Think of your last incredible day in the classroom. What made that day so great? Today, or tomorrow if you’re reading this late, ask teachers in your building this same question. One answer I bet you will hear from your peers… ‘my students were so well-behaved.’ I don’t have to convince you that an obedient group of students is the dream scenario for an educator. But let’s be realistic, those days are few and far between.
Now think back to any day with your students you wish you could have started over again and done differently. You know, that day you wondered what’s in the Kool Aid. This is the type of day where you are helpless and cannot maintain order with your students. Consider what took place that day. Were there any tale telling signs you missed before you lost control of your class? Did students start to display subtle signs of distraction? Did they begin to break eye contact, slouch, or aimlessly wander their eyes around the classroom? Or were the signs more obvious? Were students fidgety, talking with their neighbors, or making paper airplanes (one of my personal favorites as a student)?
Let’s face it, sitting at a desk for the majority of the day is brutal and tiresome. Students can’t handle this and need multiple breaks throughout the day. So, give your students a break!
Classroom management is one of, if not, the biggest hurdle to get over as a teacher each year. One of the biggest proponents of poor classroom management is the inability of the teacher to keep their students’ attention. This often happens because an adolescent’s brain is not capable of maintaining focus and attention for extended amounts of time the way adults can. This simple fact is often overlooked by teachers.
As much as we would like to place blame on our students for classroom management issues in the classroom, we simply cannot. We should blame these issues on our instructional strategies.
So, what can you use to counter your students’ short attention span? Let me convince you with my best strategy, physical activity breaks. Say what?!?!?! Yes, students need to move their body to maintain or even increase their attention span.
Let me put on my lab coat and get scientific with you. Exercise increases the heart rate, which in turn, sends oxygen to the brain to enable higher amounts of focus and learning. It’s that simple.
Children (and adults) need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. Current studies consistently demonstrate that physical activity is associated with improved academic achievement, ACADEMIC BEHAVIORS, and cognitive skills. Physical activity plays a pivotal role in a child’s physical, mental, and social-emotional health. Students are going to learn better in the classroom when they have more opportunities to be active.
Take a look at the image below and see the difference of brain activity after 20 minutes of sitting quietly (pictured left) and 20 minutes of walking (pictured right).
All the blue areas represent inactivity. All the red areas… Well, you take a guess. Any time the body moves, the brain lights up like the night’s sky on the fourth of July.
The question I hear a lot: ‘Aren’t recess and physical education meant to do that?’ Yes they are. But they don’t have to be the only times during the school day a student move their body. Students can move in your classroom!
I made this same sales pitch I’m making to you to classroom teachers in my school district. I presented the research and provided these tips below that you can use in your classroom. Insert gratitude here: ________. You’re welcome!
• Physical activity breaks can be performed either at the desk or open areas in the classroom. You don’t need to go to the gym!
• Include movements that increase the heart rate and allow each side of the body to work together. This is referred to as crossing the body’s midline. For example, touch your right elbow to your left knee. Crossing the body’s midline is an important developmental skill needed for many everyday tasks such as writing or reaching towards your foot to put on a shoe or sock. Children who have difficulty crossing the midline may also struggle with tracking a moving object from one side to the other or tracking from left to right when reading. Work on activities that cross the midline to improve reading and writing!
• Physical activity breaks can be as short as one minute. Think of this time spent as a better way to do class management without all the problematic disruptions. Once you see obvious signs you’re losing your students’ attention, a choice must be made. You can A) stop your teaching and address behaviors, or B) stop your teaching and have students do a quick physical activity break. You can then resume your instruction with your students reengaged.
• Allow your students to refocus with a ‘calm down’ strategy at the end of each physical activity break. Reengage your students with a slow movement or stretch at the end of your physical activity break as they transition back to their seat.
• Add physical activity breaks to the daily agenda you post in your classroom. A simple reminder like this will make sure you don’t forget this and will motivate your students to stay engaged leading up to their break.
• Put a smile on your face. Don’t forget, students feed off your energy. If you’re not enthused about moving your body, some students will likely share that same feeling.
• Don’t have any resources? Check out YouTube. Yes, YouTube is a great resource (search, classroom physical activity breaks). There are endless types of physical activity breaks. Your school district may have a wellness policy that supports a Comprehensive School Physical Activity Program. If it does, there is a great chance they will provide funding to purchase or subscribe to a physical activity break program.
• Speak with your school’s physical educator(s). See if they can give you suggestions. I guarantee they will be able to get you started in the right direction.
So what’s the best solution to increase learning and decrease classroom management? The recipe is quite simple. Get your students moving in the classroom!