A psychology professor has found that young people have an average attention span of 3-5 minutes during their home study period and that less distraction from social media results in lower academic performance. How to teach concentration to this ultra-trendy generation? One track: teaching metacognition.
A recent study The Pew Internet & American Life Project of 2,462 teachers found that a large majority believe that technology creates a generation of students who are easily distracted, with limited attention spans. In addition, two-thirds of respondents believe that technologies distract more than they help at the educational level. Interestingly, a large portion of the teachers surveyed worked with gifted youth as part of the program. Advanced Placement. They are therefore not average students, who would be thought to be more easily distracted.
In an article published on the eSchool News site, professor of psychology at the University of California, Larry Rosen, explains that he wanted to check if these impressions were founded and measured the attention span of students from high school to university level. The methodology consisted of observing the students for 15 minutes at home during their study period. Even knowing that they were being watched on the way they study, the youngsters averaged just 3 to 5 minutes of concentration on their task. Universal sources of distraction: the presence of electronic devices in the room (iPod, laptop, smartphone, etc.), texting and access to Facebook.
Mr. Rosen then wanted to see if being distracted while studying influenced academic achievement. Indeed, the students who performed the best were those who managed to concentrate longer. A single pause to access Facebook resulted in lower grades.
What is happening with these students? The question was put to them directly. They say they develop anxiety if they don't know if their Facebook status has been commented, if their text has been replied to, if their friends have found interesting new videos on YouTube, etc. And, anxiety interferes with learning.
Determine the right time to be distracted
What to do then? One of the avenues, says Rosen, is to teach metacognition, which is how the brain works. For example, he details an experiment in which a group of students were shown a video and texted some of them. Their instruction: they were to respond to these texts. Afterwards, they took a test about the video. Those who performed the best were those who responded to texts when they felt that the elements of the video were less likely to be questioned. They were therefore able to determine when it was the right time to be distracted. Those who were less successful were those who responded to the texts immediately.
One concrete way to intervene in classes where mobile devices are allowed: introduce “techno breaks”. They consist of authorizing, for 1 minute, the consultation of social media by young people. Then, they put their device on the desk, screen down, and work for 15 minutes, after which they are allowed another “plugged in” minute. This helps reduce their anxiety because they know they will be able to return to their messages in a few minutes. And, gradually, we extend the 15 minutes ... It seems, however, that the maximum possible to reach is 30 minutes!
For details, see the article " Driven to distraction: How to help wired students learn to focus ".