With Term 4 now underway, teachers are bracing themselves for a familiar annual challenge: steering the wandering focus of their students back to the classroom.
Much like the inexplicable early store appearances of tinsel and carols, end-of-term disengagement seems to creep in sooner each year and teachers must navigate this season of distraction, ensuring the year's culmination isn't just a countdown to the holidays.
However, as most teachers would know, keeping students switched on isn’t just a Term 4 problem. Research by Microsoft has found that the human attention span has dropped to eight seconds – shrinking nearly 25% in just a few years.
The implications of this research for schools are obvious. If teachers’ lessons aren’t engaging, don’t expect students to be tuned in during class.
Simply ‘doing’ isn’t the same as learning
Emeritus Laureate Professor John Hattie from Melbourne University’s Graduate School of Education highlights the need for a significant culture change in favour of improved engagement, and more importantly, a stronger focus on whether kids are actually learning as well as they could be.
“Too often, engagement is seen in terms of ‘doing’ – are the students doing the work? Are they completing it? Schools are busy places with lots of activities, assignments, and assessments – doing, doing, doing. But in a lot of ‘doing’ there can be little learning,” Professor Hattie told The Educator.
“Instead, we need to think of engagement as being turned onto the challenge of learning. Like when playing video games, being clear about what success means, providing feedback to move students from where they are to where they need to be, rewarding the attainment of success with even more challenging goals, and investing in the love of learning.”
Autonomy of choice is key
EduInfluencers founder Rochelle Borton says while fostering motivation in staff and students can be challenging, the achievement of goals, linked to values and personal motivation are known to enhance overall wellbeing and performance of staff, giving even more reason to ensure specific strategies are adopted by school leaders.
“There are several strategies that can support this improvement,” she told The Educator.
“One of these is creating a positive and supportive school culture by encouraging open communication, collaboration, and mutual respect among students and staff.”
Borton also emphasised the importance of empowering staff and students through providing them with greater voice and agency.
“Where possible, provide autonomy and choice, offering students and staff options in decision making, in their learning process.”
Revisit, and build upon, successful strategies
Dr Lyn O'Grady is a Community Psychologist with a particular interest in the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people.
She suggests schools look at what they are already doing to keep students engaged and consider what more can be done.
“Schools should revisit strategies that have worked in the past that might have dropped off or update and refresh them for the current climate,” she said.
“It is also important to foster a sense of belonging in the school community, notice any warning signs of school reluctance, and work with parents, families, the local community and external agencies to promote school attendance and engagement.”
In summary, Dr O’Grady suggests the more we connect together, the easier it will become, and the more cohesive it will be in terms of parents and students to get the support and lessen the load on schools.
A good night’s sleep can make for a good day’s learning
Studies have shown that Australian teens are the third most sleep deprived in the world and that more than 70% of Australian high school students suffer from regular sleep deprivation.
Teenagers face a three-hour sleep deficit per night on average, but those who spend five hours a day online are 50% more likely to fail meeting their minimum sleep requirements than peers who only spend an hour online each day.
As kids prepare to head back to school for Term 4, a sleep expert from UniSA Online says modifying sleep routines now will allow enough time for children’s body clocks to adjust to a new schedule before school starts.
“School leaders can encourage students and parents to consider the significant benefits of a healthy sleep routine by talking to children more about the benefits of sleep and risks of not getting enough sleep,” Dr Stephanie Centofanti from UniSA Online told The Educator.
“Increasing children’s understanding of why a good sleep routine is important, in the same way exercise and nutrition are focused upon in the curriculum, can help them to maintain healthy sleep behaviours.”
Dr Centofanti says providing resources to students and parents (e.g. class activities, posters around the class, fact sheets) can help bring sleep to the forefront.
“Creating opportunities for students to work on shared activities with their peers can also be helpful – for example brainstorming a healthy nighttime sleep routine and coming up with goals for the class, such as no phone use for 30 minutes before bed,” she said.
“There are many free resources and activity ideas available for teachers on the Sleep Health Foundation website.”