Tuesday, 25 September 2012

How culture affects teaching, learning and attention spans

I haven't blogged for a while here as I recently moved away from the busy hustle and bustle of London to take up a teaching post in Seychelles. One thing became apparent very quickly, Seychelles is like 1970's Britain in many ways. You can read more about this on my Seychelles blog. In short:

1) People know their neighbours and say hello to everyone in the street
2) You have to do your grocery shopping in three different shops as there are no big supermarket chains
3) Everyone is less-distracted and less stressed-out.

What on earth has this got to do with learning? I was not alone in my search for sanity and serenity, I was joined by 5 other teachers from the UK. The first thing we all remarked on was the length of time Seychellois students could concentrate for. At the London school where I was teaching for 6 years, I would usually cap most learning tasks to 15 mins max. Even the main of a lesson would have plenty of mini-plenaries, not for OFSTED's sake (diagnostic marking, AFL etc), but purely because many students would lose focus otherwise. This was in an outstanding school by the way, where behaviour needed to be managed, but would never be regularly disruptive.


In Seychelles, students happily work for 20-30 mins on any given task; silent-reading for English,  intensive spreadsheet work or programming in ICT, writing up notes in response to a texts/sources in History. Students are much more willing to help each other too. There is a genuine sense of community and little sense of aggressive competition or ego. When asked to identify a series of logo's for a logo design lesson, half the class could not identify the Nike logo.



When an English teacher read out some famous blurbs from biographies such as Didier Drogba, Beyonce and Rihanna, the students were blank. They had vaguely heard of these celebrities, but were not at all concerned with keeping up-to-date with their gossip. Tom Cruise was recently sat in a cafĂ©  on the neighbouring island of La Digue. Nobody bothered him at all. Passers-by could not care less.

Another teacher also recently modelled world aid and economies using biscuits. Dividing students onto tables which represented different countries. Some countries had more biscuits to start with and others less. He asked them how they would feel if a country took asked to have a load of biscuits as they didn't have any but then that country never repaid them back. A student simply responded "That's OK, we don't mind". There were many other analogies done in that lesson such as population density and famine, but the students responded quite coldly. This lesson, when delivered in the UK was graded as "Outstanding". Perhaps the Seychellois students were not used to such innovative/creative teaching methods that we (have to) employ in the west to keep our students engaged. They have been used to reading text books and answering questions and so this is what they know and do well.

It is fair to say that local and national culture has a huge part to play on teaching and learning style. Seychellois students do not have the same stimuli as students in the UK/USA/Europe. They are not constantly playing with their phones, apps, twitter etc. They do not need constant stimulation through flashing lights. The amount of time spent on video games is quite low, the time spent outside playing volleyball, running, playing football is much greater. So in many cases, Seychelles is like 1970's Britain. But things are slowly changing. The country recently had fibre optic broadband laid down and some households are using USB Internet dongles. I wonder how long it will take before student's attention spans diminish from 30 mins to 3mins. Or whether it will happen at all. As the world flattens, I don't have an answer, but am happy to be teaching in a productive environment and will slowly phase in those crazy/create lessons. Teaching spreadsheets through dance may have to wait!

3 comments:

  1. Good post. Been thinking about attention spans and ways of teaching over the past week.

    That lesson is really good. Inspiring, thanks.

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  2. Yes, sometimes teaching is all about creativity. Just like those reviews on Homeworkmarket - creative thinking and you get all the attention you need :)

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