Ben Parr has released this short video via Big Think with a focus on the psychology of attention. He identifies three types of attention: immediate, short, and long. To capture someone's attention you have to see these three as stages into a person's subconscious. But how does this translate into the classroom?
Keeping children's attention can be very challenging in a classroom environment. Not all children are wired the same and not all our curriculum objectives are very engaging. 90% of the information available to us was created in the past 2 years which is a mind-blowing fact! As Ben Parr states, the modern world is full of information and so for us teachers, our challenge is to make our information and learning, that we are presenting to our students, more important and more engaging than anything else. An impossible task you may think.
In this video, Ben states that in order to gain attention, there are 3 stages: Immediate, short and long. this links to our classroom environment and is fairly straight forward. Immediate attention refers to small individual tasks that may be set within one lesson. Short term attention refers to children being engaged within a single lesson and long term links to a child being engaged across an entire unit of learning.
In the classroom, we can use these as a focus and ambition for our own lessons. We can use these stages to grab children's attention and foster a love of learning which will engage them not only in the short term but for life. But, what does this mean and what might this look like? To begin to unpick these concepts, it is always worth starting backwards, which is why we will start with our long term attention goals.
Long Term Attention!
Long term attention refers to a unit of learning. How can we allow children to become immersed and motivated through an entire persuasive writing unit or an entire topic on Romans? Time and time again, I will refer back to one key word: purpose. Without purpose, learning becomes meaningless. Purpose is one aspect of learning which appears to fit perfectly with the goal of creating interest. Learning appears to be pointless if there is no end goal. After all, why do we as adults learn anything new?
We paid for driving lessons so we could gain our independence and drive to the local gym, and we developed our ICT skills so we could take pictures of our food and share them on social media sites. For children, the purpose of learning has to be there too. Why do we need to persuade the Head Teacher to give us more break time, if the answer is inevitably going to be no? Too often, children are disengaged with a topic because the learning seems irrelevant.
We as teachers can easily fall into the trap of forcing children through lessons because the Curriculum said so. In order to get children on board with a unit of learning, we as ‘learning designers’ need to piece together a unit which incorporates the curriculum goals, but has strong end goals for the learners. What do we want our children to have achieved by the end of this unit? Once this question is answered, we can then start to piece together the steps the children need to take and the skills that need to be developed in order to reach that long term motivational goal.
Novelty is also highlighted in the video. It is important that our tasks and goals have an element, and give the feeling of, achieving something new. This does not always mean thinking of new activities. Novelty can simply refer to the idea of developing new skills, looking at something in a different way or completing something using a new strategy. When tasks have an element of novelty, motivation and attention is enhanced. It is important to remember this when planning each individual lesson.
Short Term Attention!
Short term attention refers to each individual lesson within a unit of work. As Ben states, this is similar to watching one episode of a TV drama. The individual episode needs to be engaging enough to make us want to complete the whole series. Linking to the overarching outcome, we can ask, what skills are going to be developed this lesson that will take us a step closer to our end goal?
Reading texts lets us understand what we need to include in our own persuasive piece of writing. Sentence and grammar work helpS us develop our writing skills so we can better persuade our reader. Drama and role-play help us verbalise and construct what we want to share with our audience. By sharing these steps with the children, lessons are given a context and form steps towards a purposeful end.
For older students, these steps can also be outlined and developed by themselves, which gives ownership of learning to the children. Strategies like this also allow children to see the journey that they have, and will, be taking. By letting children know what they will be achieving in the week ahead, they will know where they are going and can focus on completing their task to a high standard. When planning these lessons, and once we have our end of lesson goal, we can then lay out the stepping stones within the lesson that will get every child to that finish line.
Immediate attention is probably the one thing that teachers are best at. Being able to gather children's attention in three rhythmic claps is an art that only primary teachers can appear to master! However, when placing immediate attention into the context of achieving long term goals, this makes it slightly trickier. Why do we need to sort these words into nouns and verbs? How will it benefit me as a learner? These questions are just as valuable to the teacher as they are to the children.
When designing your lessons, it is always worth asking yourself, why do I want the children to complete this activity? What will they learn and what will they develop through this five-minute activity. If the answer is nothing, then it probably isn’t worth doing. Each and every stepping stone during a lesson needs to have purpose and be meaningful in the context of what needs to be achieved.
Blooms is a great starting point in designing purposeful and enaging learning tasks. Usually, lessons begin with the children needing to acquire some form of new knowledge or skills. Whether it be identifying features in texts or developing grammar skills, the children are developing knowledge.
From this, the children may need to then use and apply this knowledge to develop their overall understanding. Linking the new knowledge to their end of unit goal gives context and purpose to the activities. How is my new grammar skill going to be applied to my persuasive letter?
The final step is then for the pupils to create and evaluate using their new skills. Developing their own sentence ideas or forming a mini freeze frame or role play gives the learning a use. Yes, they have identified how a character is feeling using clues from the text, but what was the point? Through creation comes purpose!
By looking at the bigger picture and designing your learning from there, learning becomes meaningful. When learning is meaningful, learning becomes powerful and relevant. This in turn leads to long term attention of a subject that can all too easily become dry and objective based. No, your children may not grow up to be authors and best sellers but they will grow up with a motivation to develop and grow. They will learn and aspire to do and be better. This is something we surely want for every child!