To me, the best teacher professional development workshops are practical. Nothing wrong with theory, but teachers are so busy these days, and the job is complicated. As a teacher I want to take back ideas that I can implement the very next day, that can actually help me with a common problem in the classroom. For example, getting ideas to get students’ attention. Who doesn’t have problems with getting their students’ attention? Keeping their attention is another skill, but how about getting it in the first place?
Well, it would be cool if you could somehow engage their curiosity to the point that all of the students are sitting at the edge of their seats, quietly, patiently waiting to hear the next golden word that drips out of your mouth. That could happen. But just in case it doesn’t, here are some ways to get their attention. By the way, once you have their attention, you better be prepared to take advantage of that opportunity. Here is a way you can use to get students’ attention quickly, every time using something I call VKC (Visual, Kinesthetic Cue).
To get your students’ attention, it makes sense to me to do something that would activate as much of their brains as possible. I like teacher professional development that is practical and also let’s me know why things work in the classroom. So let’s talk about a very powerful technique to get students’ attention I call VKC. To get at the root of how to do VKC and why I think it works so well, let’s start by discussing the concept of learning styles. There are different opinions about learning styles from educators, and from neuroscientists.
There are many educators, like Dr. Neil Fleming, who say that we all have preferred learning modalities. That means that some people learn better when they hear a lecture, some insist they can only learn by doing, and engaging their various kinesthetic senses.
By the way, if you want to explore Fleming’s ideas about learning styles a little more, it’s interesting. Usually we talk about learning styles being in one of three categories: Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic (VAK). Fleming theorized about 4 different learning styles. In his model he has Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic, which we are all familiar with, but he added a fourth: Reading/Writing. People with the Reading/ Writing preferred modality may be the people who go home and rewrite their notes from class that day to make sense of them. So Fleming’s theory is VARK: Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing, Kinesthetic. You can find self-reporting tests out there by Fleming if you’re interested in exploring this more.
In contrast, most neuroscientist would say that concept of humans having preferred learning styles or preferred learning modalities is suspect at best, because we don’t learn with just one sensory input. We are multimodal creatures when it comes to getting sensory input from our environments. For example, our vision is connected to our sense of hearing. You have all experienced this. If you have ever heard a noise in the dark, you don’t just listen, you immediately look in the direction you believe the sound came from, so your sense of vision can help identify the sound. Another example is the Vestibular Ocular Reflex (VOR). Have you ever wondered why, if you’re walking or running, your vision doesn’t look like someone jogging with a video camera and jiggling all around? It’s because of something called our Vestibular Ocular Reflex. Our vestibular sense is our sense of balance and orienting to the space around us. Believe it or not, our vestibular sense (our sense of balance) is located in our inner ear! So our vestibular sense, located in the inner ear, also helps our vision stay steady and clear when we are moving. It also helps keep our vision clear and steady when we move our head from side to side, but keep staring forward. The VOR helps keep our eyes fixed on the object we are gazing upon so we can see it clearly, even with our head turned away.
So, we are multimodal creatures and process multiple sensory inputs at the same time. You can’t argue with science, although most teachers I know would say absolutely learning styles exist. I agree with both sides! I can tell you myself that I was one of those students who could just hear a lecture and understand the content. I rarely took notes in class, even when I was in some teacher professional development as an adult, because I am one of those people that once I heard it, I had it!
Having a preferred learning modality might have something to do with the concept of neuroplasticity. This is a neuroscience concept that states our brains are plastic and malleable, and change and rewire itself as a result of interacting with the environment we find ourselves in. I am a musician and spent an inordinate amount of time playing and practicing and performing music of all kinds for hours and hours during very important developmental times in my young life. Perhaps that made my brain push auditory signals to the front of the line when storing information. I’ll never know for sure, but I do know that there is definitely a bias to auditory signals in my brain when it comes to processing information.
I also believe the neuroscientists that say we are multimodal. Of course we are! So I took a different approach. I just simplified my quest by finding out how much of our neocortex was involved in processing visual, auditory and kinesthetic information. The neocortex is the gray, wavy surface of our brains. Neo means new and cortex means bark or rind. It is the outer surface of our brains. We also have very important inner structures, like the amygdala and thalamus that also are involved in hearing, but I am choosing to ignore that for now for simplicities sake!
It turns out that about 20-30% of our neocortex is involved in processing visual information, followed distantly by kinesthetic (8%) and auditory (3%). So, if I want to engage as much of my students’ brains as possible to get the best chance to get their attention, I would say that just using an auditory cue (“Excuse me boys and girls, may I get your attention please?”) probably isn’t as effective as doing something visual to get their attention. Even better, if I can do something kinesthetic, a movement of some kind, then it is automatically visual as well. Here are two examples of a VKC: Visual/Kinesthetic Cue, to help you get your students’ attention any time you want! This is the kind of practical teacher professional development I love!
The first VKC we will discuss is called the Cross Clap. I would first do this as a state change so the students are familiar with the activity. Then, later on when you need it to get their attention, they will jump right in.
To do the Cross Clap, you stand in front of the class and put one hand of your hands above your head and the other hand below your waist. Tell your students to clap whenever your hands cross in front of you. Then you change the position of your hands quickly, so that the one above your head moves to below your belt, and the one that was below your belt is now above your head. When the hands cross in the middle of this switch, the students clap.
If they are all working at their desks alone or in small groups and you want to get their attention, just stand in front of them in the “ready” position with one hand above your head and the other below your belt. While you are holding that position, catch the gaze of several of your students and mouth the words “Ready?” to them. Then you start switching your hands. All of the other students will quickly join in, and give directions to your students in-between the claps.
Join Me When You Can
If the students are all at their desks doing work alone or in small groups, stand in front of the class and start doing a simple pattern, like lap-clap-snap, where you take both hands and pat your lap, clap your hands once and then snap your fingers. While you are doing this pattern, look around the classroom and catch the gaze of the students. When you catch their gaze, say to them “Join me when you can”. After several students have joined, the rest will start doing the pattern as well. The teacher gives the next directions in-between patterns.
As you can see, there is a great deal of research and science behind each one of these seemingly simple activities. I like learning the reason why things work. I hope you found that research interesting too, but even if you didn’t, these strategies will work for you just as well. If you are interested in getting more research-based, practical strategies like this to help you with simple solutions to common classroom problems, like getting students’ attention, check out our 1 Minute Mastery video subscription. Every week of the year, you will get a video, no more than 2 minutes long, that will explain and demonstrate strategies in categories such as getting and keeping attention and getting students to participate and engage, along with the best teaching tips and teacher self-care strategies the world has to offer! Check us out for the best teacher professional development options at 212 CreativEd.com
Teaching can be tough, be kind to yourself, and thank you for everything you do for your students every day.