If Eric Jensen, author of numerous books on brain-based learning, says it, then I believe it. He tells us that the brain is actually designed to pay attention.
That’s good news for teachers – and knowing that is a great starting point. But you’ll also need to know what works to gain and hold attention – from the kids’ point of view. Middle-school teacher Joan Young says,
It's much easier to get students' attention than to hold it and facilitate the deep learning we want to happen. Relevance, choice, and a trusting relationship between students and teachers are conditions that are necessary for students to fully engage and consider school a place for them to bring their top game. We have to provide opportunities for students to experience small successes as they take on their own "just right" challenges.
Second-grade teacher Erin Klein agrees and adds,
Educators can have the biggest "bag of tricks;" however, none of it truly matters until the relationships are nurtured and the content is meaningful and relevant to the student's learning. Students need to feel valued and welcomed in their learning spaces. Classrooms are designed to accommodate a blend of voices, teacher and student, and the curriculum should reflect that same notion where the student voice is celebrated and heard just as much as the educator's voice.
The idea of “tricks” for getting students’ attention seems to be a popular one among teachers. But that approach is more teacher-centric than student-centric. According to teacher and author Julia Thompson,
Commanding your students’ attention is much more than a few catchy tricks. The key is really paying very careful attention to your audience. Students do not have long attention spans. They become restless after just a few minutes—especially if they are expected to listen and not interact with each other or with you. Don’t get so caught up in your lesson that you forget that even the best-planned lesson is useless if no one is listening.
There certainly are actions that will command your students’ attention. Julia has listed 50 of them. You can read them by clicking here.
You can find more of Eric Jensen’s thoughts on the subject in “Stop Telling Your Students to ‘Pay attention!’”
And you can listen to Eric, Julia, Erin, and Joan discussing student-centric methods for gaining students attention by clicking here.