Getting students’ attention in the classroom

I received a very nice note today from a fellow professor today about my article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Reclaiming the Classroom With Old-Fashioned Teaching.”

In the note, he mentioned some of his “old-school” techniques for keeping students focused — dropping a book on the desk, waving his arms and, yes, even dancing. I certainly applaud his ambition and sympathize, as many of us dealing with college-age students can.

I found this article by Brenda M. Davis in Faculty Focus urging instructors to appeal to students’ senses. In essence, find a way to embrace the distractions and build on them for a learning experience. It got me thinking… (dangerous, I know.)

My students have access to computers at their seats, and I allow them to use them for note-taking. While they do take notes (I have seen them), they are also checking their email, Facebook, Twitter and any number of other distracting sites. In lieu of the constant verbal reminders I issue during class to stay on-task, perhaps I could embrace their need to click and type in a way that benefits us all.

My initial thought is to have them begin each class in small groups, searching for online articles that mirror topics or techniques we will discuss in class that day to stimulate a discussion. Or perhaps I could have them scour their own social media pages for articles being posted by their friends so we can discuss what items they are reading.

Do you have any suggestions? I am all ears!



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2 responses to “Getting students’ attention in the classroom

  1. Anne

    How about having them explore Web sites to see what kinds of background info and article ideas can be gleaned? How can they use this info to find sources and to prepare for an interview? Let them choose the sites that interest them, though — maybe a government Web site, an NPO site, and a commercial site on one topic (beaches, music, finance, fashion, etc.)?

    Good blog!

    • Thanks, Anne. I think that’s a great idea. We do that to some extent in the class now, but I like the idea of having a hands-on sourcing session in the class where they come up with background information. Thanks!

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