Can I have your attention please?

Last week, one of my colleagues, turned to me and asked “Hey! Do you have ADHD?”

I didn’t quite know how to respond. I was switching between watching thirty second segments of a TED talk, chatting with someone on Skype, sending a text message and now I was about to get embroiled in an argument on why I didn’t need to be prescribed Ritalin.

Sound familiar?

If it does, don’t worry. With social networking, instant messaging and internet marketing, the modern world has conditioned us to have shorter attention spans than ever before. Sir Ken Robinson calls it, “the most intensely stimulating period in the history of the Earth.” These distractions don’t end when students walk through the doors of our schools.

While we’re asking students to focus on English, they’re being distracted by a hundred other things. As teachers, we’re competing for our students’ attention with smart phones, iPads and advertising hoardings.

So what are we going to do about it? Confiscate tablets at the front desk? Block mobile reception in schools?

I believe we need to change our mindsets. Our primary responsibility as teachers is to engage our learners in the classroom. Yes; learning, instruction, phonology, grammar and feedback are all important, but if we can’t engage our students from the moment they enter the classroom, we’re doomed to coming off second best in a battle for students’ attention.

And when our students aren’t paying attention, let’s not point the finger and ask who has ADHD. Let’s look in the mirror and ask ourselves what we should be changing in order to make this class so engaging and so personalized that our students will be frustrated by incoming phone calls and text messages, not us.