Small breaks can ease distractions in class
The other day I was in class trying to understand what my professor was explaining when something else caught my eye.
A few rows ahead of me, some guy was on his laptop watching a video on the Internet.
I told myself to ignore it, but a little while later I caught myself trying to follow the football highlights he was watching.
As I was trying my best to suppress the distraction, I heard a new distraction to my left.
The girl sitting near me had begun furiously tapping away on the annoyingly loud buttons on her phone, hiding it under her fold-out desk to avoid detection. People bringing these electronics into the classroom distracted not only themselves but those around them.
The combination of long classes and short attention spans lead students to lose focus on the lessons taught in class.
Searching for a cure for this classroom malady, I realized that two of my classes had already solved the problem. While explicitly forbidding cell phones, professors also set aside short breaks during class to let people take a temporary respite without interrupting class.
This solution leaves students with a way to digitally connect for an allocated amount of time in exchange for their attention in class.
It sounds like poor logic: interrupting class for the sake of not interrupting class. But having those breaks really reduces the secretive under-the-desk-between-the-legs phone use so common in classes that try to enforce a no-cell-phone policy.
Because our generation’s collective attention span is minimal and divided, a good portion of each class cannot go a full two hours without our attention drifting elsewhere.
We should strive to expand the success these few classes have implemented a break system have achieved to a broader portion of the school.
The sheer logistics of allowing a large lecture to orderly leave and re-enter a room in the span of 10 minutes might make it hard to imagine this policy being implemented into every class in the school, but that would be looking at the problem too narrowly.
Giving the privilege of a 10-minute break to those 300 students would not mean every one of them would file out two doors in the back of the classroom and clog up the hallway.
Rather, I think most would stay in their seats to use their phones or talk to those around them, allowing their minds to rest and focus more on what is being taught once class resumes. This renewed focus, in turn, would reduce the use of cell phones as the mind would find less reason to wander.
Ask kids not to use their phones for an entire two-hour class period, and likely a group of them will let their attention wander, which can be distracting to those around them.
But turn that class into two consecutive one-hour class periods and the task becomes more realistic; cut it further into three 40-minute periods and the results would be truly noticeable.
Traditionalists might find these breaks as welcome as a cup of sour milk. Interrupting something inherently important for something as trivial as text messages seems fundamentally disrespectful to scholastic tradition.
Students should be able to control themselves and their attention spans, and failure to do so is at their own peril.
The truth, however, is that interruptions are happening whether anything is done or not.
If distractions were channeled into a controlled period, time would be spent more wisely during class.
Daniel Grzywacz is a sophomore majoring in cinematic arts-critical studies. His column “Thoughts From the Quad” runs Wednesdays.