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How can I keep my kids focused during whole-class lessons?

nov 3, 2020

Even under ideal circumstances, capturing the focus of students during whole-class instruction takes some edu-taining. When executing that instruction remotely, the challenge is even greater and the stakes are even higher.

Teaching students some simple procedures to follow during whole-class lessons can help to keep them focused and engaged.

Remove distractions

Encourage students to view the lesson via the “speaker view.” When students can still see all of their peers in “the gallery,” the smallest movement can distract from the teacher. When a peer gets up or moves or jostles his computer, others’ eyes are diverted to the distraction. When students set the view so that the screen is filled by just the speaker/teacher, many of those distractions can be avoided.

Don’t get derailed

Executing a mini-lesson from start to finish without interruption is another way to keep students focused. This is a unique challenge during remote teaching when classroom management and technical issues can throw a lesson off course and cause teachers to lose precious time. When a mini-lesson goes long and is riddled with “down time,” it’s only natural that students will lose focus.

Remember, an effective mini-lesson is executed in 15-20 minutes and includes four steps.

Step 1: Introduce the skill quickly.
Step 2: I do—Deliver the instruction.
Step 3: We do—Provide a parallel experience.
Step 4: Close the lesson and identify next steps.

Consider pre-recording

Despite extensive preparation and planning, there are lots of uncontrollable variables that can interrupt a live lesson. One way to maintain control is to pre-record whole-class mini-lessons in advance.

While live, interactive experiences are important for differentiated instruction, class discussions, and individual conferences—a whole-class, direct-instruction lesson is mostly about the teacher.

(Accomplish the “we do” portion by prompting students to answer a question. Then, look in the camera, pause, and wait 5 seconds. Follow that with common answers students might have considered all as a means of answering your own question. The key here is to provide ample wait time for students to “try” the skill and process your question.)

Pre-recording pros

Recording whole-class lessons in advance does require time and planning on the front end, but the benefits are hard to ignore.

  1. Lessons are fast-paced and focused. When the lesson is pre-recorded, teachers can deliver the entire lesson uninterrupted at a pace that keeps the lesson “mini.”
  2. Lessons are archived. When students and parents have access to a growing bank of pre-recorded lessons, everyone wins. The archive of lessons helps support students when they are absent, when they need to review, or even when they move in mid-year.
  3. Future planning is easier. A year from now, when teachers are planning their whole-class instruction, they simply need to refer back to their previously-recorded lessons to be reminded of how this skill was taught previously.
  4. Professional growth is almost inevitable. For decades educators have been encouraged to record themselves teaching and then review the video to foster self-improvement. When teachers get into a rhythm of pre-recording whole-class mini-lessons, the opportunities for self-reflection and improvement are unavoidable.

While the benefits of pre-recording whole-class instruction are many, there are some challenges with this approach as well.

  • It takes additional time. This is the roadblock that is most likely to stand in the way of pre-recording lessons. There are only so many hours in the day, and somewhere along the way teachers need a life outside of school. When finding time for pre-recording seems impossible, consider starting gradually. Even with just one pre-recorded lesson offered each week, students will still yield the benefits outlined above.
  • Schools require live interaction. Many schools have established requirements for teachers to have live interaction with students for a set number of hours each day. When this is the case, pre-recorded lessons may still be possible if the class views the video at the same time. While the lesson is playing, the teacher is live in the chat area interacting with students by addressing questions, fostering feedback, etc.
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Maintain Control During Mini-Lessons

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Teach Explicitly—I Do, You Watch & Listen