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Video transcript

Presenter intro: Peps McCrea

To see a class of pupils engaged in a meaningful task thinking hard is really encouraging. The potential for learning is huge and it’s a brilliant sight. But behind this picture lies a lot of careful work and effort. It doesn’t just happen by accident. Once teachers have set up a task successfully, they need to help their pupils stay on task. There are simple but powerful strategies that teachers can use to direct attention and help their pupils be at their best.

Presenter main

We need to pay attention to something in order to learn it, and yet, paying attention isn’t always easy. It may be that the content is unfamiliar. Most people will struggle to keep hold of information when they know very little about it. It can be harder to pay attention to something that you don’t feel you’re good at. Competing distractions can get in the way, someone whispering behind you. Some pupils with SEND may find it hard to pay attention at times. But whilst paying attention can be difficult, the good news is we can help.

There are several strategies that teachers can use to help their pupils pay attention to learning. Teachers can establish a classroom environment that is an effective place for all pupils to learn. Having good systems in place is important, such as where pupils store their materials. Depending on the individual needs of pupils, teachers may want to put additional supports in place to help pupils focus on their learning. For example, if you have a pupil with a hearing impairment, you should identify the most appropriate seat for that pupil. It is important to discuss this with the pupil, their parent or carer, and the specialist staff in the school.

As well as shaping the classroom environment, teachers also need to think carefully about what they do within the classroom environment to help pupils pay attention. Giving manageable and specific instructions helps. These instructions should clearly tell pupils what they should be doing and how, such as “complete the number sentence in silence”. It can also help pupils by focusing their attention on the most important aspects of a task: “remember to include the equal sign”.

Another strategy is to draw attention to the sorts of positive behaviours that are likely to enable pupils to succeed. Teachers can do this by identifying the positive behaviours that they want to see in advance, explicitly naming the behaviour that will help, and then pointing it out when it occurs. For example, when setting pupils up in a group task, the teacher might identify that one pupil should take notes during the task, name this by saying, when one person is talking, the other person needs to make brief notes about their most important points. And then point it out when they see it: “great, Gabriel is making some really useful notes.” Explicitly naming behaviours can be especially helpful for some pupils with SEND.

During an activity, teachers can reinforce positive behaviours by looking out for them and describing what they see. A teacher might say, “Toby has got started on the task straightaway”, or, _“Fatima is making sure she is pausing to read her writing as she goes.”_It doesn’t need to be a constant duration. If a pupil is purposefully engaged in an activity, then intervening with a narration about their behaviour might be a distraction. However, a brief and carefully timed positive reinforcement can be really powerful.

In order to reinforce positive behaviours, teachers need to actively look for them. This means standing in a position where teachers can see all pupils and proactively scanning the classroom. Pointing out the positive behaviours of some pupils can encourage others to do the same.

Presenter exemplification framing

In the next example, you will see a model of how to direct pupil attention. As you watch, pay particular attention to the following.

  • Rigorously maintaining expectations
  • Using positive reinforcement to keep pupils on track

Exemplification: Ambition Institute coach

Positive reinforcement is a great way of helping pupils to meet your expectations. For the purposes of this model, I’m an RE teacher with a class of year eight pupils. It is the end of the lesson, and I’m getting my pupils ready to leave. After I have given my instructions, I’m going to look out for positive behaviours.

“In three, two, one, looking at me.

When I say go, I want you to open your books to today’s work and put them at the back of your desk, I want you to pack the remaining things into your bag, and I would like you to stand behind your chair with the chair tucked in showing me that you’re ready.

Off you go.

The front row have got their books open at the back of their desk, well done.

The middle row have packed away the rest of their things. Anna is already standing behind her chair showing me that she’s ready. Well done, Anna.”

Let’s unpack this example. First, consider my position in the classroom. You will notice that I was standing where I can clearly see all of my pupils. If I’m going to spot positive behaviour, I need to be able to see it. I also want my pupils to know what I’m looking out for. So I was surveying the classroom in a slightly exaggerated way, craning my neck like this. Having set up my expectations in the instructions, I’m making it really clear to pupils that I expect them to be maintained.

My instructions were specific, sequential and manageable. I set out precisely what pupils needed to do in the order that they needed to do it. And I tried to keep my instructions short. As pupils become more familiar with the routine, I may be able to replace words with non-verbal gestures, but at this point, I still need to support pupils by explicitly stating what they should do.

Notice that I gave a short pause between the countdown and giving my instructions. I want to make sure that all pupils are listening.

Another important aspect of this model is that I narrated the positive behaviours that my pupils carried out. I used neutral, descriptive language and kept it short. I hope that by doing this, it will provide another opportunity for pupils in the classroom to know what they should be doing.

Presenter key ideas

Now that you have seen a clear model of how to direct attention, read through the key ideas that we have covered in this video. Which of these ideas do you think that the example illustrated best?

  • Give manageable, specific and sequential instructions
  • Teach and rigorously maintain clear behavioural instructions
  • Monitor these values with gaze
  • Vocalise positive examples of these expectations

Presenter summary

There are lots of ways in which teachers can support their pupils to pay attention to learning. And this is a really important part of our role. Choose one thing to practice and practice doing it well.