Engaging with students meaningfully feels like an ever-shrinking goal for educators at nearly every level. And for every student who wants to learn there are many more who are either unwilling or unable to focus. Thankfully, engagement isn't impossible and you may be able to coax results out of students with short attention spans with a few tweaks to your lesson plan.
1. Recognizing the causes of short attention spans versus an Attention Deficit Disorder
The past few decades have brought about raised awareness regarding the prevalence of ADHD in children and teenagers and, as a lecturer, you must be able to identify the basic warning signs of ADHD and its variants to know the difference between inattentiveness or something much deeper.
The basic signs of ADHD include inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. While most young people will have disorganised belongings and lose interest in even the most finely crafted lesson plan, prolonged periods of hyperactivity or repeated impulsive behaviour combined with inattention may point to something more than childhood disinterest or hunger. Medical treatments for ADHD have become prevalent in young people so as the educator, you need to know work with the college leadership to ensure that all tutors know the class.
2. Identify the lulls and the triggers
Go to the effort of observing that class while someone else is teaching them and record percentage of the class is engaged every 5 minutes. This will help you see how long they can go before they need a pace-change or task-switch to re-invigorate them. This will help you significantly when crafting high-impact lessons. As for distractions, also take the opportunity when surveying that group to notice where you have boisterous students sat together creating multiple mid-lesson interrupts.
3. Use your findings to develop a stimulating lesson schedule
Designing a lesson plan that involves standing in one place and speaking on a topic for an hour is asking for failure. Engagement remains low when an instructor doesn't appear open to engagement. Devise a way to incorporate student answers and attention into the course of any given lesson to keep young minds interested in their coursework.
4. Be unexpected! (mix your media)
Developing presentation ideas outside of a standard lecture doesn't mean reinventing the wheel. At its core, teaching is going to be a primarily one-way flow, but bringing students into the lesson through questions, real-life examples and short in-lesson assignments can make long-term information retention more achievable.
For example, when the lesson starts, instead of asking students to recap what you covered in your last class, force them to process that data differently by asking them to apply the knowledge - prepare questions that require more than surface thought.
5. Make your class the go-to place for self confidence
Celebrate the success of those who answer well and avoid shaming those who don't know every answer. Many of these tenets go hand in hand with NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) a field that focuses on improving communication by making individuals aware of their inner voice and emulating successful behaviour in order to drive future successes.
As class reaches its natural end for the day, revisit some of your earlier questions and see if perspectives have changed. Tying the lesson together with a common thread makes for a straightforward method of encouraging memory growth and suggests ideas may be connected through the course of your class even if they seem disconnected or tangential.
6. Avoid the pitfalls of over-rewarding
Over rewarding is an understandable pitfall, especially if you have trouble connecting with your students and only find results in acknowledging successes in the form of rewards. While helpful at first, it may go on to create unrealistic expectations in which every minor success should be met with praise.
Studies on the effect of rewards and motivation on student achievement subject have found rewards can harm intrinsic motivation and make students less likely to seek success for its own sake. Instead, instructors should seek to promote learning by (a) using reinforcing language, (b) noting their progress in its smaller and larger forms and (c) avoiding celebrations that focus solely on their major leaps.
While distractions will always be present, and students will inevitably seek entertainment in the classroom, throwing up your hands and resigning yourself to a future of one-sided lectures is never the answer. Stay persistent in watching for signs of behavioural disorders while drawing your students into discussions and active problem-solving activities. It's certainly more helpful than leaving them to play with their phones.
About the author
Andrej is a digital marketing specialist, dedicated writer and digital evangelist, with a keen passion for exploring how technology can help both in classrooms and home learning. He is a contributor to a wide range of technology-focused publications, where he may be found discussing how technology is influencing everything from neural networks and natural language processing.