A Call to Action in K-5 Education

Educators continue to debate the two-sided role of technology: 1) cause of children's inability to sustain concentration, 2) valuable teaching tool.

Educators continue to debate the two-sided role of technology: 1) cause of children’s inability to sustain concentration, 2) valuable teaching tool.

Hi and welcome back to Attentionology for K – 5 Teachers!

The Attentionology Tipster continues to monitor the debate about managing distracted children in elementary schools.

Some educators lament about this concern…if children in grades K – 5 today have trouble paying attention in elementary school now, how will they face the challenges ahead in higher grades and adulthood?

David Houle, a futurist and author of Shift Age and Shift Ed: A Call to Action for Transforming K – 12 Education suggests that we should brush our laments aside and embrace the technologies that many teachers identify as sources of in-class distractions.

Many teachers attending his keynote address expressed reservations about letting technology rule. Their “rallying cry” was that children need to learn to think for themselves and not rely on instant access to information as if that identifies mastering basic skills.

A poster with smart advice for K-5 students.

A poster with smart advice for K-5 students.

Conference attendees spent some time analyzing their own “distractibility quotient” in recognition that teachers’ behaviors are models to children in school.

General consensus: Attention problems are not limited to children in elementary classrooms.

Loss of focus now plagues people over 50 years old as well, and the concerns are not limited to those who have been “officially” diagnosed with attention deficit disorders.

This assessment is supported by recurring articles in AARP, a publication of the American Association of Retired People. What many call “information overload” has become an “attention crisis.”

Some call this phenomenon the “culture of distraction” and “information-fatigue syndrome.” Call it what you like, the root cause of the “attention crisis” is almost always identified as technology-based stimuli that come in droves and can scramble the best brains.

In one AARP article, author Katy Read quotes Maggie Jackson who has written Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age. Says Jackson, “we’re facing the limit of human ability to cope with stimuli in our environment.”

Children’s capacity to multi-task is less hindered than that of people over 50 because, as Read explains it, aging causes “brain changes including small blockages to the brain’s blood supply and a drop in nerve-signaling chemicals (which) can make it harder to tune out distractions.”

Read goes on to cite research conducted recently at the University of California – San Diego showing that, “on average, Americans hear, see, or read 34 gigabytes worth of information a day – about 100,000 words – from TV, the Internet, books, radio, newspapers, and other sources.” 

The trend in information consumption that will impact children currently in grades K – 5 is upward – “more than 5 percent annually since 1980,” according to UC’s research.

In her article, Read also introduces readers to Linda Stone, a former Microsoft executive, who writes The Attention Project. Stone describes the attention crisis we all face as paying “continuous partial attention.” Those three words don’t bode well for children rising from grade to grade. For one thing, “partial attention” does not forecast good test results.

Looks like we not only need to keep developing tools and tricks to catch and keep students’ attention; we must also help children learn to control their participation in the culture of distraction – a tall order!

Remember, you don’t need to be a magician to work magic in instructional settings!

Please send comments about what you think is the best use of technology in K – 5 classes. Does technology help or hinder learning? How should it best be managed in schools? What about cost verses return on the investment?

Talk with you again soon,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet

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Posted in Attentionology for K-5 Teachers
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.
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