Teaching is regarded as a noble profession. It is also a challenging job. It requires sincerity, honesty, hard work, expansive knowledge on the subject matter, and sometimes chutzpah. The amalgamation of all these traits is what makes our teaching interesting. Capturing students’ attention throughout the entire class is crucial for any teacher, but the challenge lies in the fact that, despite teachers’ expertise in their subject matter, it can be challenging to hold students’ attention for an extended period.
The concern of distraction becomes more apparent when classes are scheduled after lunch or late afternoon. It is a Sisyphean struggle for teachers to hold students’ attention; thus, teachers should devise various tactics to attract and sustain the attention of students until the very end of class. James J. Lang wrote many articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education on how to sustain the attention of students for a longer time. Let’s explore some of these methods to help engage students in our teaching:
Pose an interesting question. To kick off the class with a dynamic start, begin with a captivating question. A thought-provoking question is a great crowd-pleaser. Students think about the question and try to find the answer. This type of technique hardly wavers their attention away from the teaching. For example, while teaching about antennas, a teacher could pose various questions like:
- Do you know how many antennas are in your mobile unit?
- Can you find it?
- Do you know the frequencies that your mobile can work on?
- Is it multiband or single frequency?
An instructor can ask students to take out their mobile phones and check for the answers. Active participation from the instructor during a class activity holds equal significance. The questions should be framed in an interesting manner, and they should elicit answers from the students. Teachers should remember that the emphasis should be on capturing students’ attention towards their teaching.
Discuss practical applications. Instructors can engage students when they establish a practical connection between theory and practice. Real-life examples help students understand the theory that is being taught to them. While teaching the concept of Bayes theorem, a theorem based on the probability of an event, an instructor can incorporate real-life examples such as the stock market, health predictions, weather forecasting, and more.
Non-verbal communication adopted by the instructor. Non-verbal communication is arguably more important than verbal communication. Often, your eyes speak louder than your words. Thus, an instructor’s body language is important during class. An instructor should maintain proper eye contact with their students. Walking throughout the classroom makes an instructor more accessible. Students are naturally drawn towards teachers who are more approachable and patient.
A smattering of humor. Students remember lectures that are infused with humor. A teacher can decrease the gravity of a topic by introducing an element of humor, but not at the expense of any student.
Physical activity. If a teacher feels that the lecture is unable to hold the attention of the students, they can introduce physical activities such as standing, turning around, or even clapping. Sessions incorporating activities such as “four corners,” “numbered heads together,” or “popsicle sticks” can assist students in learning without becoming restless.
Avoid last-minute content. Many instructors have a tendency to overload students with new information during the final minutes of class. An instructor should devote the last minutes of class to summarize the topic that was taught and to find out any student doubts or questions on the topic. Minute papers, muddiest points, and traffic lights provide valuable insights on how students are feeling about the content. They help instructors understand how well students have understood the topic. It’s also important to remember that students appreciate teachers who respect their time and adhere to the course’s scheduled time.
Change of place. The four walls of the classroom can sometimes induce indolence within students. A change of place of teaching can be a welcome change in such scenarios. We can take a leaf out of the oriental history as an example. The Gurukul way of teaching can be emulated to invigorate students. Teaching under the wide sky and fresh breeze can mentally liberate students. Nature is a great healer, and teaching new topics amidst the verdurous glory can have wondrous results.
J. Naga Vishnu Vardhan, PhD, is a professor of electronics and communication engineering at BVRIT HYDERABAD College of Engineering for Women. He also looks after the academic affairs of the college.
Devidutta Das, PhD, is an assistant professor of English at BVRIT HYDERABAD College of Engineering for Women. She teaches communicative English and English for research paper writing.
Lang, James J. 2016. “Small Changes in Teaching: The Last 5 Minutes of Class”. The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 7, 2016, https://www.chronicle.com/article/small-changes-in-teaching-the-last-5-minutes-of-class/
Blake, Caitrin. 2016. “Timing is Everything: Using Short Student Attention Spans to Your Advantage in the Classroom”. Resilient Educator, May 25, 2016, https://resilienteducator.com/classroom-resources/short-attention-span-class-structure/