How to grab the attention of your distracted students

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Distracted students are not a new problem.

It’s easy to blame technology as a leading factor in distracting our students. iPhones, video games, and social media are multi-billion dollar industries created to demand attention.

However, our guest in Episode 203 of Class Dismissed argues that being distracted is not a new phenomenon. James Lang is a professor of English at Assumption University, and he’s also the author of six education-related books, the most recent of which is “Distracted: Why students can’t focus and what you can do about it.”

In Lang’s latest book, he notes that people have been distracted since the beginning of the historical record.

“Considerations of the problem of distraction date at least back to Greek and Roman antiquity,” writes Lang. “In Ethics, Aristotle argued that distraction arises from a clash between activities which are more and less pleasant to us.”

Lang argues that it’s a primary biological feature of our brain that we are drawn to novelty in our environment.

Why not just ban the distractions?

One seemingly obvious solution to address distractions in a classroom or any setting for that matter may be to ban the problem. Consequently, educators sometimes prohibit phones and other electronic devices in the classroom.

But Lang says doing so can create an artificial bubble that doesn’t prepare students for their future work environment.

Instead, Lang says educators should focus more on cultivating the attention of students.

People tend to think that attention is the norm and distraction is falling away from the standard. But the research supports the opposite.

“Distraction is like the ocean that we’re always swimming in. Attention is like the islands that are rising out of that ocean,” says Lang.

The job of the teacher is to create those circumstances.

During the years Lang spent preparing to write “Distracted,” he studied classrooms outside of his own and observed what made students pay attention.

When do people pay attention?

In “Distracted,” Lang dives into some in-depth solutions to combat distractions. But he also offers us some “low-hanging fruit.”

  • Regular use of student names. Our names how tremendous power to gather attention.
  • Use your physical presence. Move around the room. Not to menace or loom., but walk over to the student and invite them to the conservation.

In Episode 203 of Class Dismissed, Lang also gives us ideas on how educators can use curiosity and structured attention to prevent distractions. You can listen to the latest episode of Class Dismissed on your favorite podcast app or iTunes.

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