Attention Ticket: A strategy to reduce attention scatter in remote and hybrid learning environments

Today’s guest author is Mirela Ramacciotti. Mirela is a lawyer, teacher and translator. Mirela has taught children, adolescents and adults as well as coordinated and directed schools. Mirela has written materials for teaching English and produced research for institutes. Mirela currently works as a trainer and researcher in Education and Neurosciences. Mirela is a PhD candidate in two programs: Neurosciences and Behavior (USP) and Human Communication Disorders (UNIFESP). Mirela founded and coordinated the special interest group in Mind, Brain and Education (MBE SIG -BrazTESOL). Mirela podcast weekly on education and neurosciences at (Neuropapo  em Educação) and productions and contributions can be accessed at Neuroeducamente. Mirela’s Lattes ID  is 3658640400115779  and  ORCID is 0000-0002-3109-8376.

Mirela Ramacciotti

This article aims to offer a tool to avoid losing students online when hybrid learning is the operative mode. To achieve that, first I’ll set the stage – or context – for the current need for this novel tool. Second, I’ll state the reasons why this tool might prevent losing what is fundamental for learning and why it is different from other tools in use. And third, I’ll give you some examples for those in Education, especially in Early Childhood Education Centers (ECECs), to put the tool into use.  

Let’s start with the times we’re in for they have been trying – to put it mildly. After a year with Coronavirus and remote learning mode, being physically back to school, albeit with alternative schedules, has been a reason for joy. Without joy, learning can be difficult1. Zoom may be an alternative, but it is not the best solution for early education2.

Children, from conception till 60 months of age, need human connection and this means a physical presence even if the alternative learning approaches are well designed3.

Over the last year, parents have been called upon to be the ‘warm body’ and provide many other accommodations4 as children have had to go through learning stages where the only contact with their teachers was remote. The challenges faced by families have been tremendous and stress levels have risen considerably5. As this distance learning phase is coming to an end, coming back to school (even with masks, social distancing, and other protocols) has been like rediscovering paradise. Perhaps for too long, we have taken the role of education centers and schools for granted.

Now, after several new virus strains loom on the horizon and outbreaks once again threaten students’ presence on campus, hybrid learning has become the default alternative. This combination of in-person and remote modes of learning has been adopted as the blanket response to COVID-19 exposure hazards. However, that response often fails to consider the individual needs of students and their different developmental levels6. The very fact that we have divisions like early childhood, elementary, middle, and high school should raise the flag when implementing blanket accommodations. 

A red flag might be raised when we consider hybrid learning and attention scattering, especially at the early childhood level. As outbreaks are still a threat, and better ways to make learning feasible are not widely in practice, we need a remedy for teachers to lessen the impact of student disengagement from learning and the impact of attention scatter.

Children work in high motivation gear, they are purposefully propelled to shift attention to new stimuli in their environment7 and capable of intensive focus if they are engaged emotionally8. This means they need an emotional appeal to attract their attention to stay engaged. Otherwise, children will lose that attention and consequently fail to develop the channeling that leads to focus. The ability to focus is essential for learning9.

As per human brain development, sensory pathways come first10. Therefore, stimuli that appeal to the senses, such as a sound, a curious image to attract and keep students hooked to the screen should be considered in remote learning environments. These stimuli provoke a reaction, that is essentially the stuff emotions are made of11.  This is important because anecdotal evidence and reports12 show that students who go back to campus but on alternate schedules (and in hybrid learning) are shying away from screens. And this is very easy to understand: given that children need their teachers’ presence to learn optimally and parents need a well-deserved break, there is a win-win situation – children are happy to be back to schools in families that are relieved to have a normal routine once again.

So, when children are faced with the pressure of attending classes out of their classrooms, it means they are involuntarily being physically removed from contact with teachers and peers, chaperoned by family members who are already stressed. It comes as no wonder that they refuse to Zoom – who wouldn’t?!?

As much as empathy makes behaviors understandable, we still have to deal with the reality of learners not engaging in remote learning.  This means teachers need a remedy to keep students’ attention online. Here is where attention tickets – a name that rings a very intentional bell – may be of use.

Tickets for learning are prompts for students13. Their function is to grant access to the class, either to enter or to exit. Which explains their name. As such, entry and exit tickets have been successfully used as a formative assessment tool to assess students and adapt accordingly. They have been used as they capitalize simply on what students bring at the beginning of a class (primacy) and what students are leaving that class with (recency). This prime capital is known to yield much for retention. This effect on learning comes as no surprise to those familiar with the learning curve14, and the primacy/recency effect15.

If you know how entry16 and exit17 tickets operate, the following checklist of their components should cover all the bases: (i) questions that introduce and/or monitor learning18; (ii) questions that assess understanding, (iii) questions that apply/demonstrate a concept19. In short, they deliver what is promised, a scaffolding that safeguards students’ readiness to enter or to exit a learning moment.

The same applies to the remedy proposed: a slip that checks on students’ readiness to pay attention as this is the first and essential element of any learning experience20, either in-person or online. The mode of operation relies on the work frame in place for entry and exit tickets: short (both in form and in time) and focused. Therefore, it needs to capitalize on what students can give. And here comes an important point: different kids react in different ways at different ages.

It is important to grasp a fundamental difference between attention tickets and attention breaks or focused-attention practices21. What is proposed here is not a way to redirect attention but rather to get students’ attention to engage with a mode of instruction. For this, students need to be motivated, they need to find reason and joy in this different stance (online learning). That is why tickets are promising here: they work to harness attentional resources that, if scattered, prevent learning from happening.

While attention tickets may have the potential to revamp engagement in remote classes there is no one-size-fits-all. Once teachers grasp the idea, understand the rationale, and are willing to put it to the test, the sky’s the limit for the kinds of tickets they might create to harness children’s attention and bring their presence (body and mind) to remote mode.

Here are some examples of useful attention tickets for early learning that take advantage of sensory channels to get students’ attention at the beginning of class: 

  • a bird-watchers whistle that gets students to name the bird call; 
  • a puppet that gets students to ask for his/her name; 
  • a favorite song that gets students to sing along. 

In common all these tickets share the following: they give something (a focal point) and ask for something (a hook) that purposefully captures students’ attention to the teacher on the screen. Once the connection between the student and teacher is established, then there is room for learning to take place. 


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