Distractions are easy to find. In fact, they seek us out – now more than ever. I’m sure I’m not the only person who found that exam season at university was when the bath really needed cleaning. One of the issues with encouraging students to revise effectively is that they are more vulnerable to distractions than we realise – and perhaps more so than they realise too.

I was alerted to (ironically, while I should have been doing something else) this great graphic from InformationIsBeautiful (click for link to the original, used and attributed via CC):

This got me thinking about whether students really understand how important it is to be able to focus on revision. I do a lot about how to make active learning effective, both in lessons and at home. (See new project The Student Toolkit for examples) I’m just not sure that kids who are used to ‘background’ noise/distractions keep track of the problems it causes. This links nicely to things I’ve read about the ‘always on’ culture.

So I decided to run an activity to help them consider it.

The idea for this was for students to make their own hierarchy about distractions. They can add any particular issues, or discuss subtle differences: Is someone else’s music better or worse? What about instrumental opposed to vocals? Which social networks are hardest to ignore for them?

You could extend it by asking them to log, for an hour of doing homework, how much of that time was ‘stolen’ by other activities. You could ask them to complete a simple task in the lesson under different distractions – a nice exercise in HSW if you involve them in the planning! It’s the sort of lesson that could be nicely started with a video of the classic experiment about selective attention.

There are many ways to get students thinking about making the most of their study or revision time. Of course, we can’t make them do it. But by forcing them to make an informed choice, we can at least ask them to take responsibility for their own actions, leave their phone out of the way and switch off the TV.


5 thoughts on “Distractions”

  1. I especially like what you say about having students list their personal distractions. My students are in their first year of a 1:1 environment. We spend time discussing distractions – but I usually lecture about mine rather than having students list their own. Duh. Thanks for the reminder that it needs to be student-centered.

    Janet | expateducator.com

    1. Thanks for the comments; in the past I’ve suggested to them what can be distracting, but I liked the idea of using something like the hierarchy to suggest that some distractions are more of a problem than others. There’s little point asking a brother to turn off the TV next door if your mobile is interrupting you every few minutes, after all! And hopefully by thinking this through for themselves students are more likely to take it to heart. Let me know how it works out with your classes.

  2. Hi @teachingofsci

    Just thought you’d like to know a student I taught today said:

    “Sir, that was a really interesting article about concentration you forwarded to me.. . . .”

    So there you go: an inner city teenager heard your wise words.. . . .

    1. Many thanks – nice to know that it’s not just the government reading my wittering (#telldaveeverything after all). Not sure words were that wise, but still! I may have to run some hsw investigations into distractions/achievement pre-study leave…

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