During the past year, teaching ATL Skills has taken on a special meaning in the virtual learning environment. The pandemic forces teachers to think deeper on how students learn. The pandemic also leads teachers to realize that learning to learn is a process, in which they must invest time and energy in their teaching practices to help young people become aware of the learning strategies that work best for them, those that do not work for them and those that can be improved.

The IB ATL Skills Framework offers more than a hundred choices of actions that students could take to better succeed academically and in their life, and this is spread over a broad spectrum of skills combining basic ones with more complex ones. I can say, at a high level, that all ATL skills are equally important and useful as long as they meet the needs of the young people sitting in front of you.

But what are your students’ most important needs in terms of skill development? How do you map these skills and how do you make sure to introduce them explicitly? In addition, how do you support your teachers in that process? These are basic questions that your school should address before embarking on an ATL skilled-based programme. It may sound obvious, but many tend to skip these much-needed preparatory steps while the success of their implementation depends on it.

For the purposes of this blog, I suggest we dive right into the teaching of a Self-Management Skill through Sensory Awareness. 

Let’s Try it Out

Your attention please!
Use strategies to support concentration and overcome distractions
Be aware of body-mind connections

This strategy encourages students to develop and improve their self-management skills as they learn how to notice their own thinking and emotions, and use that awareness to stay focused and concentrated when they need to.

Explain that in this activity, everyone will have a chance to pay attention to how they notice their sensory awareness.

  1. Ask students to take a moment to pause, sit quietly, as you want them to scan all their senses one at a time, to experience every sense.
  2. Ask them the following questions: notice some things you see around you, some things you can hear, smell, taste in your mouth, feel on your skin, some things you notice about your emotions right now. Take a short pause between each question.
  3.  Get some students to share their sensory awareness to the rest of the class.
  4. After a few students have volunteered to share, ask them if they are normally aware of all these things around them. Why is this not so? Explain that our brain gets a lot of information at every second through each of our senses, but we only pay attention to some of it.
  5. Find a moment to practice this exercise every day to help students self-regulate their sensations in their body and be aware of the ones that need to be fixed when they become a distraction.
  6. For a more accurate self-assessment:
    1. Invite students to regularly judge their learning skill proficiency by using self-assessment cards co-constructed by the class – with two to three rubrics per card and some visual to support associations between pieces of information. Have one card for each stage of a skill development (1-Novice, 2-Learner, 3-Practitioner and 4-Expert).
    2. Scatter four squares on the floor – one for each stage – and have students march in the square that most represents their skill level of proficiency.   
    3. Point out that if buddies chose to go to the same square, they probably have something in common. Have them share those things.
    4. Ask self-reflection questions: What actions would you like to continue/start/stop doing to improve your sensory awareness? Why is it important to notice your own thinking? Etc.
Supplemental activity for Early Years
  1. Gather students in a circle and review what it means to be focused and concentrated and to be aware of our own thinking and emotions. Remind the class that there are many ways in which each person can learn how to improve concentration. Set a game that focuses on sensory awareness with different variations according to age group.
  2. Ask half of the students to pick a Focus and Concentration card (prepare cards for each sense with visual support) and tell them that they will use it during the game to ask a question to a partner that doesn’t have a card. Share some ideas on how to use the cards beforehand, e.g. show the card with an ear and say: what do you hear?
  3. The other half of the group – without a card – will be asked a question and will take a moment to pause, scan this specific sense and answer the question using a response like “When I stop and pause, I hear…”.
  4. Start the game and have them walk around. At your signal (beat, claps, class motto, etc.), have them regroup in pairs, making sure there is at least one student with a card in each pair.
  5. Give them a few minutes to ask and respond to their sensory awareness question and help one another, becoming more aware of all the information we can get through each of our senses and emotions.
  6. After several rounds, gather the class to discuss the experience.  Ask: what is your most powerful sense and the one that needs some fixing.
Adaptations for a virtual learning environment
Invite students to post their findings on Padlet or through Flipgrid if you want to record their responses (audio or video). You can also invite them to answer your questions directly using name selector apps like Kidpick, Random Name Selector Pro or StickPick.

Make sensory awareness a daily routine by asking students one question a day, say for one week. Here are some examples of questions you could ask:

  • Day 1 – Look at what I shared on my screen. Ask: what comes to your eyes? Then, invite students to pay attention again to see what they have missed and ask: what else comes to your eyes? They should come up with new ideas.
  • Day 2 – Touch the material of something such as your sweater. Notice the sensation it gives you. Now touch your hair. What is the difference between these two things?
  • Day 3 – Listen to the sound I will share with you. Are you able to identify what it is? I will start reading a story and see if you can stay focused until the end. Was it hard to stay focused? Do you have the tendency to start thinking about other things? What strategies can you do to improve your concentration and practice overcoming distracting thoughts? For example, use your imagination to make pictures inside your head to represent the story I am telling you.
  • Day 4 – Have your students bring a piece of chocolate or a berry and invite them to place it in their mouth without biting it, just to pay attention to the sensations that it creates on their tongue, on their palate, etc. Then, have them begin to chew it slowly and notice the flavours it releases. Ask them to share their sensations of eating with such focused attention.
  • Day 5 – Pick your eraser and bring it close to your nose. How can you describe the smell?

Overall, which of your senses would be your best ally in bringing you back to a state of concentration? Which one would be the most challenging?

Based on feedback received by teachers, this specific skill is generally described as easy to teach and many consider themselves to be at the Expert level when it comes to teaching it. Practising and improving this specific skill on a daily basis can be very helpful in sharpening students’ focus and concentration – their self-talk – to increase their awareness of others and to better connect with the world around them.

Author Bio:

Picture1Bianca Duceppe is an internationally recognized consultant and workshop leader. She has been working in the field of education for over 25 years.

Bianca is the former Relationship Manager for the French IB schools. Since 2017, she has been a partner with Lance King, the designer of the ATL Skills Framework for the IB, and has delivered his workshops in French and English to schools around the world. She was the first one to create a workshop on ATL Skills specifically dedicated for PYP schools. Specialized and passionate about the PYP, Bianca is one of the founders of LALATAT and will author the resources for the PYP Portal which will be released during the 2021-2022 school year.

In January 2021, she launched a project so dear to her heart, the LALATAT monthly Meetups, to allow educators from around the world to meet and plan ATL Skills collaboratively. You can find more information at https://lalatat.com/