When a teacher is actively using state changes in the classroom, time moves quickly, everyone has fun, and the students want to come back because they’ve had a great experience. But before we go into how to make state changes successful in your classroom, let’s talk about what they are.
What is a state change?
The whole idea of a state change is to get kids (or adults) engaged early and keep them engaged throughout your lesson. It’s continually switching the sensory focus from visual to auditory to body kinesthetic and back again. This keeps students’ attention and gives them the opportunity to learn more as they tap into all their senses.
Why do we need state changes?
Some studies have shown that elementary-age children have an attention span during lectures of four to six minutes. Our attention span grows as we get older, but even in adulthood, most of us struggle after 12 minutes.
When I ask teachers if they’ve ever lost students’ attention during an important lesson, they always laugh and say, “Yes!” So in WhyTry trainings, I tell them we’re going to model state changes during the training and move on. Halfway through the day, I stop. “OK,” I’ll say, “I want you to think back on the day so far and point out all the state changes I’ve used.” They’ll be surprised that the day’s already half gone, because I try to switch gears every 8 to 10 minutes to keep the group’s attention.
How WhyTry makes state changes easier
When you keep WhyTry’s 3 R’s in mind (Relationship, Relevance, and Resilience), state changes start to come naturally. For example, if I’m trying to develop a relationship with my students, I’m going to tell personal stories, engage them in activities that help me get to know them better, and encourage art and journal prompts that help me better understand who they really are. If I want to show them the relevance of what I’m teaching, I’ll use music that can help them make a personal connection to the lesson and show YouTube videos or movie clips that they can relate to. All of these things are state changes, and when we’re constantly engaging them in this way, it builds resiliency.
A few ideas
1. Use good framing.
Make everything you do exciting. Instead of using the boring frame of, “Children, we have an activity now,” engage students in activities by framing them as challenges, experiments, and competitions.
2. Do the unexpected.
When you start to lose students’ attention, do something completely unexpected to wake them up. For example, when I’m teaching the WhyTry lesson “Desire, Time, and Effort,” I’ll say, “OK, we have a personal challenge. We’re going for the world record and we have a maze we’re going to do.” Then I’ll run across the room throwing the papers everywhere and say, “You have 20 seconds! Go!” This simple state change gets them back on track, re-focuses them, and increases heart rate and oxygen flow.
3. Surrender the One-up Relationship.
Sometimes I’ll tell the kids, “Let’s not talk about ‘stuff.’ We talk about ‘stuff’ all the time. Can I just tell you a story about something that happened to me once? We’ll get back to ‘stuff’ later.” I go sit down with them and start talking, and suddenly we’re all just a group of kids. A lot of WhyTry’s “Surrendering the One-up Relationship” strategies are also great state changes.
4. Have them stand up.
A lot of times when I do an activity, I’ll have the students stand up whether or not the activity requires this. By standing up, they’re moving a bit and getting some oxygen flowing. This makes the time pass quickly and helps them focus.
5. Prepare in advance.
Have an arsenal of state changes prepared beforehand. If the kids are not making connections and you’re starting to lose them, it’s time to pull another one out.
6. Engage early and often.
My final piece of advice for creating a “state-changing classroom” is to engage EARLY, and engage OFTEN. It certainly requires more effort on our part, but as educators, I think we can all agree that the kids are worth it.
Steve Robinette is a WhyTry training consultant who has worked with youth and adults in a number of settings. For more information on state changes, contact us at 866.949.8791, or share your own state-changing ideas with us in the comments below.