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October 31, 2011 Squirrel! Distractions in the Classroom By Brent Vasicek
Grades 3–5

    Have you ever met a dog that can totally ignore a squirrel? Probably not. Do you have students in your class with similar issues when it comes to staying focused? Maybe, as I suspect with the dog and the squirrel, it is Darwinian, maybe not, but the fact remains that students can be easily distracted.

    According to the New York Times, a study done with Microsoft employees found it took on average 15 minutes to regain focus after an interruption. That's a lot of time to lose in a class period. So what do we do to maintain focus? Read on for some ways to eliminate, minimize, and mask distractions in a classroom.


    First Step: Eliminate the Distraction

    To be effective as a teacher there are times you need your students’ undivided attention. One way to keep their attention is to eliminate the competition. Here are some ideas for eliminating distractions in class:

    • Cell Phones: All cell phones should be off or silenced and most definitely not visible. This includes your phone! Be a good role model.
    • Smells: We all know how distracting it is when someone has stepped in a pile of dog logs. Some people are equally sensitive to strong perfumes and lotions. Wear a minimum of cologne or perfume, and ask your students to do the same.
    • Noisy Clothes and Jewelry: While some of your students appreciate the warning that you are walking in their direction, it can be a distraction to others. Don’t wear clanging bangles, swishy nylon pants, squeaky shoes, or wind chimes for earrings.
    • Short and Tight Clothing: Teenage boys . . . ’nuff said. Enforce school policies for your students. Be professional as a teacher.


     Second Step: Minimize the Distraction

    Maybe you can’t eliminate the competition for students’ attention. In these cases you can try to minimize the distraction. 

    • Garbage Flow: Make sure your garbage can is positioned to minimize the amount students have to walk around the room. Put it next to the sink, door, pencil sharpener, or in some other logical place.


    • Supply / Lab Equipment Flow: Do the students gather supplies in an organized way, or is it chaos — like eating at a buffet with the plates in the middle, the drinks at the beginning, and the salad at the end? Analyze the flow and make some changes.
    • Student Gypsies: It's distracting to have students wandering around during instruction time. Give specific times (for example, the first or last ten minutes of the hour) when students can mill about the room finding pencils, tissues, or a date to the dance. Make it clear when bathroom or hall passes may and may not be used.
    • Temperature: A brain can’t learn if it is too hot or too cold. If you are not lucky enough to teach in a climate-controlled environment, then invest in a fan or tell students to wear sweaters or jackets to class.
    • Office Interruptions: Request that the office email you rather than calling whenever possible.
    • Noisy Chairs: Is the sound of chairs on those tile floors a constant distraction? Create a quieter chair by putting holes in tennis balls and sticking them on the end of each chair leg.


    Step Three: Mask It

    So you have tried everything, but the teacher next door is too noisy, the AC unit sounds like a hive of bees, and the lights have a weird hum. You either have to get rid of your colleague and sweat to death while teaching in the dark . . . or you can mask the sounds.

    • Music: When you're not instructing, play background music. It will cover up those coughs, whispers, squeaky chairs, and people blowing their noses.
    • Change Location: Try taking the students outside or to an alternate room to get away from a noisy distraction.
    • Furniture Placement: Place your bookshelves and other large items along walls that may be thin. This may help block some of the sound.

    Eliminating or masking distractions will save you valuable minutes. Make the most of those minutes with my post on how to become more efficient.

    What are your tricks for eliminating *squirrel* distractions in a classroom?



    Have a distraction-free week!


    Thank you to the Disney movie Up for the fun squirrel reference.



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