Regaining student attention sounds easier said than done. After losing the interest of pupils many teachers struggle to makes things interesting again. Often, instead of trying to address the issue, they neglect it thinking that it is out of their hands. This approach, however, just makes a teacher more frustrated, which can affect the learning process. But there are some relatively simple hacks and tricks that could help every teacher in the virtual classroom overcome this challenge.
Hacks, tips, and tricks for keeping students interested
Identifying a lack of interest is step one. It often happens that teachers, when finding it difficult to overcome this obstacle, just decide to give up on the battle right then and there. Without even trying, they conclude that there is “nothing to be done” and do not compete for the students’ attention at all. This approach, however, leads to a build up of frustration in the lecturer, which might eventually affect the learning process. The teacher may show annoyance while presenting or have an overall poor attitude towards their students; however this manifests, it is not a very good scenario.
Instead of giving up, lecturers should bear in mind that a “Teacher creates more impression through NVC (nonverbal communication) in the classroom than the knowledge of subject matter and verbal fluency. There is a language of body expression and motion that plays a pivotal role in the language classroom.”1
To put it another way, teachers do possess the required arsenal to turn the situation back in their favor. If a certain topic seems to bore students, is not appealing to them, or is not understandable enough, the teacher could try one of the following actions:
1. Different angle. A lot of teachers find presenting a point from another perspective quite helpful in some cases. Being patient is very important. Sometimes it takes several attempts to explain something. Using more examples and simplifying can make the task easier. It is quite important to point out the differences between the two. Simplifying and, in some cases, using language more similar to what the students use, does not mean that the teacher is lowering the level of the education. It is rather a way of transmitting a difficult message; after all, the ultimate goal of learning is to increase acquired knowledge.
2. Change topics. A rather convenient way to draw attention to oneself is to replace a difficult topic with another one. One version is to explain a part of the difficult topic through the other one. This can also work if the topics are distantly related. In either way, the new topic should be simpler, more interesting, or just easier to comprehend and follow. It is very likely that some of the interest in the new topic can be transferred to the difficult one, making it easier for the teacher to explain now that they have the students’ attention.
3. Questions. If there is an issue with external distractions or daydreaming, a helpful approach is to ask a question directly to a student and address them by name. When hearing their name people tend to focus their attention towards the direction or person where it is coming from. This is a simple and yet quite effective method that can easily be applied in the virtual classroom. The difficulty here could potentially arise when there is a larger audience and a lot of names that a teacher would need to remember. But since the virtual audience in a VEDAMO classroom can only be a maximum of 25 people, this should not be an issue. In addition, in the virtual classroom this is made even easier by the fact that all names are written in the chat dialog window of each student.
Another benefit of asking questions is that they give the students an opportunity to participate and also help the teacher assess their knowledge levels.
4. The moving distraction. Another simple and effective method that can be used to regain student attention is a change of activity. This is another psychological trick that can be applied in the virtual classroom, as well as in a conventional one. The teacher could begin to use more gestures, draw on a board, or make a funny face, if appropriate. Such activities work on the peripheral eyesight and subconsciously draw one’s attention towards the “moving” or “changed” object.
5. Break. If a different approach does not provide the desired result, or if the topic is too difficult or too long, a short break may be appropriate. Of course, this method cannot always be applied, but it can be used as an extreme measure in some cases.
6. Difficult, but manageable. Teachers should be aware of the prior knowledge of their students. It is a good idea to talk to other instructors who have worked with their students in order to get a better understanding. This could help a teacher properly assess the difficulty of the course, where to begin, and how fast to proceed. In order not to demotivate students, It is very important to assign challenging yet manageable tasks and topics. This can also serve to prevent a lack of interest to some degree as it is an attempt to prevent a problem before it starts.
7. Fun and memorable. A good way to grab the attention of students is by making an impression. Teachers can make a greater impression if they try to do memorable things. A good way to do this is by involving students, not only by asking questions, but also by involving them in a game or competition. The competitive element proves to be more interesting for students and gives them the opportunity to show off their knowledge and personalities. Another thing that lecturers can do that can be classified as “fun” is to use interactive materials (or create them) such as videos or music. This can help teachers prove their point or explain certain types of material in a better way. In an online environment it is essential that these resources are fully maximized.
1. Singh Negi, Janak. “The Role of Teachers’ Non-Verbal Communication in ELT Classroom”, Journal of NELTA, https://www.nepjol.info/index.php/NELTA/article/view/3096 (accessed 11.11.2018).
2. Eberly Center. “Students Lack Interest or Motivation,” Carnegie Mellon University, https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/solveproblem/strat-lackmotivation/index.html (accessed 11.11.2018).