How Equipped Are We in Teaching the Attention-deficit Generation?


Three girls playing with tablet and smart phone.

There are many things I learned in this course, but I would have to say the most important concept I learned was about attention. Taking a moment in thinking about attention and how crucial it is to the educational process, I came up with a few questions I asked myself as I get started.

  1. Can a person truly learn without the ability to pay attention?
  2. Are students able to finish homework correctly without attention?
  3. Is there anything more important than “attention” when it comes to learning?

What I’m trying to prove is how important attention is to the learning process. One could even argue that “attention” is the most important factor in how well a person learns something. John Anderson from Carnegie – Mellon University believes that all knowledge begins as declarative information and when an individual makes inferences from already existing knowledge they will naturally acquire procedural knowledge. I completely agree with his theory, but his theory only works if a person actually paid attention to knowledge in the first place. Perhaps a few geniuses out there could still absorb knowledge without paying much attention to the information around them, but their knowledge base would drastically decrease.

There are four different ways in which attention is allocated to human beings, selective, divided, sustained, and executive. Here’s a brief reminder of what they mean…

  1. Selective- the ability to select from many different factors and focus on what you want
  2. Sustained- the ability to focus on one thing for an extended amount of time without getting distracted
  3. Divided- is the ability to process or react 2 or more responses simultaneously
  4. Executive- is the ability to block potentially distracting information from the focus of attention

If any one of these is absent or undeveloped then a person’s educational growth will be severely in jeopardy. I’m currently a mother, a teacher, a wife, and a student all at the same time and it takes an enormous amount of focus and attention to make it all work. I have to use all 4 types of attention in my daily life, but the one I certainly could never live without is executive attention. This, I believe, is the most useful type of attention because it helps us pay attention to the most important things and not get distracted during the process. The main concept here “don’t get distracted,” and isn’t that everyone’s problem? We all have distractions in our lives; especially today in the 21st century the distractions are even greater.

When I was a teenager nobody had a cell phone, a computer, or quick access to social media. Teenagers now have all of those things and more, and not only that they use those things at school. There are more distractions than ever before and it’s our job as educators to know how to deal with it. We should be asking ourselves the following questions:

  1. How much time and effort is put into developing a child’s attention span?
  2. How often do students get in trouble for using and abusing electronic devices and social media?
  3. How much time and effort is put into restructuring or designing classes to adapt to the ever changing generation of students?
  4. How often do schools teach students how to manage their busy lives properly?
  5. Are students being punished for having devices and social media accounts, or are they being taught how to use them to learn lifelong skills?

We need to reshape our focus, not just on our own studies, but on education as a whole. Our approach to developing the minds of students needs to completely change and it needs to change now. Do we teach our students how to manage their time, understand their learning style, and be prepared for real life situations? With the new generation of students (also known as the Generation Z) being addicted to technology, difficulty in staying focused and wanting to receive quick feedback and praise, we, current and future educators should also learn how to adapt and start coming up with effective ways in connecting with them and helping them how to become successful learners.


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