Authors' Blog: Helping students focus at this busy time of year

Focus, People, Focus!

by Shelly Pollnow and Oran Tkatchov

It is the most wonderful time of the year, yet as teachers, most of us are working our hardest to keep our students (and I admit often ourselves) focused on the learning. How many teachers have uttered or heard these words in the classrooms during this time of year, “Focus, people, focus”? There are many demands on our students before winter break begins: practice sessions for holiday concerts, performances, and of course some have final exams they have yet to take.

So how do you hold your students’ attention and keep them involved in the learning at hand without standing on your desk and yelling at the top of your lungs?

First, as many of our veteran teachers will tell us, it is normal for most students and teachers to be distracted at this time of year with holiday planning, end of semester wrap-up, and the anticipation of winter break. However, here are some tried and true strategies to regain and hold student’s attention:

·        Remember to have high expectations for all (see Chapter 5, “Supporting Schools and Classroom Climate,” in Success for Every Student).  Teachers are role models.   Teachers must model the behavior expected from students and consider this as important as the teaching of academic standards. It is important to show how a responsible adult acts, especially at ‘the most wonderful time of the year.’  All will reap the benefits of the high expectation for a positive culture and climate teachers and students have been fostering over the school year thus far. 


·        Protect time on task (see Chapter 7, “Time on Task,” in Success for Every Student).  By increasing the opportunities for students to learn, also called time on task, the teacher is increasing the opportunities for the students to succeed. Time on task is crucial to student learning, especially in cognitively demanding classes, such as mathematics or foreign languages (Brewster & Fager, 2000). The more time students are engaged in a subject, the more deeply they will comprehend it.


·        Infuse more active participation in your lessons (see Chapter 8, “A Deep Dive in Student Engagement,” Success for Every Student).  When students are asked to interact or participate, they have less time to daydream, entertain themselves, or cognitively wander off.  There are four specific attributes of teachers who successfully engage students (Fitterer, Harwood, Locklear, Wright, Fleming & Levinsohn, 2004). The teacher must:

·   Elicit ALL students to be engaged in the learning at the same time

·   Elicit students to be engaged in the academic learning

·   Ensure student engagement is mandatory for all students throughout the learning

·   Maintain engagement of all students

As we say in our book, educators need to find the time to take care of themselves.  Many teachers are altruists and put the needs of others first, yet everyone requires and deserves a little “me” time.   We hope that during the winter break you make time to relax, recharge, and enjoy your well-deserved time off.