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Why kids "don't get it" PART TWO

“No, I didn’t get that,” replies the pupil.

In that last issue, I reviewed some of the reasons why a pupil may not “get something” and focused on not being ready. As adults, there are times when we are not ready for a life changing event or ready to learn something new. When we’re fourteen, learning about other religions barely makes sense, but as adults we meet more and more people, we often become curious and become “ready to learn.” It’s the same with young people: sometimes children and young adults are just not ready to take on certain scholarly requirements. Indeed, trying to formally learn anything before the age of 7 is a waste of time. All we can do is create a loving, curious environment for our youngsters to explore – and, when left alone, explore they will.

Unless you drop them in front of the television or ipad.

Which leads nicely (nefariously?) to the next reason why young people don’t “get it.”

“I wasn’t paying attention.”

Quite common: with 50,000 thoughts flooding our minds daily, it is actually hard work to focus 100% on a task.

I’m currently writing this on my lap top and I’ve got my twitter feed on in the background for the economics site I run. It’s distracting, so I’ll switch it off.

There, much better. Now it’s just me and the document.

How often do we as adults get that momentary calm when we can truly focus on one thing at a time? What do we have to do to achieve it at work or in the home? I have an external office that allows me some distance from the family and phone intrusions. I leave the mobile in the house and the office phone is diverted.

Just had a personnel distraction. My business partner (and wife) comes in for ten minutes to show the calendar she’s created. It’s lovely – photos of the family. Now I need to get my mind re-focused.

I’m trained – and have trained my brain – to work in noisy cafes, railway stations, airports. Such environments are easy to handle because the level of activity is monotonous and non-distracting white noise. But specific distractors are debilitating. As many teachers will attest, one disruption is fine, two gets a bit annoying, three … we lose the plot. It takes a great deal of energy to retrieve “the zone.”

Second personnel interruption. My son. Two minutes. Right … back to the zone.

Being in the zone is when we learn best. Distractions disappear, the mind becomes meditative and follows the logic or the story; our focus is intensely productive and the learning becomes not just easy but also enjoyable. When I’m in the zone, it’s a struggle to come out of it and answer a simple question such as, “Would you like a cup of tea?”

At such a moment, I have to wonder what the heck is a cup of tea.

Third interruption. This time requiring my presence back in the house. Five minutes.

Interestingly, I pick up some dark chocolate to soothe the nerves. I’m careful about what I eat (mainly organic paleo) but I note that my mind needed something to retrieve that focus. The temptation was a cup of coffee but I ruled against that as I’ll be having my second cup this afternoon.

Now put yourself into the position of a young mind and let’s look at some of the distractors.

Firstly, there is the power of tv and apps and games to distract the brain. And no, they’re not educational – unless it’s mymaths or a similar non-distracting app, they create passivity and increase distractibility. There’s always something changing in the visual and audio-field and such programming (tv, gaming, apps) condition the brain to be distracted.

Just sit with a pupil who’s been pulled off his gaming to meet with his tutor: a half hour or so is at least wasted while their mind “settles.”

It’s very different when they have just been doing their maths homework – or in the case of a recent pupil, music theory. The brain buzzes and they focus more readily. With a couple of students I have, I ask that they come earlier and do some homework or reading to settle their minds and get the focus: a bit like warming up at the gym.

With those youngsters who come to my practice playing some phone game, I know we’re going to struggle. The parents usually catch on when I say they’re wasting their money.

Try it at home – ask a family zombie who’s currently plugged in some basic questions and see what response you get. Monosyllabic usually. Now see how unfocused and irritable they are when they turn to do their homework.

How do we resolve this? Pull the plug. Minimize the electronic input. And get them doing something physical first – it often helps regain the focus that will be required. Take the dog for a walk before homework, go swimming, go for a run, go play in the garden. Or if you look around your house and think, but we don’t have a dog or a garden. Then encourage your child to begin a musical instrument. Or sit with them to help them focus.

“Oh, I don’t have time to do that…” Really?

You don’t watch tv or mess around on the computer? If you’re a truly busy homeworker, then your business will rub off – ask them to sit and do their work while you iron or prepare dinner or check your bills.

Kids learn from us and need to see us focused first.

Article by Dr Alexander Moseley
Added Sat, 3 Jan 2015 13:06


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