Posts Tagged ‘critical thinking skills’

Modeling Creativity for Attention

February 28, 2011

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

Pelting rain is drenching the windows near my desk as I write this week’s blog in the middle of a thunderstorm on the last day of February.

What an attention-getter – the sound of thunder – made more ominous by lightning in an otherwise quiet thick black sky! Would that teachers could call up thunder and lightning once in a while in our classrooms to catch and keep the attention of students whose minds may be wandering away from work. Well, it’s a creative thought, at least.

Creativity – how do we define it? How can we use it to foster focus in class? Creativity is the ability to be inventive and imaginative. Much discussion is underway in different parts of the world about the growing importance of creativity in education, because to be inventive and imaginative is directly linked with critical thinking – a much desired skill in today’s difficult times.

More than one school of thought today suggests that the twenty-first century global economy requires workers who are capable of using their imaginations to think critically and collaborate on projects toward mutually agreed-to goals. Teachers who believe this premise can contribute enormously to their students’ success by modeling creativity in their classrooms. This includes engaging students’ hearts and minds by using tools and tricks that catch and keep kids’ attention. When children get to spend time with creative teachers they get to learn by osmosis.

Check out comparative statistics for student achievement levels in different developed countries worldwide and you’ll likely find that science, technology, engineering and math take center stage. Look closer, as many respected educators have done, however, and you’ll find that this specific curriculum quartet comprises a set of tools – very important tools – but not the complete makings of a positive end result.

Along with science, technology, engineering (in the upper grades) and math, more and more educators encourage the inclusion of skill-building in the areas of critical thinking, the ability to communicate and the ability to work together on project development.  

Finding and using creative ways to catch and keep K – 5 students’ attention is an important step in this skill-building process. It’s important to start the process early in children’s lives to help them achieve later success. I believe that it’s especially important to develop an appreciation in elementary school students for the importance of strong communication skills in our global community.

Mixing up predictable patterns is one way to model creativity, but this needs to be done carefully, of course, to maintain good classroom management and balance, particularly for students with special needs. We’ll look at more ways to achieve this goal in upcoming blogs.

Please comment with your ideas on how to model creativity in the classroom and gain and maintain students’ attention in the process.

The storm outside still rages and rain is predicted to continue, but I plan to take sunshine indoors tomorrow when I’m teaching. That’s what I always tell my students when I enter a classroom on a rainy day. I simply say, “We’ll just have to make sunshine indoors today.” Hope that’s one example you can use of modeling creativity for attention.

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

Talk with you next week,

Barbara The Lovable Poet


Learning Sustained Concentration – A Challenge!

October 18, 2010

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

I had an opportunity to hear Dr. Tony Wagner speak recently about “The Global Achievement Gap” in education.  Tony, as he insisted he be called, is Co-Director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Tony identified seven of what he called “survival skills” for workers in the 21st century, including the ability to sustain concentration – we’ll come back to that. 

In my view, anyone who’s been paying attention to trends in education and employment will recognize every one of these must-have skills as ones that have been identified as critical since well before the year 2000. Still, it may be helpful to read the list below as an urgent mandate

Tony (and others) stress that students today (and the younger, the better) need to gain:

  1. the ability to think critically and solve problems and most importantly, the ability to ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
  2. the ability to collaborate across networks and to lead by influence
  3. agility and adaptability in a world of constant change
  4. initiative and entrepreneurialism with the goal of “stretching” towards rather than necessarily “reaching” goals
  5. effective oral and written communication skills which connects with the ability to influence or persuade
  6. the wherewithal to access and analyze information, using technology rather than textbooks
  7. curiosity and imagination through the development of both sides of the brain

At another point in his presentation, Tony outlined what he believes motivates the “Net” Generation. Maybe this is overly pessimistic on my part (I work hard to bring optimism and a can-do attitude to my blog each week!), but the two lists look to me to be at odds with each other – a big problem.

See what you think after you read Tony’s list below, which I believe describes more than just motivators for the Net generation. I think Tony’s list paints a picture of young people lacking the interest and ability to sustain concentration and not being in the company of enough adults who DEMAND sustained concentration.

  • being accustomed to instant gratification and an always-on connection
  • using the web to extend friendships and provide access to peers
  • being interest-driven
  • self-directed learning
  • tools for self-expression
  • being constantly connected, creating and multitasking in a multi-media world that exists everywhere EXCEPT in most schools
  • hunger for authentic mentors
  • desire and need to make a difference

How in the world can students who are so driven by instant gratification learn to stay focused and on task, online and especially off-line, for sustained periods of time? Talk about motivation; if anyone doubts the need to creatively use tools and tricks to catch and keep students’ attention in many parts of the world today, Tony’s sobering assessment of “The “Global Achievement Gap” should get educators moving!

