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.

The Great Covid Dilemma

To open schools for Face to face teaching or to move to remote teaching?

Photo by Max Fischer on Pexels.com

The great moral dilemma of our time: Don’t forget the underlying narrative that, despite the trash talk from the Daily Mail, schools are NOT closing, those in London are moving from face to face learning to online learning except for exam classes and vulnerable students. From a teachers perspective online teaching is a pain in the backside and we would want to avoid that as far as possible.

So the options available to school leaders are either face to face teaching or remote teaching, which one is more preferable?

A) Face to Face teaching

  • Education is very important and with public examinations due in the summer, time cannot be lost. Students will fall behind and will be unable to compete in the future.
  • The mental health and well being of students will be adversely affected. Children need interaction with their peers to sustain personal development. Already there are reports of a four fold increase in eating disorders amongst children.
  • Without schools being open, the economy grinds to a halt. Instead of working, parents are having to entertain their children or monitor their online lessons. In some cases parents are having to lend their child(ren) their laptop preventing them from doing any of their own work.

B) Remote Teaching

  • Covid infections are rising rapidly and the new strain is as the Government states out of control.
  • Transmission in children is low, but the real threat of 30+ bubbles taking the disease back to their families, some of whom are vulnerable is very high and with ICU units reaching capacity can the risk be taken?
  • A lack of PPE for school staff in small poorly ventilated rooms

From my own perspective, I think schools should be open for face to face lessons, but there are a number of caveats within this. Firstly is it safe for the school to open? Are the teaching areas suitably large enough and/or are there enough staff in school to be able to facilitate this? Secondly, the Government should prioritise school staff in the vaccination programme, whilst it does not solve the problem of transmission to family members of the students, it does enable an extra layer of protection for those on the front line who do not have the PPE protection of other frontline workers.

Photo by Gantas Vaiu010diulu0117nas on Pexels.com

All in all, this is a very avoidable situation, we have known that the winter months would bring further challenges and it doesn’t take ‘Mystic Meg’ to understand that the virus would be more prevalent in these winter conditions.

That there are no contingency plans in place from the Department for Education shows a real lack of leadership from themselves or the Education Minister Gavin Williamson MP. It is very simple in the case of scenario (A) we will deploy policy (X), for (B) we will deploy (Y) and so on, all it took was some organisation and foresight which appears to be lacking in our political leaders.

There are plenty of opportunities for taking teaching outside of the classroom perhaps now presents a perfect opportunity for the profession to move into the 21st century? In the meantime, I wish everyone the best of luck in and out of schools in the next few days and weeks, it will be a bumpy road, but hopefully we will see each other on the other side. Good luck.

Black History Month

A Celebration of Black History

“and what of history are they going to be taught factual history or progressive woke history, as to be politically correct to protect the snowflakes and and all the other bleeding heart loves of our society as not to offend them”. So roared a comment on my Facebook page as one red faced, angry, middle aged white male took to his keyboard to blame me for the current social movements which challenge traditional thinking, such as Black Lives Matter.

And yet, he has a fair point, historical interpretation is all about how we all describe, analyse, evaluate and try to create an explanation of past events. Students of history have the opportunity to look through the evidence, which may include written sources, verbal accounts, points of view and visual primary or secondary sources and then reach an evaluation based on the facts and their own interpretation of these facts. However, it is how these facts are presented that can cause misinterpretation.

October is ‘Black History Month’ a highlight in the History teacher’s diary as it presents an chance to teach a counter narrative to traditional thinking, is this a woke approach? no of course not, it is a chance for all members of society to re-evaluate the facts and perhaps come to different conclusions. It is also a chance to celebrate those people who made a series impact on the lives of others, Mary Seacole, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King to name just a few.

Mary Seacole 1805-1881 We have all heard of Florence Nightingale, yet few have heard of Mary Seacole. Mary Seacole rose to prominence during the Crimean War when she funded her own journey to Turkey after British authorities refused her offers of help. There she opened a hospital, and became a popular figure in Britain, receiving various awards for bravery. The Mary Seacole Trust has been created to highlight Mary’s work.

Rosa Parks 1913-2005 Her story is interesting as it was completely accidental.Parks’s refusal to give up her seat on an Alabama bus in 1955 became a symbolic moment in the American civil rights movement. The fallout launched Martin Luther King Jr to fame. The incident sparked a mass boycott of the transport system by the black community.

Trevor McDonald – Journalist, born 1939 
A familiar face on our TV screens, The first black news anchor in the UK, Trinidad-born McDonald is one of the most popular figures on TV. Starting his career on the BBC World Service, in 1999 he was given the Bafta Richard Dimbleby Award for Outstanding Contribution to Television.

Maya Angelou – Author, poet, playwright, born 1928 
Missouri has always been a hotbed of talent, she was a great voice of black literature. Angelou’s memoirs expose the difficulties of growing up as a black woman in St Louis. Her achievements are many and varied, and she was the first African-American woman admitted to the Directors Guild of America.

Kofi Annan – Diplomat, born 1938 
Annan was the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations. His role in working for global peace was recognised when he and the UN were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001. He helped to reform the UN and strengthen its peacekeeping abilities.

Lewis Howard Latimer – Inventor, 1848-1928 
History does not record the work of black inventors and yet there are scores of examples, the most famous perhaps is this son of escaped slaves, Latimer is considered one of the greatest black inventors, notably due to his improvement of carbon filaments in light bulbs. He worked with Thomas Edison and Alexander Bell and secured many different patents.

Jesse Owens – Athlete, 1913-80 
If there was an individual who was born to re-write a narrative then Owens is the perfect example. At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Owens defied Nazi propaganda and won four gold medals on the track. When he died, the US President Jimmy Carter said: “Perhaps no athlete better symbolised the human struggle against tyranny, poverty and racial bigotry.”

Martin Luther King – Civil rights activist, 1929-68 
The figurehead of the American Civil Rights Movement, King became a national hero after leading the successful Montgomery bus boycott. In 1964 he received the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his work. He was assassinated on 4 April 1968

Nelson Mandela – Political activist, born 1918 
A key anti-apartheid figure in South Africa, Mandela spent 27 years in prison for the cause. After his release, he became the country’s first fully democratically elected president and leader of the African National Congress. In 1993 he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Pelé – Footballer, born 1940 
Growing up he was one of my heroes, christened Edson Arantes do Nascimento Pelé, he is regarded as the world’s greatest footballer. Playing for his native Brazil, Pelé won the World Cup three times. In 1999 the BBC named him the second greatest sportsperson of the millennium.

Haile Selassie – World leader, 1892-1975 
Researching the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935 I was astonished by the leadership of Haile Selassie, not to be confused with the marathon runner. Accepted by Rastafarians as a symbol of God incarnate, the former emperor of Ethiopia became a worldwide anti-Fascist figure after appealing to the United Nations for help against Mussolini’s invading armies. An ally of the west and opponent of colonisation.

Oprah Winfrey – Media tycoon, born 1954 
A living American institution, she is seen by some as the most influential woman in the world. At the centre of her various projects is her TV chat show which is syndicated around the world. In 2006 Winfrey became the world’s first black woman billionaire.

The effects of the slave trade are always going to cause huge arguments on both sides, along with the apartheid movement in South Africa and the civil rights movement in the USA. What cannot be denied though is that these events occurred and it is how we learn from history to correct perceived injustice and build a more tolerant and inclusive society. it should not be black history month, but a year round celebration of how people have contributed to society regardless of their background. History is continually evolving and new interpretations are continually developed, this is why it is the greatest subject on the curriculum.