During this current period of COVID-19 and social distancing, parents are stepping up in tremendous ways to help their children through the ups and downs of distance-learning. In our Parent Pedagogy 101 Series, we take a close look at skills master teachers utilize in the classroom and showcase how they can be used at home. Part 4 highlights how teachers and parents can keep students engaged and on task regardless of where they are doing their learning.
Part 4: Using Proximity To Keep Your Kids On Task
The sounds of my seventh period Algebra 1 class during the first week of school sent me searching for answers!
“Tap, tap, tap, tap, …”
“Tap, tap, …, tap, tap, ….”
“Click, click, click, click, … “
“Tap,…, tap,…, tap, …”
“Pop! …, …, …, Pop!”
The classroom was filled with pencil tapping, bubble gum chomping, and fingernails clicking on desks. I didn’t need a quiet classroom, or want one, but I didn’t want this distracting noise, either. The noise of talking, discussing, and learning is much different than the noise of tapping, popping, and clicking.
I tried everything I could think of to engage my students and keep them on task. I was certain that if they were engaged, they wouldn’t be tapping. What I didn’t realize, because I didn’t yet know my students, was that most of them were on task. The noise was just noise, not an expression of boredom or confusion. It was only one or two students who truly were off-task.
With 154 students throughout the day, it took me more than the first week of school to know whose tapping was a release of energy versus a call for help. After learning their needs, I was able to quiet most of the noise with foam rollers (from a $1 set of hair curlers) for the tappers to put on the ends of their pencils and a jar of mints for a more silent option for the gum chewers. I could then focus more attention on the learning needs of my students and redirect their energy when necessary.
One of the most important skills a teacher can possess is the ability to listen to and observe their students, and then react. Master teachers quickly get to know their students and their signals, but this is a skill where parents have a HUGE advantage! No one knows your children like you do. You know each look they make, when they are listening and when they are not, when they are confused, and when they need a break. You’ve had years of practice with your child’s facial expressions and body language, while teachers must learn these indicators over the course of the school year. With your expertise, you can immediately put your listening and observation skills to work to increase your child’s success.
How It Works
When a master teacher sees a student off task, they try not to address the student from across the room. Instead, they employ proximity by walking toward the student who needs to be redirected, all while continuing what they are doing. The lesson continues, but as the student notices the teacher coming closer, typically they will shift back to the work at hand. No confrontation, excuses, or disruption needed.
You may be cooking dinner or answering a few emails when you notice your child playing with their phone instead of focusing on school work. So what do you do? Teacher and Instructional Coach Angela Watson recommends using less emotion when redirecting children. In her post 8 Ways to Redirect Off-Task Behavior Without Stopping Your Lesson, she shares, “It’s easy to drift into lengthy lecturing, nagging, and yelling questions we don’t want to hear the answers to.” Resist from drawing attention to the behavior, and try to casually walk toward your child or bring them a snack or glass of water. See how they react. Do they go back to work? If so, great! Your close proximity redirected your child. If not, you may want to ask, “How is your work coming along?” or “Do you need any help?” Keep the questions short and stand close to your child, but try not to hover.
Being off task can happen for different reasons. Listening to your child and watching their expressions can help you determine if they need that additional help or are just distracted. If there is a distraction, ask your child what it is. It may be their cell phone or a bird outside the window, but it could also be seeing your email notifications popping up because you are sharing your computer. Figuring out what the distractions are can help you and your child come up with a solution – for example, putting the device in a drawer until their work is finished.
See It In Action
Teacher Sarah Gapp, now Assistant Principal in the San Bernardino City Unified School District (SBCUSD) in California, constantly moves throughout her 8th grade classroom to manage student behavior and assess student progress. In this short SBCUSD professional development video, Ms. Gapp identifies red, yellow, and green zones that exist in her classroom in relation to how close the students are to her and how that impacts their learning.
(Video Credit: Utilizing Proximity to Manage Classroom Discipline and Behavior, San Bernardino Unified School District)
The same red, yellow, and green zones exist in your home, too. Your child is in the red zone if they are within a few steps of you, the yellow zone if they are in your line of sight, and the green zone if you are in a different room. It is unreasonable to think a child will always be in the parent’s red zone. It is more likely that they will shift in and out of the red, yellow, and green zones throughout their learning time, just as they would at school. Shifting in and out of each zone will help you keep an eye on the learning, allow you to ask questions, be available for your child to ask you questions, and help your child build independence. Next time your child appears off task, try out our Parent Pedagogy 101 skill of proximity control!
Kelly Zunkiewicz is a national award-winning teacher with a decade of teaching experience. She has insight into the minds of educators and students and understands what makes great teaching happen.