Learning Sustained Concentration – A Challenge!

Hi and welcome back to Attention-ology for K – 5 Teachers!

I had an opportunity to hear Dr. Tony Wagner speak recently about “The Global Achievement Gap” in education.  Tony, as he insisted he be called, is Co-Director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Tony identified seven of what he called “survival skills” for workers in the 21st century, including the ability to sustain concentration – we’ll come back to that. 

In my view, anyone who’s been paying attention to trends in education and employment will recognize every one of these must-have skills as ones that have been identified as critical since well before the year 2000. Still, it may be helpful to read the list below as an urgent mandate

Tony (and others) stress that students today (and the younger, the better) need to gain:

  1. the ability to think critically and solve problems and most importantly, the ability to ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
  2. the ability to collaborate across networks and to lead by influence
  3. agility and adaptability in a world of constant change
  4. initiative and entrepreneurialism with the goal of “stretching” towards rather than necessarily “reaching” goals
  5. effective oral and written communication skills which connects with the ability to influence or persuade
  6. the wherewithal to access and analyze information, using technology rather than textbooks
  7. curiosity and imagination through the development of both sides of the brain

At another point in his presentation, Tony outlined what he believes motivates the “Net” Generation. Maybe this is overly pessimistic on my part (I work hard to bring optimism and a can-do attitude to my blog each week!), but the two lists look to me to be at odds with each other – a big problem.

See what you think after you read Tony’s list below, which I believe describes more than just motivators for the Net generation. I think Tony’s list paints a picture of young people lacking the interest and ability to sustain concentration and not being in the company of enough adults who DEMAND sustained concentration.

  • being accustomed to instant gratification and an always-on connection
  • using the web to extend friendships and provide access to peers
  • being interest-driven
  • self-directed learning
  • tools for self-expression
  • being constantly connected, creating and multitasking in a multi-media world that exists everywhere EXCEPT in most schools
  • hunger for authentic mentors
  • desire and need to make a difference

How in the world can students who are so driven by instant gratification learn to stay focused and on task, online and especially off-line, for sustained periods of time? Talk about motivation; if anyone doubts the need to creatively use tools and tricks to catch and keep students’ attention in many parts of the world today, Tony’s sobering assessment of “The “Global Achievement Gap” should get educators moving!

Remember, you don’t need to be a magician (but it helps sometimes) to work magic in instructional settings!

Talk with you next week,

BarbaraThe Lovable Poet

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Barbara Cleary has been serving as a resource to hundreds of educators for more than 25 years. An award-winning writer, producer, teacher, and trainer, Barbara’s focus is on offering easy, fun tools and tricks that support K-5 curricula and assist teachers with classroom management.
Quick tips for common classroom conundrums: K-5
Situation: Students continue to use lackluster verbs in their writing.

Solution: Show toy cars and pretend to make them zip across a page, telling the class that good writing includes action words (verbs) that have "zip." Ask the class for examples of "zippy" verbs like zoom, race, flash, rush, etc.

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