Pay Attention!

Dr. Henry Selby, Headmaster All Saints' Episcopal School, Morristown, TN

Dr. Henry Selby, Headmaster All Saints’ Episcopal School, Morristown, TN

Teachers throughout the nation, at least those with a few years under their belts, are complaining about the inattentive generation now in their classrooms.  The students, they maintain, are seemingly unable to stay focused for even brief periods of time.  It is as if attention deficit disorder is not only contagious, but has become a pandemic!

This observation has some hard science to back it up.  Regardless of the reason, multitasking (or at least the appearance of multitasking) is practiced more than a studied focus.

Finger-Pointers will immediately accuse technology as the culprit.  Early exposure to television, according to some studies, produces “attentional problems”.  (On the other hand, these same children seemed to develop better visual-spatial skills.)  Nevertheless, the attention span of most children is significantly shorter than it was a decade ago.  Is this a problem or not?

I think it is.  And if you agree with me then it’s high time we began teaching our students how to pay attention instead of simply insisting that they do it.

Let’s start with the research based evidence that says sound-bytes, web surfing, texting, and a host of other technologies are to blame for unfocused learners in the classrooms.  So what?  We are certainly not going to get rid of these innovations, are we?  I could argue that paying attention came naturally in the days before the digital age.  Again, so what?  This argument is only important if we agree that increasing attention has real merit.

So buckle up:  here comes the earth shattering news about increasing attention.  First, we must be intentional about it.  Each teacher in each classroom in each discipline must announce to the students that increasing attention spans is a goal for the year.  Second, we must give measureable assignments (much like we already do for “comprehension” assignments) where the results are shared with the students!  If the majority of the students “sign on” to the goal of increasing their attention spans, it will happen!

It’s not just students who are affected by the inattention of our modern day.  Be honest.  We have all found ourselves reading only headlines, listening to TED talks, or otherwise skimming the surface of profound subjects.  Something tells me that there is going to be a serious price to pay for all of this skimming!  I would submit that the same tools we use in the classroom (intentionality and measurement) can also be used in our day to day lives.  Are you willing to give it a try?  To really engage with a deeper idea?  If you are, you might just become enriched at an almost forgotten level of being.

Source: Dr. Henry Selby, Headmaster All Saints' Episcopal School, Morristown, TN