After being in a real elementary classroom for a week now, I’ve started to notice things I could never have learned in a graduate class alone. One thing I had never given much thought was just how short the attention spans are of elementary age children. The younger the age, the shorter the attention span. For teachers, this means you have to keep the lessons engaging and maybe even entertaining if you want to keep the students interested.
The science lab teacher I’ve been learning under does a great job of holding her kindergarten, first grade, and second graders’ attention by re-focusing their attention every 5-10 minutes or so. For example, with her first graders, she might start the lesson by gathering the students on the carpet in the front of the room and reading a short story. Then she will change their attention to another area of the room where they will watch a quick video. After sitting for 10 minutes or so, the students are ready to move around a little bit. Next on the agenda is getting up and moving around the classroom to grab their journals and have a seat at unassigned tables to do a short journal entry on a topic involving the lesson of that day. One really interesting thing in the science lab is the chairs on which the students sit. They are the Gaiam Balance Ball Chairs. Imagine yoga balls attached to chair backs with wheels. The idea behind the chairs is that it allows for the fidgety kids to have constant movement without disturbing the class as a whole. After the journal entries, the students are invited to explore the lab for the last 5-10 minutes. This typically means they can move around the room as they please to look through microscopes, play educational games on the iPads, observe the different class pets, and much more.
I’ve noticed through this system that the students rarely get out of control, and I really see the lightbulbs coming on. They are really learning. It’s as if by keeping up with their short attention spans, you are hitting a metaphorical refresh button each time you refocus. They become interested in what comes next and eager to advance along with you. I think keeping things fresh and new is the key with these young minds.
No method is perfect, and it seems as though there will always be those students who have trouble paying attention or behaving. However, I think that the main goal is to truly get to know my students and do my best to design my lessons in a way that is most beneficial to them.