Live Chat – Attention, Reward and Motivation – Wednesday 31st January

ModKathryn: Welcome everyone to tonight’s live chat on Attention, Reward and Motivation!

Mike: Hi everyone! I’m Mike and I work mostly on attention and distraction in real world environments, with special focus on teenagers in schools

ModKathryn: Hi Mike! Maybe I could start with a question? There seems to be various opinions on whether colourful and vibrant displays on the walls in classrooms are distracting or not. What are your thoughts on this? Is there evidence to suggest it has benefits?

Mike: It’s an interesting question. There is research suggesting that highly decorated classroom environments could be distracting for children and impede learning, e.g. Barrett, P., Davies, F., Zhang, Y., & Barrett, L. (2015). The impact of classroom design on pupils learning: Final results of a holistic, multi-level analysis. Building and Environment
Hanley, M., Khairat, M., Taylor, K., Wilson, R., Cole-fletcher, R., Riby, D. (2017). Classroom displays- attraction or distraction? Evidence of impact on attention and learning from children with and without autism.

At the same time, the designs used in some of these studies are not all that similar to a real classroom (e.g. a video of a teacher presenting against a very busy background, which isn’t very realistic as a model of a classroom). You also have to factor in other factors such as possible motivational benefits of the displays and the potential for relevant displays to useful reduce cognitive load by reminding students of key vocab or methods for approaching problems. Drawing all that together I think my ideal classroom design would be blank at the front (other than the whiteboard etc), some simple highly relevant key terms etc in displays towards the front at the sides, which students could refer to to help them with ongoing work, and then more ‘motivational’ displays celebrating students work at the back.

Tyrrellt: Hi all. @Mike – have you found any correlation between time spent online gaming and attention in class?

Mike: Hi. So online gaming isn’t something that I collect data on personally (I have collected data on media multitasking – combining different media sources simultaneously, but that’s a little different). What the research seems to show is that there are some specific attention-related tasks that action video players actually do better at (e.g. Green, C. S., & Bavelier, D. (2003). Action video game modifies visual selective attention.

On the whole however there has been an association between lots of video gaming and attention problems (e.g. Gentile, D. A., Swing, E. L., Lim, C. G., & Khoo, A. (2012). Video game playing, attention problems, and impulsiveness: Evidence of bidirectional causality. but it is important to say that it is NOT at all clear which causes which – perhaps attention problems lead people to game more

So we can’t really say for certain that it’s a bad thing for attention in school. in general a lot of the very negative predictions about ‘screen time’ etc haven’t really been backed up by research. I would suggest that if there is someone playing a lot of video games who is having trouble concentrating in class, it is more likely due to the fact that they aren’t getting enough sleep than because of the video games themselves!

Tyrrellt: @Mike Thanks. The children in my classes are spending more and more time online but we are seeing an increase in attention problems. Sleep is definitely an issue too though – many of the children said they had their gaming device in their bedroom

Mike: “@tyrrellt Absolutely. i think sleeps an absolute time bomb in schools and for young people generally. A huge undiagnosed problem. I would be very tempted to get your students to keep sleep diaries and do some lessons on good sleep hygiene, and see how that helps!

Vmarshall: There are some sleep charities who run workshops in school. We had a charity come in and run sessions for students during the day and then for parents after school –

Ellieerussell: I like the idea of sleep diaries…maybe form tutors, science teachers or PSHE colleagues could try it…

Mike: @ellieerussell Yes – I got my forms to keep them when I was teaching – it was amazing (and terrifying)

Ellieerussell: What can you tell me about seating/grouping in classrooms? I’ve tried lots of different methods over the years and sometimes with some classes there seems to be quite an impact on changing seating. Unfortunately, we are limited in a science lab!

Mike: It’s not my specific area of study but I remember looking some research up on this a few years ago. In general by most outcomes rows tend to be more effective than other arrangements (round tables etc.), but it does depend on what your aims are. Tables have been found to encourage more discussion, for example, so if you have very specific aims in that direction you could maybe consider that. In general though, the research suggests that children learn most effectively in good old-fashioned rows!

Ellieerussell: @Mike The more experienced I get the ‘old school’ I get too! I think there is good reason for rows

Jamesallen1705: Evening all! My question is related to reward. I find myself hesitating to give rewards at times as I don’t want to give too many and devalue them. Is there any evidence that this is can be the case?

Mike: @jamesallen1705 Hi. Yes this is certainly a feature of rewards, that they become less rewarding if given too often. One way around this might be to make the reward uncertain, in the sense that there is an element of luck or randomness about getting a reward. There seem to be stronger brain responses to uncertain rewards than predictable ones, and there are projects going on now to try to harness this for educational purposes. e.g. see

Ellieerussell: We took part in EEF pilot study of ‘reward’ and learning 2 years ago. Interesting to see the motivation of students to get MCQ’s correct with the chance to ‘win’ the spin of a wheel. They certainly were more keen to get the right answer (so I thought more carefully about asking better questions!

