Several years ago I was very impressed with my ability to keep students attention during a lesson. They would sit still on their pockets at the carpet, with their alert eyes staring at me. They seemed so engaged. But what I never considered at the time was why they were behaving this way. What were they truly focusing on? The content/information/demonstration being given, or did they just have a desire to please me? Were their brains too focused on their behavior and desire to do the right thing and please me that the true learning was lost.
Some students do not attend to the learning moment and instead spend their time seeking attention, and these students need so much they are willing to take the chance of receiving negative attention rather than none. For students who are in this emotional place we need to find a way to help empower them as learners, but first they must believe they are capable of receiving knowledge and have the potential to grow.
During a small group discussion about respect recently a student bravely told me : "When we come to the carpet I respect you or my partner as the speaker, so I will listen. However, I actually listen so I can learn so I don't disrespect myself and my goals." Insightful.
These words have stuck with me. As I have observed our students, with his words in mind, I considered how many come to our group meetings with the intention to learn. Not everyone has this natural desire. This intrinsic motivation has to be developed for many. And students must clearly understand their purpose for listening and consider how it relates to their personal goals in order to maximize their learning.
So thanks to this wonderful conversation and the words of wisdom from this student I will now look around during learning experiences and consider: Who is here for me (to please me, or seek attention from me)? Who is here for themselves (seeking knowledge and skills to learn and grow)? These formative assessment moments will help assess the affective domain and identify the social/emotional goals we need to foster and develop. A shift in perspective: just because they are "paying attention" does not mean they are paying attention.