Redirecting students skillfully is not an easy task. There is often a delicate balance between trying to gently redirect a student whose attention has wandered and disturbing the entire class. Many of us wonder just when to redirect—at the start of a problem when it is confined to just one person or when a group of students seem to be off task? As a rule of thumb, most experienced educators will agree that it is best to act fairly early and with the least intrusive methods.
When you notice students off task, try these tried and true suggestions for gently redirecting without raising your voice or embarrassing students:
1. Matter-of-factly remind all students of the behavior you would like to see from them. The key idea here is that you have already made the expectations clear for every student. All you need to do most of the time is just to calmly remind students of what the expectations are.
2. Praise students who are on task. Be explicit and direct so that any student who is off task knows what is expected and, even more importantly, how to accomplish the expected behavior.
3. Put reminders on students’ desks. You could use one color of sticky note with a smiley face on it for students who are behaving well and another color with a frownie face for those students who are not on task. Another reminder that some teachers have found useful is to walk around placing stickers on the papers of students who are on task. If you announced that you only had five stickers and were going to give them to the first five on-task students that you see, then you can expect that your students will generally rush to earn them.
4. Count 1, 2, 3 and then wait for everyone to pay attention to your directions. Calm wait time is crucial to getting every student to pay attention to your directions and then to attend to them. Instead of a flurry of directions, count slowly and wait expectantly.
5. Often students need redirection when their attention spans have reached their outer limits. Set a timer and give everyone a two minute wiggle break. When the timer buzzes, students can go back to work refreshed.
6. Ask students if they would like help from a classmate or if they would like to help a classmate. This will often give students confidence as well as a shift in the lesson delivery that just might be effective at keeping them focused.
7. Use your “teacher look” (the one that seems to come naturally after you have taught for about a week) to remind students to keep working. Often just an inquisitive glance is all that it takes to remind a student to focus on learning instead of misbehavior.
8. Ask students to restate the directions. If you notice a student off task, first move near that student. Then quietly ask for a restatement of the directions. If you then see that there is a larger issue, you could remind the whole class of the directions. If the problem is confined to one student, then it is easy just to clarify the directions and move on.
9. Ask students who are struggling with an assignment if they could use a little help. Often all it takes is a brief moment or two and students are able to go right back to work.
10. Proximity is almost always effective. Move to stand near the students who are off task. While you are near, smilingly glance at misbehaving students. This will almost always serve to keep them settle to work and stay engaged in the lesson. The surprising smile when they are expecting to be fussed at will often baffle them into not just smiling back, but behaving well.