Sunday, August 14, 2016

Kids, Technology, Distraction, Focus, etc.

I have no idea if this is true or not, but it certainly confirms my preconceived notions:
The ubiquity of digital technology in all realms of life isn’t going away, but if students don’t learn how to concentrate and shut out distractions, research shows they’ll have a much harder time succeeding in almost every area...

“Children I’m particularly worried about because the brain is the last organ of the body to become anatomically mature. It keeps growing until the mid-20s,” Goleman said. If young students don’t build up the neural circuitry that focused attention requires, they could have problems controlling their emotions and being empathetic.
“The circuitry for paying attention is identical for the circuits for managing distressing emotion,” Goleman said. The area of the brain that governs focus and executive functioning is known as the pre-frontal cortex. This is also the part of the brain that allows people to control themselves, to keep emotions in check and to feel empathy for other people.

“The attentional circuitry needs to have the experience of sustained episodes of concentration — reading the text, understanding and listening to what the teacher is saying — in order to build the mental models that create someone who is well educated,” Goleman said. “The pulls away from that mean that we have to become more intentional about teaching kids.” He advocates for a “digital sabbath” everyday, some time when kids aren’t being distracted by devices at all. He’d also like to see schools building exercises that strengthen attention, like mindfulness practices, into the curriculum...

The ability to concentrate was the strongest predictor of success.

“This ability is more important than IQ or the socio economic status of the family you grew up in for determining career success, financial success and health,” Goleman said. That could be a problem for students in the U.S. who often seem addicted to their devices, unable to put them down for even a few moments. Teachers say students are unable to comprehend the same texts that generations of students that came before them could master without problems, said Goleman. These are signs that educators may need to start paying attention to the act of attention itself. Digital natives may need help cultivating what was once an innate part of growing up...

“I don’t think the enemy is digital devices,” Goleman said. “What we need to do is be sure that the current generation of children has the attentional capacities that other generations had naturally before the distractions of digital devices. It’s about using the devices smartly but having the capacity to concentrate as you need to, when you want to.”
We had Pong, Atari, handheld electronic football games, walkie-talkies, etc.  I have been using electronic devices far longer than today's kids have.  In many cases I have more apps on my phone than today's kids do.  However, I don't feel the magnetic draw that they do--or, at least it's an electromagnet, that I can turn off when I need to (like at work). 

Attention spans are a big deal.

1 comment:

Niels Henrik Abel said...

The inability to engage in sustained concentration also manifests itself with students who bail on their math homework after "struggling" with it for a whopping FIVE minutes (if that) before proclaiming that the homework is too hard, the teacher is unreasonable for assigning such challenging (= "I can't do it and the teacher didn't do an example exactly like it in class") problems.