day!”

here has a heart for turning any day into Make A Wish Day! 

Set a colorful balloon like this one on your desk. You can…

  • tell students that “today is Make A Wish Day” and ask what they wish for (“No homework tonight!”)
  • tie in the Make a Wish balloon to a charity event currently on in your school or community, like raising funds for The Make A Wish Foundation (US) that sends children with serious illnesses on vacations or to special events.
  • use the Make A Wish balloon as a “friendly reminder” if your class needs to focus better during study time or improve test scores, etc. Present the balloon as your way of saying, “I wish that you would ___________________________.”
  • celebrate a birthday. For example, you might bring a Make A Wish balloon to class on March 4, birthday of Dr. Seuss, beloved American children’s author. After the class sings “Happy Birthday” to Dr. Seuss, ask who wishes to hear one of his stories.

“Visual feasts” are fun and filling, like the edible kind, but without the calories! All you need: a few clever ideas; a little money and some minutes to create eye-catchers that will brighten any day.

Talk with you again soon,

Barbara ♥  The Lovable Poet

The Attentionology Traveler – Most Beautiful Place

February 11, 2013

Hi and welcome back to Attentionology for K – 5 Teachers!

a world of ideas at your fingertips!

a world of ideas at your fingertips!

The Attentionology Traveler is packed and ready to go with new trips and teaching tricks to share with you in 2013.

One of my most favorite, classroom-tested, attention-getting activities for inspiring kids to write stories and/or poems is a travel adventure itself…

…I invite students to name and focus their writing on the “most beautiful place in the world!”

It’s “Travel Time.” Kids LOVE this activity! Here’s how it unfolds…

I hold up a small plastic (place mat) world map, like you see in my blog pics above and below. I tell the class – with a big smile on my face – “when the world is only this big, I can carry it with me wherever I go.”  

"We'll visit this country here; is it the most beautiful place?"

“We’ll visit this country here; is it the most beautiful place?”

I ask for a show of hands from students that have “ever traveled somewhere special to you.”

Hands fly; I call on a few students to say where they’ve been.

(It’s interesting to note that in many classes, the teacher whose room I’m visiting has never asked about her/his students’ travel experiences, and she/he seems surprised by the information I uncover about the students with this learning process.)

Engaging students and teachers in my role of The Attentionology Traveler, I mention that sharing travel experiences, like we’re doing together, is a great way to get to know someone of any age.

“Travel Time” also helps kids gain a greater appreciation of our world community.

Depending on your grade level, you can also use “Travel Time” to reinforce learning about spatial concepts. For example, I always ask, “Has anyone in this class ever traveled somewhere way far away?” Of course, distance is relative to kids’ personal experiences, but I can see the “wheels turning” in their minds as they think about the question. “Travel Time” keeps kids focused and on task.

Realizing that  some students, for any number of reasons, haven’t had the opportunity to travel, I always include another spatial concept during “Travel Time” – one that has strong emotional ties, too. Using a strong voice I say these words, “Sometimes the most beautiful place in the world is no further away than our very own space at home.” I continue this possibility, saying, “No matter how big or small that space may be, you might think that it’s the most beautiful place of all!”

Travel Time” doesn’t end with this concept. I often continue  preparing the class for writing time by holding up a poster of a sunset, like you see in my blog pic below.

Where is this most beautiful place?

Where is this most beautiful place?

“Where was this sunset?” I ask the class.

“Was it in Belize?” I might add – offering kids a quick  “taste a country” (and a true or false option for older kids.*)

Teaching Goals:

1) Connect writing with world awareness, geography and science (explaining, for example, that Belize is a beautiful Central American country of 200 islands, bordered on the east by the Barrier Reef in the Caribbean Sea.)

2) Connect with other cultures, giving my classes potential pen pals via e-mail to develop writing and technology skills (explaining, again for example, that Belize is where some children go to La Isla Bonita (Spanish for The Beautiful Island) Elementary School  in San Pedro Town on Ambergris Caye, Belize’s largest island.)

So, when I ask kids where they think the sunset pic was taken, hands fly again and every student offers a different answer.

“Ah ha…that’s it!” I reply, and then I say, “Listen to this…If we all use the same title – The Most Beautiful Place – for our stories or poems, I bet we’ll find that everyone’s writing is different!” 

“Why?” I elaborate on my assertion. “Because, what’s the most beautiful place to you (I point in the direction of one side of the classroom) is different from what’s most beautiful to you.” (I point to the other side of the room).

By now the kids are totally motivated to start their stories or poems! We “travel” into our private quiet writing zones and the pencils begin to fly across papers. It’s very cool to see kids so excited about writing; Travel Time” is the ticket.

Teachers with a curriculum that includes helping students learn to differentiate between fact and opinion can use this writing activity to show opinion. “In my opinion, the most beautiful place in the world is __________________________________ and here’s why __________________________________ ” (defending opinion).

Note: Teachers of K – 2 kids can invite students to draw a picture of, instead of writing about, their most beautiful place and take turns showing it to the class, telling why it’s special.

When my classes and I have some minutes left after writing time I share bits of stories from different parts of the world.

One of my favorites is titled The Most Beautiful Place in the World by the American children’s author, Ann Cameron. (Alfred A. Knopf, New York) I tell the kids that this is a story about a boy named Juan who lives with his grandmother in a mountainous city, San Pablo, in Guatemala.

“Listen for the writing,” I advise, “but listen too for how different Juan’s life may be than your own.” “The following excerpt describes Juan’s home city,” I tell the class, and then I read aloud from Cameron’s book…

The only time people aren’t carrying things is at night, when they go out just to stroll around town and have fun and tell stories and talk to their friends. Everybody walks in the street, more or less straight down the middle, and if a car comes while somebody’s having a good conversation or telling a good story, the car has to wait till the story finishes before people will move out of the way. Stories are important here, cars aren’t.

Traveling is important to every child’s education, through stories like Cameron’s, and through other resources. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, virtual trips around the world can now be at our fingertips.

(*The sunset pic above, by the way, was not taken in Belize, although it might have been, as beautiful as Belize and many other places are; it was taken over the Pacific Ocean in Laguna Beach, California, US. Photo: Don Haudenschild)

The Attentionology Traveler will travel on to share more tools and tricks to catch and keep kids’ attention, helping K – 5 students achieve success.

Talk with you again soon,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet