10 techniques to try with students who struggle to stay attentive

Paying attention in class. It’s absolutely fundamental, yes? Surely students only learn when they listen to the teacher and follow the lesson closely?

Actually, maybe not.

Today’s digital world presents students with a plethora of demands for their attention – far more than we experienced as children. Some see this as a worry, fearing that we face raising a generation of attention-deficient students unable to concentrate on anything.

The truth is quite the opposite. Firstly, students today are adept at juggling multiple demands on their attention. Secondly they don’t depend as much as we did on paying attention in class. By accessing information when, where and from whom they want, they can focus on the real skills of learning: being creative, collaborating with peers, using information to solve problems…

As a teacher, it’s important to rethink the ‘doesn’t pay attention’ issue in this light. And to jettison many of the traditional techniques – here instead are 10 more suited to today’s student.

Always vary the ways that content is delivered, using a mix of media.
Give the students notice of a topic in advance, and allow them to propose sources of content for you to use in the lesson. Don’t be too judgmental or selective: if they suggest loads of YouTube videos, show them.
Set up a rewards scheme, and make sure to use it. (Solutions such as WinjiGo can help with this, by using badging features.)
Related to a rewards scheme, why not create and share a league table of the most attentive/best behaved students? You could limit this to the Top Ten, Top Five or similar, so it’s not about criticizing those at the bottom.
Pause the lesson if things are flagging, and have students do something proactive: for example a swift search for online content that supports a topic.
Rather than chastising them, ask an apparently daydreaming student what they’re thinking about and get the class exploring the tangent together.
Use an app or similar to enable students to rate a lesson, and comment on it. While initially some might see this as an opportunity for flippancy, if you demonstrably act on the valid feedback of their peers, over time every student will come to see it as a valuable way to give their views and have them heard.
Break a full classroom up into smaller groups, and get students working together, for example researching a topic or solving a complicated challenge step-by-step.
Have a quick test, which students can answer in a fun digital way, thereby bringing an element of gamification into your classroom.
Appoint one student at a time the class blogger, responsible for putting together a little lighthearted record of the day, week or similar and sharing it with the rest of the class.

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