Thursday, November 1, 2012

Is Technology Ruining Attention Spans?

This morning, my principal sent me an article to read, asking me for my thoughts.  I have many thoughts and felt the need to share with you.  The article, "Technology is Changing How Students Learn, Teachers Say," written by Matt Richtel, for the New York Times can be read here.
Read the article first and then come back and see my views.

1. I do not believe it is technology that is limiting students attention span.  Give any kid an activity they something, paint something, writing something, read something...and you will find a child who has a very long attention span.  Children today, like always, have a longer attention span when they are interested in what is being taught. 

I clearly remember struggling to stay focused in school when I was being lectured to.  I doodled, read my book, played with my hair, passed notes to my friends.  If I had had a phone, I definitely would have been texting.  I do not have an attentional issue. What I did have then, though, was a fear of the principal's office.  I was basically a good girl.  I did what I was supposed to do, at least as far as the teachers could tell.  Today, I find many of my students don't have that fear.  And, personally, I am glad.  Why should students be  afraid of us?

2. Children today know that there are different ways to learn.  They are unwilling or unable (depending on age and maturity level) to sit bored for 5 hours in a classroom when they know they can learn the same information watching a show on the Discovery Channel, or communicating with their friends, or creating a project. I know that every time I present a new topic, many hands go up to tell me about the movie they watched or the show on tv or the trip they took with their parents. 

When I was in school, there was no Discovery Channel, movies were on 8mm reels and were boring (remember the voice overs), and creative teaching was usually a once a year activity.  I still remember the one time we made candles in 4th grade.  It is embedded in my memory because it was so unusual.

3. I do not put on a dog and pony show to get my students' attention.  I teach them with short lessons and get them to understand that, when I am giving instruction, they need to pay attention so they can do the coming assignment.  This takes "training."  Children need to learn how to focus just like they need to learn how to write their letters.  It is a skill and we need to teach it.  

Moon MemoriesWhen I was growing up, my parents taught me to focus.  How?  I remember being forced (yes I felt forced) to sit and watch the moon landing.  Yawn.  I was 5.  My tv was black and white.  The news reporters were BORING!  Today, I am glad I did that but then....And this was a pretty typical thing we did.  Dinner conversations were endless.  Long after I was done and ready to leave the table, I was still being asked questions about politics and school and my future.  BORING!  Car rides...they were endless.  We never flew anywhere.  And the music was my parents favorite 50s station or - gasp - talk radio.  And we were not allowed to ask how much longer the car ride was.  So we endured.  As an adult, I recognize the value of all of those shows and discussions.  But as a child, it was boring.  Really set me up for a boring classroom. LOL

4. The communication skills (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) are greatly enhanced by technology.  Knowing that the audience for their latest writing piece will be over 10,000 people who read our blogs is a much greater motivator than - do well so it shows in your report card.  Working on projects with a class across the country forces students to improve their communication skills or they will be unable to complete the task.  Email messages, message boards, chat rooms, and blogs all help to build communication skills.

5. I KNOW that my students are improving their reading and writing skills more since I started using technology than they ever did prior to my using it so pervasively.  I not only have the assessments to prove it, but I see them so much more motivated to learn.  Imagine a child in a project on Natural Disasters (this year's geography project).  He struggles with reading text and must answer specific questions.  He lets his counterpart in Illinois answer all the questions.  But then, when they skype together, he realizes that many of the answers are incomplete or incorrect.  (Or his teacher points this out to him).  At this point, he is forced to find ways to understand the articles and books.  He is more motivated...even if it is just to prove his partner wrong.

This article was wrong on so many levels.  How can you ask teachers yes and no questions and expect to get accurate answers?  And how can you ask teachers who are trying to teach today the same way we taught 30 years ago if students have a shorter attention span?  I have a shorter attention span!  And, by the way, I clearly remember when it was Sesame Street that was ruining attention spans.  This is not new.

What do you think?


brenna said...

I agree with you. I do not think technology is limiting students' attention spans. I think technology actually enhances their learning ability and helps them to be more interested in activities and lessons. It offers them another way to learn, different methods of grasping concepts and ideas.

Graham Wegner said...

Maybe it's less a case of attention spans lessening but more a case of that there is infinitely more things competing for our (and our students') attention now. I can recall a childhood with similar experiences to yours - there were huge expanses of mundane monotony - but the advent of connected technology means that society is awash in information, entertainment and other things designed to grab attention. We found it easier to concentrate as kids because there was simply less going on - which is borne out in your point that when kids can hone in on a singular focus or interest, their attention span is as good as any other time in history. Well, that's what I think anyway.