We say that a student is off-task when they are not doing what we (the teachers) expect them to be doing at any particular time. They could either be talking to a friend, fooling around, or be off in never, never land, but what they are NOT doing is their work or paying attention to us while we are teaching. To try to address this problem we will most likely say the student’s name out loud in order to get their attention and we will probably say the same child’s name over and over again with very little result. We will feel like a broken record (or skipping CD) and the child, if not embarrassed, will be happy to be getting our attention (even if it is negative attention). Meanwhile the other student’s in the class have become off-task because they are now looking at this child in order to find out what they were doing that got their name called by us in the first place.
So what other options do we have? Using American Sign Language signs can not only re-direct the off-task child but will help to keep the rest of the class on-task. Using an American Sign Language sign (like the sign for “pay attention” or “look at me”) with an off-task student can be done repetitively (over and over again as needed) without drawing the attention of the rest of the class away from their work. It is much less obtrusive than interrupting your lesson and what you are saying by saying a child’s name. You can continue your sentence but make a sign directed at a student that isn’t paying attention. There will be less embarrassment for the off-task student because attention isn’t being drawn to them over and over again and it provides a visual for this student to see what it is that they should be doing. For the talking off-task student you could sign “quiet”, and for the fooling around student you could sign “stop”.
By showing the off-task student a sign, the teacher can draw attention to what the student should be doing without using a yelling voice. It can be a positive reminder (instead of focus on the negative) to the student to focus on the task at hand. Due to less frequent interruptions, you may find that you are less frustrated (because you won’t need to yell or nag as often) and your on-task students will be able to stay on-task even better.