Hey Daydreamer

How do you know if the children you are teaching are paying attention?

Teachers and parents of the UK 🇬🇧 rejoice your children are going back to school. But after such a long time out, how much of a attention span will they have and can teachers adapt their delivery to respond?

Legoland, Windsor has a car park at the top and the attractions at the bottom of a rather steep hill. Each year my family joke about being ‘Lego fit’. In March we struggle to walk up the hill after a busy day, by October we are running up. Same people, same hill, but what has changed? The difference is that we are able to build up our stamina during each visit until we can conquer our goals. It’s the same in the classroom, our more attentive students will be ready to sit through five one hour lessons a day, but what of those who are used to turning the camera off and going for a snack or a snooze during an online lesson? I can guarantee they will not be ‘Lego fit’.

The hill at Legoland Windsor resort is brutal

The skills of focusing and paying attention are critical to student learning. According to Piontkowski et al. [40], “Educators often talk about attention as a general mental state in which the mind focuses on some special feature of the environment. As such, attention is considered essential for learning. It is hard to believe that the student who disregards instruction will benefit from it. Thus, the teacher needs reliable signs of the student’s state of attention.”

It is challenging, however, for teachers to spot signs of student attention in large classrooms with so many students.

But as we have seen, additional challenges arise in online classrooms, which often limit teachers to watching students’ body language in video feeds, where they cannot see, for example, distractions in the students’ environment. Harder still when the camera is turned off, often due to over zealous safeguarding leads rather than a students wish not to be seen.

An area of real interest is the study on how biometrics and machine learning approaches can help teachers evaluate their students’ level of attentiveness in both physical and online classrooms and introduce appropriate interventions to improve learning outcomes.

It is worth checking the research on this. Although the field of automated attention tracking research is steadily amassing new publications, no survey works have charted the progress of research or encouraged new research. An open opportunity to explore a key area which affects pupil progress.

By focusing on key behaviors such as eye gazes, body movements or social interactions, it is possible for a teacher to measure the level of engagement in their lessons and tailor their delivery accordingly. The next few weeks will be a challenge as we all adapt to a different dynamic within our classrooms.

Taking the high road… Out

T’was the week before term and whilst all my teacher friends and contacts are sweating over the return to school, I am feeling strangely relaxed. My suit is still in the dry cleaners, my board pens are somewhere in a box in the garage and my books are gathering dust on the shelf.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a blog about how great it is to be free from the shackles of school life, although I am not going to miss the naval gazing of results analysis spreadsheets and reports or the dull hours spent listening to someone reading out a powerpoint about the latest school priorities. This a slightly cathartic attempt to explain my story and the lessons which could be learnt for everyone in the education sector about the pathways within.

Teaching in schools is a very secure and predictable environment, in my 17 year career, I have changed jobs twice, both times I handed my notice in by the middle of May, to start a new role in September, a full 15 weeks or practically 4 months later (1/3rd of the year). Previously I worked as a buyer for two firms one educational publisher and a travel firm, leaving one job on the Friday to start a new one the following Monday in a very transient working environment. There are benefits and drawbacks to both approaches, job security of course being the main advantage, I however, always felt a bit cornered, powerless to take advantage of some of the opportunities which presented themselves. Not that in reality there were many opportunities, and perhaps they were just perceived based on my ‘grass is always greener’ approach to life, but I always felt that I needed an ‘out’.

So here I am, out! I am fairly risk averse, but teaching nine different subjects across three different key stages, travelling over 2 hours to and from work every day was taking its toll. Added to 2 months off due to extensive shoulder surgery, the death of my Father and the effects of Covid-19, for my own health and well being if not the family finances it was time to be brave. I contacted my Union and requested they initiate an exit strategy, for both parties it was definitely the right course of action. So here I am, one week away from joining seemingly everyone else in the world, unemployed.

Yet I feel completely invigorated, so here is the masterplan, it will be interesting to see how many of these are ticked off before either I head off on holiday next summer, or am evicted.

Priority number one – Pay Septembers mortgage. I have registered with plenty of agencies, digging out old certificates and applying for DBS. Supply work is the priority, to make ends meet I probably need to bring home around £120-£130 a day, a quite and frighteningly tall order. I don’t actually know if any schools will take anyone on supply in the next few weeks with all this uncertainty? I guess pupils and teachers may well be hit by the French and Spanish quarantine rules? Who knows?

Priority number two – Set up a Tutoring Company. Its a mysterious world, tutoring. I hear of all these ex-teachers who have made successful transitions into tutoring, then I find out they all teach Maths! I have no idea if this will be successful or not, but I guess now is a good time to try. I will cover my experiences of setting up a company in my next blog post, but in the meantime excitingly http://www.castletutoring.com is live.

Priority Number Three – Contact schools to offer catch up sessions. Talking of opportunities, the Government is offering schools a catch up premium of £1bn towards a National Tutoring Programme, with each secondary school receiving approximately £80k. This money is for small one to one tuition and extra teaching capacity from September.

So overall, being free from a school contract has meant that I do not have the security of a monthly guaranteed wage and the ability to organise child care on a day to day basis around our work schedules, but I do have the flexibility to take on these new challenges and take advantage of the opportunities which in this post-lockdown world have presented.

Do let me know your own experiences and how this has shaped you and your career, I’d be very keen to pick up any hints and tips.