All students will achieve their maximum potential by becoming responsible, productive citizens and life-long learners.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Texting Tweeting and Media: What is Happening to our Students Ability to Focus and Write?

Two recent studies show that there may be mounting evidence that social/entertainment media is hurting students’ attention span and ability to write because of heavy stimulation and repeated rapid shifts in attention (Postal, 2012; Richtel, 2012); leading to an average attention span that has dropped from 12 to 5 minutes over the past 10 years (Vidyarthi, 2011). 

While the sources consulted for this post admit that there have been no conclusive, long term studies completed that point to a permanent detrimental effect, they offer some direction in addressing students every increasing dependency on electronics.  It appears that how much of a problem exists depends upon a person’s (employer, teacher, student, or parent) perspective and what role they see education playing.

·      Dr. Christakis finds that a heavy use of technology “makes reality by comparison uninteresting” (2012 p. 1).
·       “Seeking out high-quality media content for young people and setting limits on how much time is spent with media are two good places to start addressing all of these issues” (Postal, 2012 p. 1).
·      Students asked to give up media for 24 hours had the following symptoms (Vidyarthi, 2011):
o   Phantom phone vibrations
o   Reaching for a phone that isn’t there
o   Fidgeting and restlessness
·      45% of 430 employers are improving employees grammar and other skills through training programs while others are not hiring individuals unless they pass spelling and grammar tests (Shellenbarger, 2012).


Who is looking at this issue depends on whether it is seen as a problem.  Parents, employers, and teachers alike are able to give anecdotal testimony to the fact that students are more often distracted, tuned out to society around them, and addicted to their electronics.  Conversely, some of those same individuals admit to the possibility of those same students multi-tasking, focused, and yes, addicted to their electronics.  Students, appear to not be too caught up in the argument as long as they get to keep their electronics. No matter how they are using the technology, students must be taught responsibility through instruction and modeling.  A good place to start is by addressing the impact on a student’s ability to focus for long periods of time.

Attention Span

Classroom teachers now face a population that, for the most part is accustomed to receiving news in 140 character bites and watching videos that only last 10 minutes (Vidyarthy, 2011).  Many teachers believe that while this ever increasing use of media has increased students’ ability to find information quickly and multi-task more effectively, it has also hurt their attention span and worsened their writing skills (Postal, 2012).  In addition, many teachers who were interviewed feel as if they are working harder to hold students attention or as 14 year veteran Hope Molina Porter says, “I’m an entertainer.  I have to do a song and dance to capture their attention” (Richtel, 2012 p. 1).  A person does not have to speak to too many teachers to hear that more and more students seem to be more forgetful or want things done for them.  This observation bolsters the idea that a growing number of teachers are starting to question if they are part of the problem for adjusting their lessons to accommodate students’ inability to focus.

The fact is that every time we start a new task our brain has to reorient itself and the internet and media is designed to distract by keeping us moving from task to task.  A few interesting findings from these studies that attest to this:

·    The average office worker checks his email inbox nearly once every 1.5 minutes.
·    700 billion minutes are spent on Facebook every month.
·    500,000 people join Twitter every day.
·    Social media:
o   Causes a release (and spike in active participants) of Oxytocin, a hormone that stimulates trust and empathy.
o   Causes sufficient, sudden changes in environment to trigger releases of adrenaline.
o   Tends to drop the level of stress hormones when being used.


Being saturated with media seems to have a mixed effect on students’ education.  The largest negative is that students are now appearing to lose the ability to fight through tough academic problems when an easy answer eludes them (Richtel, 2012).  This is due to the familiarity of basic answers being "one click" away.  An unfortunate by-product of this is what seems to be a decline in critical thinking skills, the depth and analysis of their written work writing skills, and the ability to communicate face to face.  Conversely, some educators believe that being as proficient with media as many students are helps them be more self-sufficient researchers.  There was also a belief that students today are just as capable of those higher level thinking skills once they are engaged.  The problem is that often engagement is confused with entertainment.


We need to decide and act.  Is education about entertaining or learning?  Where does the difference lie between engaged and entertained?  One issue is certain.  Times have changed when it comes to technology and access to information.  Therefore, schools need to work with parents and students by educating each other on the good uses of technology. Teachers need to educate concerning how technology can assist and deepen learning.  Parents need to understand that what is done at home affects the end result in school and students; well, students can have their electronic devices, but they need to remember something.  They are students and need to continue learning by being attentive, responsible, and understanding that answers without meaning are as useless as…no internet and a single rotary phone (with a cord) on a wall in the kitchen.  In short, we all need to take stock of how often, where, and when we are attached to media and use it to its full potential rather than its entertainment value alone.

Sources Cited:

Postal, L. (2012, November 2). Entertainment media hurts students attention span, writing skills, teachers say in new survey . Orlando Sentinnel. Retrieved from http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/news_education_edblog/2012/11/entertainment-media-hurts-students-attention-span-writing-skills-teachers-say-in-new-survey.html

Richtel, M. (2012, November 1). Technology changing how students learn, teachers say. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/01/education/technology-is-changing-how-students-learn-teachers-say.html?pagewanted=all

Shellenbarger, S. (2012, September). Career advice for you and i and me. The wall street journal: Classroom edition, p. 14.

Vidyarthi, N. (2011, December 14). Attention spans have dropped from 12 minutes to 5 minutes — how social media is ruining our minds . Retrieved from http://socialtimes.com/attention-spans-have-dropped-from-12-minutes-to-5-seconds-how-social-media-is-ruining-our-minds-infographic_b86479

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