LOOKING BACK: Attention Tickets

LOOKING BACK: Attention Tickets

By: Mirela Ramacciotti

Addendum to Previous: Last May, one of our contributors, Mirela Ramacciotti, also published an article on a staple for entrance and exit tickets—attention. It described how to harness attention to increase engagement in online classes. It seems great minds latch on to the same things! Now, Mirela has made—especially for this issue of our Think Tank—an introduction to the guiding topic of her writing. Over to you now, Mirela. – Curtis Kelly

In the article, I discussed what tickets are and how to expertly use them to channel students’ attention to the content of each lesson. To that end, the central point lies in an appreciation of how attention works. As I see it, there are three essential steps to operationalizing this appreciation so that it can become part of everyday lessons—be it in early education, secondary schooling, university instruction, or lifelong learning.

The first step requires the understanding that attention is a cognitive function that develops very early in life. It uses neural substrates all over the brain with heightened recruitment of the prefrontal area and its highly connected circuitry. As a higher order cognitive function, it draws on resources, such as changes in hemodynamics and neurotransmitters, which are physiologically taxing. Once teachers can appreciate the effort our students’ bodies make to harness resources for attention and cognition, they can understand the importance that must be given to getting students’ attention in the first place.

The second step is operationalizing attention for a task. And here there are gradations, for, although attention is costly for every organism, the cost varies. For instance, while children need almost constant guidance to pay attention, adolescents need tutoring to pay attention to the task (remember students’ self-absorption at this stage of their lives). Adults, on the other hand, have to be steered towards a focus that surpasses the pressing needs of their daily lives, whereas older learners require intrinsic motivational hooks that justify their (cognitive) investment.

And then comes the third step, garnering attention every day in each class, in accordance with students’ diverse needs, and in pursuit of different outcomes. Teaching us how to do this is a task Nature excels at. One of the most beautiful—and effective—lessons that Nature offers is how a simple underlying design can be adapted to different situations. Consider a leaf.

It has one basic template that gets tweaked to maximize other factors in the equation (light absorption, size, shape, venation). A similar process can be used in crafting ticket templates to gain attention. Tweaks to the ticket can modify it to accommodate learners’ ages, stages, and other differences, the same way leaves accommodate the conditions of their particular environment.

In short, the three steps can be summarized as (1) getting students’ attention, (2) operationalizing attention, and (3) garnering attention on a daily basis.

For a deeper dive, I invite you to read this article. To know more or share your views and experience on this topic, write to me at [email protected]. I would be delighted to hear your take on using attention tickets in class.


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  • Fuster, J. M. (2002). Frontal lobe and cognitive development. Journal of Neurocytology, 31(3), 373-385.

  • Hodel, A. S. (2018). Rapid infant prefrontal cortex development and sensitivity to early environmental experience. Developmental Review, 48, 113-144.

  • Petersen, S. E., & Posner, M. I. (2012). The attention system of the human brain: 20 years after. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 35, 73–89.

  • Raz, A., & Buhle, J. (2006). Typologies of attentional networks. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 7(5), 367-379.

Mirela Ramacciotti is a lawyer, teacher, and translator. She currently works as a trainer and researcher in Education and Neurosciences. She’s a PhD candidate in Neurosciences and Behavior and in Human Communication Disorders. She founded the MBE SIG at BrazTESOL. More at Neuroeducamente.

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