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How to avoid those classroom distractions

By Josh Grube
On October 13, 2010

It is common knowledge that distractions are one of the main enemies of a good education. What is less known, however, is the best ways to deal with them. From surveying Parkland students around campus, the common culprits of distraction appear to be cell phones, students arriving late to class, outside noise, and being preoccupied by personal thoughts. Dividing common distractions into four subfields, Prospectus News offers some useful advice to help you to stay focused in the classroom.1. Technology

Living in a technological age, most college students bring their cell phones with them not only to school, but everywhere. Becoming addicted to technology, such as texting, creates various problems with staying focused. Parkland student Jamie Kurth provides a story of cell phone use during class, "A student was giving a speech in my class while another was texting on her cell phone; her phone would go off and she just kept doing it and doing it. This went on for about four speeches until the teacher finally came up and grabbed the phone from her. Afterwards I thought, do you realize how disrespectful that is? Not only to the instructor, but to the students giving their presentations," she said. Many other students provided similar accounts of cell phone distractions.

The temptation to pull out a cell phone during an uninteresting lecture is very strong. While bored in class, the thought of entertainment being only a quick reach away is too appealing for some students to handle. Due to the increasing convenience of technology, a lot of students are used to constant multi-tasking and find it hard to concentrate on just one thing.

"Students can help themselves a lot if they put away electronic devices or turn them off, because when your phone is buzzing in your pocket you're very likely to pull it out and look at it. If you can't hear it because it's buried in your backpack you're going to be better off," said Julie Weishar, Speech Professor and Program Director for Speech Communications at Parkland. "Also, although it is tempting to take your notes on a laptop, that can be pretty distracting, too. The temptation to look at your Facebook or email is strong," said Weishar. The best way to avoid temptation is to make it as less of a factor as possible. Turn it off, or leave it at home. People were able to survive without them for a pretty long time, believe it or not.

2. Late arrivals

Somehow, with all of the aforementioned technology and multi-tasking, some people find it hard to make it to their classes on time. While only a temporary inconvenience that normally occurs near the first ten minutes of class, it still may be hard to get back on track with the lecture after a student arrives late.

Robby Shannon, a student at Parkland, described late arrivals as being the biggest classroom inconvenience. "The students that come in five. ten. fifteen minutes late cutting the professor off as they walk in are a huge distraction," he said. It is not only a bad thing for fellow classmates, coming to class late is even worse for the guilty party involved. Being focused on a lecture is hard enough as it is. Jumping directly into a random point of the topic and having to play catch-up makes it even harder.

The best way to keep from getting sidetracked by a late arriver is to not let curiosity get the best of you. Don't look towards the door when they arrive, just keep strong eye contact with the instructor.

3. Outside noise

As if all of the problems inside the classroom itself were not enough, students also have to deal with sounds outside of the room. Due to factors such as construction and people talking by the door, the outside world can pose a threat to concentration.

Anyone who has so much as stepped foot on campus knows that there is constant renovation being done to Parkland. Student Michael Johnson recalled a downside to the construction. "Last year in my literature class they were doing construction on a part of Parkland right outside of the classroom. All you could hear was drilling and hammering the whole class period, it was so distracting," he said. Shannon, however, mentioned that none of his classes were affected by construction noise.

Sadly, there is no secret way to avoid the outside noise other than just learning to tune it out. If any doors or windows are open, you can wait for an appropriate time to ask the professor if you can shut them or you can also move to a desk up front to help your chances of staying focused.

4. Psychological noise

Sometimes it doesn't even take external factors for a student to lose concentration. Thinking about other things is a huge distraction, and juggling school with a social life, hobbies, jobs, and extra-curricular activities makes it hard not to. Taking that leap from high school to college is a double-edged sword. With the freedom comes responsibility, which can give a student a variety of things to preoccupy their mind with.

"What students have to learn how to do, which is really tough, is to contain the internal distractions. If people are hungry, tired, or distracted by their life situations it's very hard for them to focus because they're thinking about these things," said Weishar. "Being disciplined to block out those internal distractions is what's going to help you focus. Students can do that by being interactive. If they're not engaged in physically asking questions to teachers they can mentally ask questions; being engaged with what's going on and not allow themselves to disengage and think about something else." Weishar also recommends that students should sit toward the front of the room because being close to the instructor makes it harder to stray from the lesson.

Psychological noise can also occur if the student has a bias or objection toward the topic being discussed. For example, a devout Christian might find it difficult to focus on a lecture on humans evolving from primates. This may also go as far as prejudice towards the instructor, therefore not caring about what they have to say. These personal stances need to learn to be controlled for the classroom setting, and after all, different people have different beliefs, it's a fact of life.

Other notable distractions include random noises by students, professors constantly using filler words such as "um" and "uh," and the temperature of the room. Some find it easier to stay focused by counting the number of filler words used in class. Others find it easier just to tune it out and focus on the real message given. If you put your mind to it, you more than likely will be able to stay focused. Just don't put too much in that mind. Now that you understand how to fight against classroom distractions more effectively, you're on your way to getting that A!

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