Lemar and his distractionsWay back in 2004 in the early days of Learning Power, Lemar was in Yr 6 of an inner city school, registered SEN and always distracted. He looked here and there, talked to other children and sometimes wandered around the classroom rather than being absorbed in his own learning. But he had no idea that this sort of behaviour had a name, let alone that if he managed it better his learning was likely to improve. In fact I remember, from our travels up and down the country, that students seemed to have no idea of the concept or purpose of managing their distractions. Teachers tended to focus on ‘distractions’ as a poor behaviour – something to be disciplined away – rather than focussing on ‘managing distractions’ as a positive learning behaviour. Lemar’s teacher had just begun a course about building powerful learners and decided that the place to start with Lemar was managing his distractions. Firstly she made it a whole class issue, working with students to identify distractions in the classroom and come up with strategies for reducing them. They discussed:
- issues that were not clear cut, such as friends who were both a distraction and a source of inspiration
- whether fiddling was a distraction or an aid to concentration
- different learning environments that may be appropriate for different types of learning, both in school and at home
- internal distractions, such as hunger, tiredness, emotions, failure.
Students discussed and ranked significant distractions — people, objects, the weather, the environment. They suggested ideas for managing these distractions and reviewed their experience of what worked.But despite this collaborative effort Lemar couldn’t get to grips with maintaining focus: he needed something more personal, more direct, just for him. His teacher came up with the simple idea of drawing a line at the top of a page to record when distractions happened. The next day the teacher drew such a line at the top of Lemar’s page and asked him to try it out. You can see the line on the picture below and how Lemar marked it throughout the lesson. Although some of you will say that the line itself was a distraction, what it was actually doing was making Lemar aware of being distracted minute by minute. His teacher was astonished by the amount Lemar had managed to write in the time. This paragraph represented a 100% increase on previous attempts. Note the teacher’s comment at the bottom: she acknowledged that he had indeed managed his distractions well. A couple of days later Lemar had more writing to tackle. Here he did something remarkable: he created his own line at the top of his page. After only a single use, he had seen the value of using this tactic. Again he marked his line when a distraction happened and even mentioned his distractor, Jordan! Furthermore he completed yet more writing, somewhat surprising given the number of distractions he recorded. Although his teacher commented on the writing and acknowledges that it is good work, unfortunately she doesn’t comment this time on his obvious effort to manage his distractions. Let’s hope she continued to nudge him along with coaching comments such as:
- What could you do to avoid that distraction?
- What could you do when you feel you are losing focus?
- What sort of learning environment might suit you better for this type of learning?
- Are there any internal distractions that are bothering you today? (tiredness, emotions, hunger, failure).
- How could you let us know if we are distracting you?
- You’re doing well with avoiding that distraction.
- Well done – you are staying positive and getting there.
What works well in your classroom for managing distraction?
Are there any similar little tips that you could share with others?
Is this a learning habit that needs more or less attention these days?