Eight Ways to Maintain Your Learner’s Attention

Eight Ways to Maintain Your Learner’s Attention

By Israel Galindo, Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning and Director of Online Education.

September 29, 2014—Much of what we do by way of teaching takes the form of classroom instruction. It’s a pedagogy that is highly dependent on teacher performance. So much so that we can identify around 49 specific instructional acts that are teacher-specific. The key to instructional effectiveness is knowing how to perform those acts effectively. Part of the dance of the classroom is triggering the connection between teacher performance and student learning. I think too many teachers work too hard at teaching as performance, to the extent they run the risk of turning learning into a spectator sport. When that happens learning loses its effectiveness. The pedagogical principle at work here is, “Students learn what they are giving attention to, and when they don’t give attention, they don’t learn.”

In classroom instruction, then, student attention is key to learning. Here are eight ways to maintain attention in classroom instruction:

  • Use media. Audio-visuals provide for stimulus variation and can offer a focal point when beginning a narrative or lecture. Even a small variety will help connect with student predilections, styles, and intelligences. However, media must be congruent to the concepts you want students to learn.
  • Move deliberately when teaching. Moving purposefully offers a form of stimulus variation and a shift of attention to the information being shared. However, peripatetic teaching, where the teacher “walks and talks” while lecturing is confusing and annoying.
  • Vary volume and pitch when speaking. Few things will put a student into a brain stupor bordering on the comatose than a monotone drone in an afternoon class.
  • Use humor appropriately. Humor taps into a different part of the brain that facilitates an affective connection with the content. A mild chuckle or a hefty belly laugh can also help aerate the brain by increasing oxygen intake.
  • Guard against outside distractions. For those distractions that are not under your control attempt to minimize their intrusion into the student focus.
  • Find ways to involve the student in the lesson. Students learn by doing.
  • Make bridges of relevance between the content and your student’s needs and interests. Bridges of relevance help the student appreciate the “So what does this have to do with me?” question.
  • Maintain eye contact with the listeners.

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning and Director of Online Education at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.<His books on Christian education include The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice),A Christian Educator’s Book of Lists (S&H), and Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).

Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans.

Adapted from A Christian Educator’s Book of Lists,  by Israel Galindo (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, )

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