Why are students so easily distracted?

There are many reasons why students get distracted so easily and frequently. It’s a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors that all play a role. Understanding why and how your students get distracted can allow you to adopt strategies to minimise distractions and their impact on your students’ learning.

Let’s break down why this happens and how to combat it by looking at:

  • What causes distraction in students
  • 3 factors that influence attention span
  • The impact of distractions on learning
  • 4 strategies for teachers to help students focus

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What causes distraction in students?

Students’ distractibility can be attributed to the brain region responsible for focus and attention which is still developing at that age. Immature cognitive control makes children more susceptible to distractions, as their brains are in the process of acquiring the necessary skills to maintain sustained focus.

Attention is a key aspect in understanding focus and concentration within the classroom, broken into two types:

  1. Voluntary attention – Where you are able to perform a task by selecting relevant information and filtering out irrelevant information.
  2. Involuntary attention – Processing unexpected stimuli within your environment, leading to distractions.

Research found that distractibility changes as we age due to a shift in balance between voluntary and involuntary attention. As children grow older, their brain matures and their attention span increases. However, it does not reach full maturity until around 25 years of age.

Considering this, research has suggested that distractibility is an “attention state” where the likelihood of interference of attention is determined by the ability to filter out irrelevant stimuli and information.

However, age and neural connections are not the only factors that influence attention span. Others include:

  1. Interest – Children tend to focus better on activities they find enjoyable or rewarding.

  1. Environment – Chaotic, noisy environments can cause sensory overload, leading to distraction. Research suggests that children who spend more time outside are less anxious and better at paying attention when they return back to their learning environment.

  2. Health and nutritionLack of sleep and poor diet can also affect attention span.

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The impact of distractions on learning

A short attention span can have a significant impact on the learning process. When children struggle to maintain focus, they may find it challenging to comprehend new concepts, resulting in reduced self-confidence. Research also found that visual attention span can significantly affect students’ reading performance.

This can ultimately lead to a negative attitude towards education, perceiving it as a stressful and unenjoyable process, which can further hinder their learning journey. Addressing and supporting students with short attention spans can help them fully engage with their education and develop a more positive learning experience.

4 strategies to help your students focus

So, how does understanding the causes and impact of student distractibility translate into practice?

This is something we explore a lot in our Concentration Training student workshop. Here is a flavour of some tips that can help reduce distractions and increase your students’ attention:

  1. Break tasks into manageable chunks – Large, complex tasks can be overwhelming. Breaking them down can make them more manageable and less intimidating.

  2. Create a learning-conducive environment – A tidy, quiet and organised environment can reduce distractions.

  3. Promote healthy habits – Encourage students to get enough quality sleep, eat a healthy breakfast before the school day and engage in regular physical activity.

  4. Provide regular breaks within learning – Encouraging short breaks within study sessions can help children recharge and refocus.

Final thoughts

Students’ distractibility is a complex issue that poses many challenges. However, understanding its causes and effects can equip you with effective strategies to combat it and ultimately enhance your students’ learning experience. This can even make the learning process more enjoyable for both you and your students.

However, every child is unique. What may work for one might not work for another. So, keep experimenting and searching for methods that best suit you and your students.

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