Mike: @ellieerussell @jamesallen1705 This project will have been the one run by the guy who wrote the article I linked to – so very relevant. How did you enjoy being a part of it Ellie?

Ellieerussell: @Mike I think your Bristol research link is connected to the EEF project! The ‘game’ aspect was a huge motivator for some previously unenthusiastic students… and if they lost overall they could blame bad luck at the spin of the wheel. As a teacher, it made me consider very carefully what my MCQs would be and I saw how those were considered the most important parts of ‘learning’ of the lesson….So it helped clarify my planning! After piloting it I conitued to use the resource the following year with classes. Particularly as we were timetabled to be in a computer room once a week!

What I liked about the gaming was the students were clearly getting a buzz out of scoring more when the wheel randomly spun to ‘win’ ( It was 50 50!). Obviously I bribe/motivate students at other times with key word bingo and the winner gets a lollipop…. I like to try to make it part skill and part luck so they all feel they are in with a ‘fair’ chance.

Mike: Sounds interesting. I’ve been reading about the many possibilities of MCQs as well recently. A very powerful tool when used right!

Stannum: Is there any evidence that practising mindfulness can have a positive impact on attention?

Mike: @stannum Most have used adults, but there are a few which have used mindfulness and children. Quoting from a summary of one paper: applied 12 sessions of mindfulness meditation training to a group of 114 children aged 6–9 years and found, relative to a wait-list control group, that training led to significant improvements on the Test of Everyday Attention on the selective but not the sustained attention subcomponents. The paper is Napoli, M., Krech, P. R., & Holley, L. C. (2005). Mindfulness training for elementary school students. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 21(1)

However, One of the problems that I have with mindfulness in school is that it requires a very highly qualified practitioner to do it properly (especially for children who may lack the metacognitive awareness to properly access some of the techniques). Done badly, it can be more harmful than helpful, and I think quite a few schools are trying it out in PSHE lessons without qualified guidance.

Ellieerussell: My worry about mindfulness and so many other things like growth mindset is that school jump too quickly to try to do something and end up doing a bad job of it, or simply wasting time!

Vmarshall: @mike is there any evidence that shows a link between the type of rewards Vs their impact. E.G do tangible rewards have more of an impact than verbal/visual praise/gaining points and the suchlike

Mike: @vmarshall It’s an interesting question. I’m not aware of any research that has separated things in that way. Rewards often get separated into intrinsic and extrinsic (i.e. between personal satisfaction and goal attainment and external reward). Both of these are important in their own way. Extrinsic rewards can be very motivating for simple tasks, but can impair performance of very complex tasks. Whether extrinsic rewards might be more powerful if they are tangible compared to things like praise or a sticker, however, I don’t know. I would imagine that, all things being equal (the student’s attitude towards the reward and the scale of the reward etc) it probably wouldn’t make a difference, but it would be an interesting thing to test

Tutku: Hi. I’m a student teacher currently doing my training year. I’d like to get some advice on how to motivate EAL pupils. I have a class in my second school placement with majority of the pupils being EAL and struggling to understand scientific terminology. What strategies would you implement particularly for EAL pupils in terms of attention/motivation?

Ellieerussell: I’m not a researcher, but what worked for my bottom set Yr 11 last year was key word bingo. The students had so many words to learn, but with bingo cards (make free online) and a vocabulary list I gave them, it meant they were keen to read up the key words and hope to win at bingo! I’d type key words and meanings into free website ‘quizlet’ and print out vocab lists. There are other revsion games they can do on that too. I’d type the key words into ‘’ and get 30 cards printed out for free. Sometimes I’d laminate key sets to be reused. Other times at end of term I’d print out paper copies for one time use. Good luck with your placement!

Gaia: “@ellieerussell @tutku key word bingo was also what I was going to suggest! Tied and intermixed with games / group work that gets to understanding the meaning of the scientific terms you’d like them to learn, but then consolidating them in game format

Mike: “@tutku Hi. Sounds a challenging situation. The EAL position clearly adds an extra layer of challenge for the student, but I would treat the key words as another piece of factual information that they need to know, and try to encourage them to learn this factual information using the best techniques we know of for learning information, i.e. lots of low-states quizzes and testing, repeated and spaced out across the year. Add in some rewards for good performance (or even a ‘mastery’ requirement, where they re-take the quiz until they have got 100% and then you make a huge thing of them having got 100%), and repeat this regularly. Hopefully, then the key words will start to stick, and the other understanding can begin to stick around those

Gaia: @ellieerussell @tutku, I agree and small group might take the pressure off EAL students with low confidence

Ellieerussell: Yes sometimes I’d get students to work in pairs, as a team to find key word….Over time you remove the glossary from them! Thanks. So pleased I could finally join the chat.

ModKathryn: Thank you all for joining and for such interesting questions. If you have any further questions please feel free to ask via the website 🙂 see you at the next live chat!

Posted on January 31, 2018 by in Live Chat Transcript. Comments Off on Live Chat – Attention, Reward and Motivation – Wednesday 31st January