With the possible exception of Netflix, I can’t think of anything that can hold a person’s focused attention for an entire day. However, we expect students to give us their full attention – and get frustrated when they don’t. My advice: don’t fight it, embrace it. Create diversions within your class that allow students to redirect their focus periodically and return with renewed interest and rigor.

The difficulty here is in knowing the difference between a diversion and a distraction. According to Merriam-Webster, a diversion is “the act or instance of diverting from a course, activity, or use.” It’s a momentary side-track, a purposeful change in direction. A distraction on the other hand is “something that makes it hard to pay attention.” It’s the divided attention from the desired focus to the undesired source of distraction.

So, make space in your lessons for purposeful diversions and eliminate unwanted distractions. You know your students better than anyone, so use the definitions to help you sort out the wheat from the chaff, but here’s a quick outline that can apply to most classrooms:

Purposeful Diversions
  • A walk around the building
  • A designated wall for doodling or leaving messages
  • A song break
  • A snack break
  • A puzzle break
  • Story/Poetry break
  • Genius Hour (a designated time for students to explore their own passions)
  • Focused discussion groups
  • Change in lighting
  • Rearrange classroom furniture
Disruptive Distractions
  • Anytime-access to cellphones (unless being utilized for learning)
  • Off-task talking (including whisper chatter)
  • Revealing or provocative clothing
  • Annoying noises
  • Unexpected PR Announcements
  • Unpleasant smells
  • Disruptive classmates
  • Lack of adequate sleep
  • Uncomfortable desk
  • Fresh school gossip
Take A Break

Time is the scarcest resource for teachers. There’s always more to cover than there is time allotted. Resist the urge to just keep throwing content at students. When you do this, it’s likely that you’re the only one increasing knowledge and understanding. Instead, develop routines and procedures that eliminate as many distractions as possible while embracing and utilizing purposeful diversions.

And while you’re at it, give yourself a brain break now and again as well. A fresh and invigorated you is your best weapon against those disruptive distractions!

What about you? How do you approach Diversion Vs. Distraction?