Posts Tagged ‘“Magical” teaching tools and tricks’

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


The Magic Pencil Holds Students Spellbound

June 13, 2011

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

“What did you do over the weekend?” I overheard a fourth grade teacher ask a colleague in the teachers’ “lounge” at lunchtime. “SLEPT!” she replied, with a voice that capitalized every letter in the short word. “That’s all I seem to want to do on the weekends,” she continued. “I’m exhausted from work.”

Obviously stressed by the demands of educating kids of any age in the age we’re in, we teachers (and parents) sometimes forget, I think, that students – children – feel just as pressed. No wonder a lot of kids “go blank” when I ask them to think up an idea for a story or a poem.

Ah, but that’s before I whip out The Magic Pencil.

The Magic Pencil automatically writes and corrects!

In every class I teach, there are at least a few students who seem lost at the mention of using their imaginations to begin a story or a poem.

Before I ask students to begin writing, we visit “the wonderful world of words” where I help kids see how elements of good writing form a circle around the ♥ of a story or a poem (more about “the wonderful world of words” in a later blog).

After we discuss must-include writing elements, I suggest that my students spend a few minutes reviewing their story or poem planning pages – brainstorming resources distributed to them at an earlier time. Brainstorming times always causes some hands to fly with guilty-looking or questioning faces that say either, “Whoops, I didn’t do my planning homework” OR, “I can’t think of anything to write about.”

You guessed it…it’s almost time for The Magic Pencil. But, I wait to allow time for young minds to kick into gear, for students to feel the satisfaction of dreaming up ideas all by themselves.

That never happens, though, not for all of my students in any class, and that’s when I reach into my teaching bag and pretend to discover something really special… “Look!” I raise a joyful voice as I hold up and point to the pencil in my hand and say, “Imagine that THIS IS A MAGIC PENCIL! I extend the pencil towards the class so that everyone can look more closely at its form. It’s an ordinary pencil, but to see the looks on students’ faces you would think they’d never seen a pencil before. That’s the magic of the tool and the trick!

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful,” I offer, “if every time you touched The Magic Pencil to your paper, it would write the story for you.” Inevitably, someone in the back of the class yells, “Wow, that would be great!” “Oh, and how about this,” I continue…pointing excitedly to the large eraser on the pencil’s end. “How cool would it be if every time you make a spelling mistake while you’re writing,” (I pause until I see that all eyes are still on me) “this Magic Pencil would do a flip” (I demonstrate the fast action) “and touch the eraser to the paper.” “Presto – automatic correction!” I conclude my dramatic presentation of an ordinary, turned magical, tool that helps jumpstart students’ writing.

By now, the kids are cheering for The Magic Pencil. Then the challenge is to settle everyone down in what I call their “private writing zones” where imagination and focus team up for good work.

By the way, teachers can apply The Magic Pencil to areas of the curriculum other than writing. For example, what student wouldn’t love to have a Magic Pencil to help with math problems. The “magic” may relieve some of the stress students feel when they approach math in the first place, especially when it’s not their best subject. Experiment and see what works best for your class.

The more I teach, the more I see that The Magic Pencil isn’t just for students. We teachers make pencils magical, too. Here’s how I describe the magic…Hope you enjoy it…

The Magic Pencil

What makes a pencil magic?

Not the way it looks,

The magic starts when children touch

The pencil to their writing books.

A pencil’s magic grows each day

It serves as a handy child’s tool

To tell a story or write a poem

In a private writing zone at school.

The pencil’s magic holds special power

In the hands of a teacher, too.

The pencil checks, it praises, corrects,

In the hands of gifted teachers, like you.

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

Talk with you next week,

BarbaraThe Lovable Poet