This post is a companion piece to a video we published earlier this year. This video, along with others from our School Kit series, can be found here. School Kit publishes a new teacher-specific how-to video each month.

If I asked you to track, would you know what I meant? Would your students?

At KIPP schools across the country, we teach tracking as part of SLANT — an acronym used to gather students’ attention and focus them on someone or something. Tracking the speaker is a huge part of SLANT, mostly because it tells students where to look. We often tell our kids to “pay attention” or behave without telling them exactly what that means. One major benefit of SLANT is to give kids a crystal clear picture of your expectations and how they should show you they are on task. Tracking is the last letter in SLANT and arguably is the most important.

What is Tracking, and Why is It Important?

Tracking the speaker means watching the speaker with your eyes, following the speaker as they move around the room. It’s a really simple, yet important concept. Eye contact on the speaker is a great way to make sure students are listening and on task. Since teachers are frequently moving around the classroom and calling on students, tracking means looking at whoever the speaker is, wherever in the room they are.

Using the term track and teaching it explicitly has huge benefits in the long run. It sets the expectation for paying attention to whoever is speaking and gives you a common term to quickly get stragglers on task. Telling your whole class to “Track Judy” will get them all tracking the speaker, wherever in the room Judy is.

How to Teach Students to Track the Speaker

First, teach students what tracking the speaker means and why it’s important. Tracking the speaker means watching the speaker with their eyes. For younger students, you can explain its importance by saying “Tracking the speaker is important because when you’re looking at the speaker, you’re able to listen to them and learn.” For middle school or upper elementary students, you may have to provide more rationale like: “Tracking is important because it lets the speaker know you’re with them and value what they have to say.”

Second, model how to track. If you’re team teaching, co-teaching or have an assistant, you can use them to teach tracking easily. Have them model tracking you as you move around the room. If you don’t have an adult you can pull in for demonstration purposes, you can have a kid model it for you.

Third, give your students time to practice. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Have one kid model tracking as you speak and move around the room. (You may not need to do this if you’re teaching older kids and they understand it from the beginning.)
  • Have your whole class focus on tracking you as you talk, moving around the room. (This probably shouldn’t be while you’re introducing something else they should be paying attention to, just saying.)
  • You could turn it into a fun game where you move around the room quickly and have them follow you.
  • Give students a chance to be the speaker. Give them something easy to talk about and call on them in different parts of the room. Have the rest of your class track the person speaking.
  • You can also set the expectation that students wait for 100%, meaning everyone in the class is tracking before they start speaking. The speaker should never keep speaking when they don’t have all eyes on them.

Follow Up

Once you’ve taught it explicitly, make sure you heavily reinforce tracking in the beginning. The more you wait for all students to track, the more ingrained it will become for kids. Here are a few tips for reinforcing tracking:

  • If most of your class is tracking while you practice, but you have some stragglers, shout out someone who is doing it well around them. This will help them see examples and point out implicitly that their peers are doing it.
  • If you have a few kids who just don’t get it, you may have to find time in your day to review it with them in a small group. Bring them in, explain they aren’t in trouble, and practice. They’ll probably love the extra attention. Once they’re back in class, make sure you shout them out when they are tracking after practicing.

Tracking the speaker is element of SLANT, which we use across KIPP and have since the beginning. SLANT stands for:

  • Sit up
  • Listen
  • Ask and answer questions
  • Nod for comprehension
  • Track the speaker

There are many variations of SLANT out there, but all have the same underlying principle: you should set expectations for how kids act during direct instruction instead of praying they will figure it out on their own.

Do you use another variety? Do you have words of wisdom for other teachers trying to get started with tracking or SLANT? Let me know in the comments section below.

Michael Alderman is a staff writer and content manager for TEAM Schools. You can find him on Google+ and Twitter and interact with him there.

Never Miss a Chance to Make a Difference

Subscribe to KIPP New Jersey’s email newsletter and stay in the loop.

Thank you for subscribing!