The Attention Span of 140 Characters or Less

I have noticed a trend with my students. It seems as if they are not doing the readings I assign for class. Or it seems as if they don’t understand what they’re reading and unwilling to ask questions in order to understand the material better.

How dare they not read the material I assign? I should give all of them zeros for participation. I’m not spoon-feeding the information to them. They have to learn how to think for themselves.

These are just some of the thoughts that have raced through my mind regarding this matter. Then a random conversation with one of my undergraduate students last year made me realize that I was wrong in my reading of my students. They were doing the readings. I was not engaging them properly. I was asking questions that required longer answers than they were giving me. I learned to correct the way I ask questions and made sure that I could fire off follow-up questions to get to the material that they needed to know. I also made sure that material was covered in more of a conversational style rather than a Q&A. The Nicholas Carr piece is useful in helping me formulate into words what I had experienced with my students.

“‘We are not only what we read,’ says Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University and the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. ‘We are how we read.’ Wolf worries that the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style that puts ‘efficiency’ and ‘immediacy’ above all else, may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace. When we read online, she says, we tend to become ‘mere decoders of information.’ Our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged.Reading, explains Wolf, is not an instinctive skill for human beings. It’s not etched into our genes the way speech is. We have to teach our minds how to translate the symbolic characters we see into the language we understand. And the media or other technologies we use in learning and practicing the craft of reading play an important part in shaping the neural circuits inside our brains.”

I understand my students capacity to digest information in small bites in order to piece together the whole picture. They are saturated with small bites of information daily. From Twitter to Snapchat to Instagram, these are the ways the current generation of traditional students receive, interpret, and export information. No wonder the shorthand notation of tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) was created. It is is an internet slang expression commonly used in discussion forums as a shorthand response to previous posts that are deemed unnecessarily long and extensive.

Earlier this semester I had decided to enact a no electronic devices policy in my classroom because I wanted my students to truly engage the material I was teaching. I didn’t want the computer screen to be a barrier between them and me. I wanted my classroom to be a place where my students could practice how to formulate ideas, present them to their peers, and get feedback in person before they get into the working world. Since then, I have changed my view on electronics in the classroom. My students can multitask. I have watched them take notes on their computers, answer my questions, and be in conversation with each other almost simultaneously. This is something I would like to improve upon as there a times I feel that I cannot walk and chew bubblegum at the same time.