Wednesday, June 2, 2010


When I walk into the classroom, I look at my students and smile, but as I’m doing so, I’m performing a closer assessment of the state of their eyes.  I don’t really look at their expressions, but instead focus on their eyes.  On the first day of class, my quick scan of their eyes usually tells me that they are ready, interested, and willing to maintain eye contact – at least for the first few minutes – if I don’t blow it!  Throughout class, I constantly scan their eyes so that I can know instantly how and if they are paying attention.

This is what I hope to see:

  • Bright eyes
  • Upturned eyes
  • Focused eyes
  • Eager eyes
  • Receptive eyes
  • Eyes that follow me across the room

When I see this, I know I need to make an immediate change:

  • Downturned eyes
  • Eyes focused elsewhere
  • Eyes unfocused and empty
  • Glazed eyes
  • Sleepy eyes
  • Droopy-lidded eyes
  • Tired eyes
  •  Eyes carelessly looking around the room
  • Eyes looking at each other

Or, when I see this, I immediately respond!

  • Eyes focused on texting
  • Eyes focused on their laptops for a long time (Facebook and email!)
  • Closed eyes

Eye states change quickly.  Bright eyes can suddenly change as the students quickly assess the appeal of your material and change how they feel about how class is going.When I see a drift in the eyes of my students, I know I have lost them temporarily, and I make an intervention to get them focused on me once again.

To intervene, I change my tone and volume, walk toward them and through the classroom, change the screen if I’m projecting, quickly assign a group project, or change the topic if it’s time. When I get their eyes back, I resume instruction in the new manner.  Sometimes I just say “Look at me!” while other times it takes a more subtle approach.  Sometimes a change of course happens every ten minutes; if I’m doing well, I can keep their attention for twenty before making a change.

Assess eye states when you come into the classroom, when you open your lesson, and as often as you can after that.  Use your assessment to determine if most of the students are with you or if you are losing them.  Eyes will tell you more than anything else if a student is with you.  Eyes will tell you the degree of interest, the extent that they are listening, and even how much they are processing (if you look closely).

One Exception!
Once I had a student whose eyes were almost always closed from the time he sat down until class ended.  The progression would be toward his chin tilting up and the back of his head dropping down, and then his mouth would fall open in a giant O.  Now this was obviously way past my ability to just watch his eyes and detect his degree of tiredness.  My favorite technique in this case was to take a few textbooks and drop them in front of him and he would jerk to attention.  No matter what I did instructionally, though, he fell asleep like this every class period for the entire semester, and predictably, failed.  In this case his closed eyes were a clear signal!

Watch their eyes – and watch your instruction come to life!

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