When And How To Pay Attention!

This morning, I read a recent blog post by Sue Dunlop, one of our Board’s superintendents. The post spoke about multi-tasking, screen time, and the importance of truly “paying attention.” I’ve actually been thinking about this topic a lot lately.

The funny thing is that I often feel the need to multi-task, but I struggle with doing more than one thing at a time. So what do I do? Here’s my approach:

  • I have the Board email app on my iPad, so I’ll check it regularly, but mark as unread everything that I need to reply to. Then I can think about my response when I have a few minutes, but not reply to the emails until nutrition break or after school, when I can really focus on what I want to say.
  • When conferencing with students, I’ll usually take a photograph of the student work, but then put the iPad down and listen to the conversation. After that, I’ll annotate the photograph with information that the students shared and/or I’ll hand over the iPad, and let the students add the information.
  • I’ll use a podcasting app when conferencing with students. Then I can put my iPad on the table, sit back, and truly engage in the conversation, but still have documentation of what was shared.

These tricks allow me to multi-task without multi-tasking. But what about at inservices? This is where I struggle. I read Sue’s example of her time at the Math Inservice. I’ll admit that I’ve been guilty of replying to emails during inservices before, and when I do that, I really have no idea what’s being shared. I lose out, and I know that!

But if I put away all of my devices and just listen to the conversation (especially during any full group talking time), I don’t remember anything either. I learn by listening and watching, but also, doing! This is where tweeting is beneficial for me. I listen to what the speaker says, I see what’s on the slides, and then I tweet out my thinking. This keeps me focused on the content, but also, engaged with what’s being shared. Then when it comes to small group sharing time, I put my device off to the side, engage in the conversation, and write down some ideas later that I want to remember.

What does all of this mean when it comes to teaching and learning?

  • People “pay attention” in different ways. I think we need to model these different ways for students, and let students choose the way that works best for them. Maybe some students need to “chalk talk” during full class lessons, others may need a digital backchannel, and still others may need to just listen and watch. How can we provide all of these choices?
  • We need to practice what we preach. If we want students to avoid personal interactions during class time, then I think we need to as well. Modelling for students how to use technology well to capture learning is important, but also modelling for them how to avoid texts and emails during instructional time is equally as important. How do you do this?
  • We need to admit when we make mistakes. I know that there have been times when I’ve tried to multi-task, and I shouldn’t. Maybe I replied to an email that I should have waited on answering until there was a better time. If I’m not 100% “there” for the students, then I try to own my mistake, and show them how I can make a better choice. How do you model “making mistakes?”

What does “paying attention” look like to you? What are your expectations for students in a classroom context? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!



4 thoughts on “When And How To Pay Attention!

  1. I chuckled when I saw this post and then thought I really should check out SO Dunlop’s post. I chuckled because I am purposeful about closing my email at in-services and in meetings. I do this because I find it incredibly rude of people to say they are ‘attending’ a meeting when they are only partially attending. I figure that if I have been asked to be present, it is either because I have learning to do or because I have something to offer. How can I do either if I am answering someone not even in the room.
    Now, I have to say, I am not opposed to people having their devices out and doing something on them. Please let me explain. I have attended sessions where people type to keep notes (this distracts me but helps them). There have been times when someone is knitting in order to keep their thoughts and attention on the presenter–again, distracting for me but necessary for them. Others doodle–has not effect on me 😉 I mention these examples because recently I argued that a person may need to even play a mindless game (ei-Candy Crush) at a meeting in order to pay attention. How is it any different than knitting or doodling?
    Maybe the problem is in perception of the activity.
    When I started I referred to the answering of emails and ended by saying why not play a game……..The difference for me is the level of attention that can be given to the people who have spent a considerable amount of time planning the session. I have to be responsible for my own learning. If what I am doing interferes, I am the one losing out. However, if what I am doing is in anyway ‘seen’ as disrespectful to the presenter, I need to adjust my practice

    • Thanks for your comment, Tammy! It’s the last line that really got me thinking. Could any one of these practices be seen as disrespectful to the presenter? Maybe we need to establish norms before inservices & meetings. Some people are great at multi-tasking, and truly can focus and do many things at once. I can write a tweet and listen (and this helps me learn), but emailing and listening only serves to distract me. I wonder what others think.


      P.S. I must say that I’ve never played Candy Crush before, and I’m starting to think that’s a good thing. 🙂

  2. I think paying attention means that we are engaged with the presentation and it is addressing our needs. Students may lose focus partly because they cannot follow the flow of the lesson or activity.

    Thanks for the reflection.

    • Thanks for the comment, Byron! You make a good point here. What can we, as teachers, do to help ensure that students can easily follow the flow of the lesson or activity? How can we help those students that might struggle with this? Lots to think about …


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