Did you read this title and think, yes, my students need to pay more attention!!! If only they would listen to me, read what I wrote in their assignment books, take to heart the five Post-Its I slapped on their music last week! Be ready to rethink this word, in that case. Remember, this is a thought need for the student.
Everyone requires some attention, not just the kind we give away, but the kind we receive. And, like the need for control, there is a need for appropriate attention, the kind that respects the student as an individual in the process in the moment. In teaching, this is about including the student and the goal in a way that is both productive and participatory. It is not about letting the student act inappropriately just to get "attention" in that way we recognize class clown behavior. It is about guiding without squelching, encouraging without false praise, and working with the student to meet a common goal.
The lessons I regret most in my career are those in which I was overly focused on the goal and forgot the student. Whatever my reason - read "excuse" - these lessons became examples of dominance because I forgot to pay attention to the student in a supportive way.
Some students are accustomed to being praised for actions that don't deserve praise. This is not appropriate attention, and it encourages a low level of achievement. And, let's face it, they know it. Appropriate attention includes support and direction. When I first provide support by acknowledging the achievements, I have a good foundation for direction toward improvement.
Some students are innately self-critical, and paying attention to an over-zealous inner critic becomes paralyzing. These are the students who will benefit from gentle attention. Some of them are reactive even to humor, which they take to heart and do not find funny. Pushing too hard on these students can be counter-productive.
Some students are masters of distraction, of course, moving our attention away from what they don't want to address. They are getting attention for sure, but not attention that is productive. Here is where the control need is out of balance, requiring the teacher to step in and take charge.
Because we have the opportunity to work one-on-one with students, we have the opportunity to offer attention and guidance that meets the individual student's needs. The better our ability to pay appropriate attention to a student, the better the attention we receive.
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