While working on a project today, it became very clear that I didn't have the attention of the students in my class. In my earlier days I would have kept on going, but I've learned to use the traditional phrase of "eyes on me," or "if you can hear me put your hands on your shoulders." This worked well to gain my students attention, but it wasn't two minutes before we had to repeat the whole process over again.
After completing our project we all lined up and trooped down to the restrooms down the hall. I told the students to wash their hands, use the restroom, and get a drink. One little boy came up to me and said with all seriousness, "Where should I wash my hands?" My first thought was to shoot back, "Where do you think?" Sarcasm wouldn't have accomplished anything other than confusing the student further so asked the student, "Where would be the best place for you to clean your hands?" His solution was to go in the bathroom to wash his hands.
Each day as teachers we handle hundreds of questions in which we simply want to respond, "Duh." I think that students today are taught learned helplessness, where they are unable to solve the simplest of problems, because they have rarely been asked to think or do anything on their own. As teachers we can become guilty of taking the short cut of giving students answers and teaching them to parrot back to us a certain response upon command.
This year feel free to take the time you need to help students think. This practice may take a little more of our time initially, but down the road we'll reap the benefit of students with the ability to solve problems even as difficult as, "Where should I wash my hands?"
(What are your ideas for keeping your students attention?)