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 Future of Learning is Here

The Covid-19 pandemic has completely changed the face of education and no-one is quite sure what is going to happen next, but crises have a habit of changing deeply entrenched working practices. As I write this DJ Chris Evans is on the radio asking the question “children are at school for 25% of their lives, but do the children receive 25% of the benefits?”. In other words does the way we teach prepare our students for their future lives? It is generally accepted that the jobs our young people will go into probably have not even been invented yet, so is it possible to prepare them for the real world?. The way that we teach would be recognisable to the Victorians and yet the world in which we live in would not be. Children attend classes, complete copious amounts of exercise books, use textbooks and are then assessed in written examinations.

In the past few years there has been a move away from the is model, the company Future Learn (www.futurelearn.com) and the Khan Academy (www.khanacademy.org) are innovators in ‘Massive Open Online Courses’ or MOOCS, which are free online courses on literally thousands of topics. I always recommend sixth form students complete a MOOC as demonstration of their commitment to a subject ahead of a UCAS application. In the UK private schools have been much more successful in transitioning to online lessons, the Sutton Trust found that private school educated children were twice as likely to receive online lessons than state school educated pupils. It seems that access to resources has widened the gap, yet in the long run online education could be harnessed to level up especially as smart devices become more affordable and ubiquitous, which means online lessons are more accessible. Online lessons are likely to support teachers rather than replace them, we are all very familiar with programs such as Active Learn and My Maths, this frees the teacher up to teach core skills in the classroom, along with other fundamental skills such as health and wellbeing, socialisation and social care, with content covered in a flipped learning model at home, accessed via a medium which the 21st century student is comfortable with.

Online learning is here to stay, according to surveys most of us in the UK would love to see more emphasis on the digital delivery of lessons, the pandemic has changed the way education is viewed, now is the time to really prepare our future captains of industry, equipped to develop digital skills such as virtual collaboration, communication, analysing data or managing remote teams. It’s high time for change.

Practical Tips to support children with online learning

1 – Create a learning environment and limit distractions. Make sure there is quiet, clutter free areas and encourage concentration, no one has ever learnt whilst wearing earphones or listening to music despite the protestations.

2 – Mix it up. Online learning should be in conjunction with offline activities. Get out and about away from the study space. Encourage Physical Exercise and extra-curricular activity to help support emotional well-being. Brain breaks allow the brain to focus on something else and reduces fatigue, keep the activities short, sharp and focused.

4 – Keep an open dialogue with your childs teacher to check on progress and highlight any challenges faced.

5 – Stick to a routine, set times for you to be available for them and review what they have learnt together.

6 – Keep them motivated, help your child believe they can make progress and be positive. Greater motivation improves focus as does a healthy and balanced diet.