I finished reading this wonderful book a week ago, but alas, I’ve been distracted by other activities. Distracted: Why Students Can’t Focus and What You Can do About it by James M. Lang is a timely book to be sure. Not only are teachers faced with the effects of the pandemic and teaching students with all the distractions of the home but as technology advances, there are more and more activities to draw students’ attention.
The book does not shy away from the truth of our students’ distractions nor the importance of technology to learning. I was definitely smiling when the cell phone hotel idea was discussed – a couple of years ago this was a huge movement at my school (some teachers still use them – mine lasted a month).
The truth of the book is to call attention to our own teaching and why students are distracted away from learning. The truth of the matter is in our approach to engagement. Although the book focuses on higher education, there are pages full of useful ideas that are just as useful to K-12.
The reality is our students will work in a world of technology and distraction and they must learn to navigate these pulls on attention like many of us have to some degree. I loved the information about evolutionary brain changes – the notion that our brains are built to be distractable. Think about if our hunter ancestors were too focused on a mammoth and missed the tigers circling them all…
I appreciated the discussion about building community and how knowing your students and having conversations increases students’ desire to engage in learning. Setting clear goals and rules with the students also helps build student buy-in.
The final piece of the puzzle is about keeping the students engaged with a change in activity every 20+ minutes. The book has a number of tools to build a kit of go-to activities to change the learning pattern that creates engagement. Some of my favorites include (but are not limited to): phenomena-based thinking and learning, student-led discussion/questions, self-reflection shares, and reminders of ideas like retrieval practices.
We all fight the allure of different apps, the latest text, or just losing ourselves in videos. But we also find ways to cope and focus on our goals and learning initiatives – we need to help students manage the distraction for learning too with thoughtful activities and community culture in our classrooms.
This book is a relevant and engaging read to anyone who wants to learn how to work with technology and distractions by improving the learning environment of our classrooms.