Attention Crisis for Young and Old

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

Here’s a frightening thought…if children in grades K – 5 today have trouble paying attention in elementary school now, imagine the challenges they will face as they age into higher grades and adulthood later.

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.

According to a recent article 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 the 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 a blog titled 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!

Talk with you next week,

BarbaraThe Lovable Poet

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