5 Ideas for Keeping Students Focused at the Beginning of the School Year
A new year has begun! Students crowd hallways looking for classrooms, forgetting locker combinations, and catching up with friends. Teachers prowl up and down corridors guiding students in the right direction, greeting both new and old students, and watching for mischief.
Each student enters your classroom with anticipation and some anxiety. What will expect of them? Will you be mean or nice? The questions go on and on. For you as the teacher, the most beneficial thing you can do is help your students stay focused on learning, and the beginning of the school year is where you set the tone for each and every day that follows. Keep reading to find some helpful hints to help students stay focused and on task.
Create a plan for cell phones
Cell phones are one of the biggest distractions in schools. Students can’t seem to keep their hands off of them, so you should create some type of policy for how cell phones should be handled in your classroom. Some popular options include keeping them in a specific spot on the students’ desks or placing them in a box or holder at the front of the room.
For the first time this year, I’ve implemented a new cell phone policy, and it has been the greatest idea i’ve quite possibly had in my 11 years of teaching. I purchased a cell phone or calculator holder that has numbers on it. Each student was assigned a number on the first day of school, and each day before class starts, they have to place their phone in their phone slot. I then go through and check that each one is there and can easily take attendance just by seeing whose phones are in the slots. Some of my students leave them in their lockers, but I’ve had students leave their phones behind because they were so focused on the task at hand that they didn’t remember to grab it on the way out the door. So whatever you choose, you should find some way to handle cell phones, or they will handle you.
Utilize a daily routine
From the moment students walk through your door, there should be a routine in place. This will show students your expectations as well as ease their mind about how class will function. Many classrooms start with some type of bell work or bell ringer. This is a great activity to get students focused on the day’s topic, give them a chance to write a small writing prompt, or read a book. Think of how you want students to behave and in what order you want learning activities to take place. As you start the new school year, sharing these expectations and what those daily routine activities look like with your students will make them feel more comfortable and keep them focused.
Give concise instructions
Students are always unsure at the beginning of the school year, so giving clear instructions can help them stay on task. Explain to students what they will be doing next and even tell them what that should look like as you walk around the room. Should they be working silently at their seat? Can they ask a neighbor a question or only you? Sometimes even holding up your fingers to show them what to do first then next helps them visualize the individual steps to your instructions. As students complete the tasks, you can go around the room and correct behavior if needed and be available for questions.
Allow students to collaborate
Until students get to know you as their teacher, you probably hear crickets whenever you ask if they have questions or ask for volunteers. Give students the opportunity to work together on assignments in class. This will make them feel more comfortable in your room because they can work with someone they know. It can also help them adapt to new material more easily if they have someone they can talk to about their decisions. It also gives you as the teacher a chance to wander the room, help them, and get to know them a little bit better along the way.
Plan extra activities
Lastly, as the first few days begin, you might find yourself with a little extra time on your hands. Maybe an activity ended early or didn’t take as long as you thought to complete, and you don’t have the necessary materials for the next lesson. Keep several activities close at hand for those few minutes so that students can stay focused on learning.
This is a great chance for you to get to know your students better both personally and academically. You could have them write a short story to see their writing skills or ask them questions to learn more about their interests outside your room. You could play “Would You Rather” to have some interesting class discussions and bolster classroom climate. The idea is not to create busy work for you or your students, but free time can be more of a hindrance than a help to students.
How do you keep your students focused at the beginning of the school year? Share your ideas with us on Twitter @Schoology