Pay Attention!


Ha! How many times has that been said to you over your life, or how many times have you said it to yourself or to someone else? From what I have read, the brain is always paying attention to something. The issue, then, is getting the brain to pay attention to something in particular.

One of the more compelling charts I have seen is Guidelines for Direct Instruction of New Content, as displayed on page 37 of Eric Jensen’s book. Direct instruction is usually lecture. Here is the chart:


How many teachers use Direct Instruction more of the time instead of less of the time? There are a slew of alternative methods that can be used to engage student attention, including activities that utilize:

• risk-taking
• projects
• choices
• feedback-driven
• individualization
• collaboration
• hands-on
• group discussion
• student demos

Turns out that most children can pay attention to something for a number of minutes equal to their age plus two. Of course, how long anyone can pay attention to something varies, depending upon:

• quantity of sleep
• level of hunger
• type of food recently eaten
• mood

all of which can usually be controlled by the individual. However, the audience cannot control the quality of the presentation itself, so it would be in the best interest of the presenter to combine some sizzle with the substance. (That catchy phrase comes from the name of a book by Eric Jensen called Sizzle & Substance – Presenting with the Brain in Mind.) It would seem logical that alternating use of any of the methods noted above would be beneficial in helping students to focus and attend to the task at hand.

This activity is meant to be slowly uncovered, either top to bottom or left to right, using the SMART Board’s built-in Screen Shade. Take a close look at the screen shot and locate the gray “shade” at the bottom of the screen. When this activity starts, the shade will be covering everything except for the cartoon. It will be up to the faculty to decide which way they want to drag the shade to uncover more information. (Click to see a full size version of the Attention Info screen.)

Since novelty can help with keeping people focused, the idea here is to use the novelty of slowly “unrolling” the Screen Shade to keep folks engaged.

This is the ninth of about twenty or fewer posts, and for further information about this series please read Closings and Openings. As you follow the development of this activity, please feel free to chime in with suggestions or questions!

p.s. J – Happy 23rd Birthday!


2 thoughts on “Pay Attention!

  1. synapsesensations Post author

    Thanks for your “one penny”! I think that in the best of all worlds those teachers who use Direct Instruction also utilize some of the other strategies, particularly those you describe. My concern is for those folks (in middle and high school, especially) who lecture non-stop, along the lines of the often coined “sage on the stage”.

    I visited your web site and was interested in your participation in Wikibooks. The students at my school bring their own laptops to school in grades 7 through 12, and we have been encouraging faculty to get involved in alternatives to traditional print text books.

  2. Dickey47

    Direct Instruction (DI) actually requires feedback-driven and individualization. When students answer questions in unison, that is feedback-driven – either they got the answer or they didn’t. It also helps to get them to actively participate. Individualization comes from the teacher going around to ensure they are doing their individual work correctly.

    Almost every lesson in DI has cooperative groups and activities after the DI lesson. Lesson are, amazingly, timed about the same as your chart above. As a teacher, you really need to hustle to get thru the DI scripted lesson quickly to not lose kids and get their thinking going faster and better. You also need to use your creative skills to punch it up, much like an actor reading a script for a TV show.

    just putting out my one penny.

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