Transitions and Getting Student Attention


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What's your favorite tried and true attention signal? Mine is a golden oldie that my Daddy used to sing it to me, "Shave and a haircut." Then I would sing in reply, "Two bits." The tune is only a seven-note jingle, but it is mighty. I teach this to my students on the first day of school. I sing the first part; they sing the second. When they hear that tune, my students know that I have something they need to know. It's time to get quiet quickly and listen.

The advantage of singing is that the tone and rhythm cut right through almost any noise. I can sing this at lively class parties and children will get quiet immediately. Parents are always amazed and think I'm some sort of child whisperer. One reason I think this works is that it is gentle and pleasant sounding.

I also use this jingle during sharing time. Same tune, but I change the words a bit. If the children are losing focus I will sing, "Where is my audience?" or "I need an audience." The children sing back, "Right here!" This can help center the attention on the writer and buy a few more minutes of share time.

This year I have a bit rowdier crowd and found that not everyone was hearing me the first time. I started singing the jingle twice. Big mistake. Some students would not even begin to listen until I had sung it two times. So I made a few changes. Now I'll sing it once and point to the children who sang back and say "Thank you for being a first time listener." Now we're all getting back on track.

If you are interested, here are a few other behavior management tricks I use during share time:

  • Be sure you have labeled, modeled and practiced what a good listener looks like.
  • Be animated and quick.
  • I often say, "Point to the person whose turn it is to talk." They point to the sharer and I say, "Yes, you are right, thanks for listening."
  • Ask students to "notice" things about the sharer's writing.
  • Try complimenting who is listening.
  • Make connections between students about their writings. They listen better if they hear how their writing is like their neighbors.
  • Remind students of the Golden Rule. If you want your friends to listen to you; now it's time for you to listen to them.
  • If it's just one or two offenders I might say, "Does Mrs. Prentice want you to talk right now, yes or no.?" When they say no, I will say, "You are correct, let's get busy listening."
  • Sometimes, if it's one of "those" days, it's best to quit and finish up after lunch.

Can I promise your sharing times will always run smoothly? Will the children always respond and listen quietly? Unequivocally no! But does anything run perfectly in a classroom all the time? I believe that students' sharing their work is the most important instructional strategy a teacher can use. It's worth the effort! This can be the glue that binds a classroom community together and it only costs two bits!

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