Remember, you don’t need to be a magician (but it helps sometimes) to work magic in instructional settings!

Talk with you next week,

BarbaraThe Lovable Poet

Be a Model of Attention-ology

September 27, 2010

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

Stop at your door the next time you enter your classroom and look around the whole instructional space. What catches your eye first? What’s the focus of the teaching zone(s)? What looks fresh and inviting?

Before you step any further, ask yourself if your room looks as distracted as you sometimes feel? Probably not, but it doesn’t hurt to periodically pretend that you’ve never set foot in your classroom before and ask yourself how it makes you feel. Energized or overtasked? Open to opportunities or stuck in second gear?

Most teachers have limited resources to use in creating spaces that are conducive to learning, and my experience tells me that many teachers are wizards at taking to heart the Depression-era expression: “Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without.” Still, I believe that you can enhance your teaching effectiveness (and enjoyment) by looking with new eyes at your teaching space.

Okay…that’s all about space. Now what about face – your face -your demeanor – your ability to be an attention-ology role model for your students? Research abounds, especially research from the mid-1990s on, about adults complaining of feeling overstretched, overbooked, overloaded, and the connection between these sensations and the proliferation of technology is evident.

If adults, teachers included, have difficulty handling multi-tasking that can get out-of-control, think of what kind of negative model we may be for our students…unless we keep ourselves in check. The scary thing is that if we don’t practice ways to control information overload when we’re in or out of school, off-line or online, we may become models of distraction without even knowing it.

Following are four simple steps to sharpen your own attention skills (Note: you can share these tricks, after some modifications to make them age-appropriate, with fifth, fourth, and possibly third grade students):

  1. Make a note – This may be obvious, but when you’re online and you either think of something you need to do or get drawn to an article or ad that is not related to your purpose for being online to begin with, make and note and get back to it later.
  2. Use your brain muscles – Did you know that the part of the brain needed for focusing has to be toned to be fit? According to research, too much multitasking, too much busy-ness keeps us from exercising the brain muscles that allow us to focus. Reading, really reading a book, and the act of meditation are proven remedies for relieving stress and maintaining attentiveness.
  3. Unplug altogether – Literally and figuratively, it’s healthy to let your computer “go down” by taking a physical exercise break from online activities. It’s no news flash that parents and teachers are looking for creative ways to encourage more outdoor play for children.
  4. Become a culture critic – Ask yourself (and then ask your class) if you/they really believe that your focus is on what’s important. Get ready for some interesting conversation!

Here’s a piece of research-based good news for teachers looking for additional ways and whys to help students stay on task in class:

When you limit your distraction-laced information intake, limit multitasking and reduce the rush rush of life, the areas of your brain associated with decision-making and goal achievement are strengthened. Kids may yawn at this concept; if they do, suggest a better night’s sleep!

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

Talk with you next week,

BarbaraThe Lovable Poet

I Spy a Good Listener!

July 12, 2010

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

You may have heard the old Chinese proverb that roughly translates in English to, “We hear and we forget; we see and we remember; we do and we understand.” I’m of  a mind that this proverb has merit for teaching, especially if one considers that DOING almost always includes hearing and seeing.

I Spy a Good Listener is an activity you can try in your instructional setting that focuses on sight, but the attention-getting aspect of this trick is all about the ACT of looking to find students who are paying attention to you, the teacher.

If you teach children in grades K – 2 and like this idea, I recommend using a large magnifying glass on a long handle to “ACT-centuate” your “spying.” (Many “dollar stores,” at least in the U.S., sell inexpensive plastic magnifying glasses designed for use with children.)

Here’s how to begin the I Spy trick: Hold up the magnifying glass and in your best detective voice announce, “Boys and girls, I’m looking to spy a good listener.” Move around the classroom as you look into the magnifier and lean toward students who readily respond to you in a positive way.

If you want to take this activity a step further, single out the students who are showing excellent listening skills. For example, you can note to the class that Sean and Maria are paying close attention by following your movement around the classroom. Test students’ listening skills by asking them to repeat a short rhyme, for example, if you’re using this trick as part of a language arts activity.

Let your class know that there will be other opportunties to “play” I Spy a Good Listener! In fact, on another day, you may catch and keep your students’ attention just 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 your students.

One of the reasons this teaching trick has a high success rate is that magnifying glasses are magical to children (as well as to some adults). They are one of the oldest devices used to improve sight. Many historians agree that it was the Romans 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. Modern magnifying glasses are double convex lenses that make objects appear larger than they are. If you’d like to tie this teaching trick to an early years science lesson, you may want to explain to your class that early magnifying glasses led to modern-day microscopes.

For older students, the concept of getting a closer look at something through magnification may lead nicely into an activity that focuses on critical thinking – a much-needed skill for all 21st century students.

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

Talk with you next week,

BarbaraThe Lovable Poet