As we attempt to honor our students’ access to course material (HOPE standard H2), we must keep in mind that our students’ efforts to pay attention can only go so far. There are two main points to consider when designing a classroom environment that engages students’ minds: their motivation and their attention.
Pressley and McCormick (2007) present many factors that can influence a student’s motivation to put forth effort in the classroom. The factor that concerned me most was that of self-efficacy. The authors define self-efficacy as “a learner’s perception of his or her capability of reaching a desired goal or a certain level of performance” (p. 292). When students have the belief that they are able to successfully accomplish a task, they are more motivated to attempt similar tasks in the future. When they are continually unable to accomplish tasks, they are discouraged from attempting such tasks in the future. A student’s belief in their own abilities can change the course of their lives, influencing the decisions they make and where they place their efforts. A way teachers can boost students’ self-confidence in a given subject is to take advantage of the review periods at the beginning of the year. While some might find it dull and repetitive for the students, those struggling with material can have a second chance to understand hard concepts and feel more confident in their ability to perform those tasks.
Medina (2008) designates an entire Brain Rule to attention. Contrary to popular belief, he notes that “attentional ability is not capable of multitasking” (p. 85). While we may think that giving directions for a second activity while students are actively engaged in the first activity would benefit students and cut down on transition time, it actually requires them to shift their attention from their work, then back to their work once instruction is over. This results in a loss of concentration and possibly, as shown in studies, a loss of time and increase in errors. In order to ensure students are paying attention to only one stimulus at a time, teachers should honor the time students have to complete a task before frontloading the next.
Medina, J. (2008). Brain rules. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.
Pressley, M. & McCormick, C. B. (2007). Child and adolescent development for educators. New York, NY:
Vygotsky’s theories include many aspects that could translate easily to the classroom. The main one I can think of as being useful is his Zone of Proximal Development. The zone of proximal development, according to Pressley and McCormick (2007), is the space between the most challenging task a child can perform on their own and the most challenging task they can perform with help. This is important in a school because we can “scaffold” students’ learning in order to help them do more than they could on their own, gradually giving less and less support, until they can do it independently.
An assignment I have been working on for my students is a Think Aloud. A Think Aloud is when you model strategies for students as you read, allowing them to understand the though process surrounding the strategy – making my private speech vocalized. While the text may be too difficult for some students, hearing how someone else approaches the text can help students better understand the strategy – like an apprenticeship when the understudy watches the professional. After modeling, the teacher coaches the student, reminding them to “talk to the text,” in order to remind them of the strategies they can use. After time, the strategy becomes a skill and the student is able to tackle the previously-difficult texts on their own.
I have had many assignments in which I’ve had to work with other students. At times, working with partners was simple because we “were on the same page.” I believe this derives from coming from a similar background and being on the same cognitive understanding of the topic and assignment at hand. There have also been times when it was difficult. This might have stemmed from differing backgrounds, differing opinions on how something should be done, or simply a difference in how we communicate causing friction. It is important for students to learn to work with others, since they will be doing so their entire lives, regardless of if they can learn to work with someone else or not.
Pressley, M. & McCormick, C. B. (2007). Child and adolescent development for educators. New York, NY: Guilford Press.