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Ideas for "turning on the attention switch" for students!

On November 18, we attended the opening conference of the 50ᵉ convention of SPEAQ (the Society for the Advancement of English as a Second Language in Quebec). A quick look back at this inspiring moment hosted by none other than Matt Miller.

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On November 18, we attended the opening conference of the 50ᵉ convention of SPEAQ (the Society for the Advancement of English as a Second Language in Quebec). A quick look back at this inspiring moment hosted by none other than Matt Miller.

If you don't know Matt Miller, you may know his blog Ditch That TexbookHe has been providing the educational community with creative pedagogical ideas for leveraging digital technology in education for many years. Originally a high school second language teacher (in Spanish), he is also the author of five books. Like many of us, it was his participation in conferences, trainings and lectures that ignited the flame and passion for what he does today.

During his conference, he talked about attention, and more specifically about the difficulty of getting people's attention, but even more so students', since the arrival of the cell phone. Even the advertising industry has had to fight against this new tool and has gone so far as to put ads in the places where we are most captive, i.e. public restrooms! The advertisers had to be creative; imagine the teachers with the students!

Young people are conditioned to receive instant gratification with digital tools. However, we all have an attention switch, something that turns us on enough to make us look up from our screens. So we need to find, in students, what will turn on their attention in class, what will make them engaged and connected to their learning. At that point, they won't even feel like they're working, as Matt reminds us.

Be inspired by what turns young people on

He suggests that educators be inspired by what turns students on to get their attention. There is no need for a specific application to do this: often, the basic principle is enough! A few years ago, the Vines were quite popular (Matt nicknamed the app the grandmother of TikTok 🙂 ). The premise was simple: tell a story or concept in six seconds. The app was impossible to use in the classroom, as the minimum age requirement was 17. 

Yet, Matt's students were almost all there and loved the concept. Instead of making real Vines, Matt used the concept to have students make short six-second videos on Spanish vocabulary concepts simply by using the video capture of the school's iPad tablet. Matt presented SPEAQ members with a variety of templates for creating Stories Instagram in a presentation tool, or even reproducing an Amazon product page (without having to use these resources)! 

However, as Matt admits, how can we not feel like a trained monkey doing pirouettes rather than a teacher in this context? After all, we are here to teach, not to entertain an audience... Indeed, entertainment is not our primary goal. However, the connection is. Connecting with students, with the subject matter, with the world in which our students live: that is what is important. 

The research also supports the arguments made by Matt in his lecture. 

Did you know that : 

All the more reason to ensure that the activities we present to students are enjoyable and interesting for them!

The example of the box unpacking videos

So where can we turn to find out what's lighting up our youth (and the world) right now, for inspiration? On YouTube (although TikTok isn't too far away either), it's possible to come up with classroom activities that tie in with what's popular right now! 

For example, use the box-unpacking videos popular on social media to hijack their advertising use and use them to introduce a concept to students by unpacking each item related to the upcoming class. Or have students create an unpacking box of a character from a novel that they will unpack on camera. Just get your teacher antennae out, as Matt says, and let your creativity flow!

And of course, don't put too much pressure on yourself and allow yourself room for error. Matt ended his talk by showing examples of baking failures on Pinterest, where people have tried to replicate cakes or cookies and have been quite disappointed with the results. The problem isn't the failure, it's what you don't see in the perfect image at the beginning. How many tries were made before arriving at this perfect result? For every unsuccessful result, there will be dozens of successful activities that will turn on your students' switch. 

"Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better."

Matt also recalled this quote from Maya Angelou, which I translate quite freely: "Do the best you can with what you know. Then, when you know more, do even better!"

You will find at GetMattsStuff.com its free digital book The Attention Switch Student Engagement as well as editable document templates to inspire you. Don't forget to subscribe to her newsletter to receive more ideas on a regular basis.

A special thanks to SPEAQ for the invitation to this great event! 

About the Author

Alexandra Coutlée
Alexandra Coutlée
Passionnée de développement professionnel et de numérique au service de l’apprentissage, Alexandra détient un DESS en technologie éducative et un baccalauréat en enseignement de l'anglais, langue seconde, en plus d'une certification Google Trainer (et plusieurs autres!). Elle a enseigné au secondaire pendant une quinzaine d’années avant de faire le saut en conseillance pédagogique, puis en tant que directrice de l'innovation pédagogique de l’École branchée. Elle adore réseauter et partager ses découvertes et est toujours en posture d’apprenante!

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