American Association of Blind Teachers

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Carla Hayes

Whether you teach kindergarten or college, one of the biggest challenges you probably have is keeping your students on task, especially when the temperature heats up, the birds begin to sing and the school year is nearing its end. Keeping students on task is especially challenging and important for a blind teacher who has to work very hard to keep on top of things in order to maintain discipline in the classroom. Even we as teachers sometimes have difficulty concentrating on what is going on in the classroom when the weather is beautiful and we'd much rather be outside; so, it's not hard to understand how our students feel. How can you keep them working when they'd much rather goof off?

For me, the most important factor of keeping students on task is knowing when to tighten up and when to lighten up. Here are some examples of tightening up. If students stop doing homework, make the homework a more important part of their total grade. When students start coming to class unprepared, all I have to do is announce, "It's getting very close to test time," and most of them immediately return to the straight and narrow. If you are a college professor and notice that more students are cutting classes, there are a number of ways to tighten up. You can give frequent tests. Include test questions whose answers can only be obtained from classroom presentations, making it necessary for students to do more than just reading the book in order to succeed. Tightening up naturally occurs when you assign final projects and papers and give final examinations.

One of the most controversial methods that I ever used for tightening up occurred several years ago when I had an especially difficult group of students in a German class. They were extremely disrespectful to me and to each other and keeping their attention was a challenge, no matter what I did. The whole situation came to a head one day when I was reviewing for the German final and they refused to pay attention. Finally, I closed the book and calmly announced, "I refuse to teach you anymore because you won't pay attention and it's a waste of time. You will still have your German final on Thursday, but you are on your own for the review. Meanwhile, I'm going to write the toughest German final that I have ever written in my career. Good luck."

The next morning, the entire class begged me for a review and promised to cooperate. We had our review and you could have heard a pin drop during that entire class period. I never had trouble with those students again. As you can see, it is often necessary to tighten up if students start to goof off.

On the other hand, energy can start to ebb as both students and teachers grow increasingly tired near the end of the academic year. To make things worse, students are often overwhelmed by the collective increased requirements of all their classes and teachers. When this happens, it is very difficult for them to cope with their work load and concentrate on any task. This is when lightening up may be necessary. Here are some examples of lightening up.

Give fewer homework questions when possible. Confer with other teachers when scheduling tests so that students will not have too many tests on the same day. Schedule a fun activity such as a field trip, a guest speaker or an event such as a science fair, a culture day or a demonstration related to what you are teaching. When assigning a paper or final project, allow students to choose topics of particular interest to them that highlight certain aspects of what they have studied.

There are also simpler ways of lightening up. Hold a class outside if possible. Instead of a boring review, have a review game. Of course, never let students "go out" in a game because they will just stand on the sidelines and cause discipline problems. Instead, give them an extra question to answer or task to perform. In short, you are required to complete so many instructional hours and days and finish a certain amount of the curriculum, but nowhere is it written that learning can't be fun. Sometimes, lightening up might be the best way to keep students interested, involved and on task.

It goes without saying that students will stay on task if they are interested and involved. To facilitate this, plan exciting, relevant, well-paced lessons that accommodate diverse learning styles. To deal with short attention spans, it's usually better to have two or three shorter learning activities during a class period rather than one long one. Incorporate humor, drama and plenty of student participation into your classes. Supplement your presentations with appropriate multimedia. Most important, if you want to keep your students on task, make sure that your curriculum and learning activities are appropriate for the age and ability level of your students. Every learning task needs to be challenging enough to help your students to grow and hold their interest, but not so difficult that they cannot perform it. If you keep these things in mind, you will be able to keep your students on task not only during the last few weeks of school but throughout the entire academic year.

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