Review: Distracted: Why Students Can't Focus and What You Can Do About It

Distracted: Why Students Can't Focus and What You Can Do About It Distracted: Why Students Can't Focus and What You Can Do About It by James M. Lang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I approached this book with some hesitancy. I'm familiar with and have read other works by Lang and generally like his writing in the Chronicle of Higher Ed and previous books. But I have a bias towards works that frame students as the problem and this book's title does that to some degree. However, overall, it was an insightful book, for the most part, exploring the challenges of distractedness and pedagogically approaches to keep students engaged in the classroom. Early on, Lang does what I think is not done enough and that is, contextualized distractedness as something that has been a concern for society for millennia. He calls out the idea that there was some mythic "before" when we all concentrated perfectly but then technology came along and ruined it for us and now youth is stupider as a result. He largely throws that out the window and shows how it's always been a problem, but one that we're more actively engaged in talking about today because, well, technology allows us to have much bigger and broader conversations about how technology is distracting us. From there, Lang pivots into the research on the subject and though he favors some of the negative aspects a bit more than I can agree with, he does try to give it a fair exploration to illustrate that in the classroom, teachers should not make blanket fiats against technology--after all, abstinence-only approaches around things that we inevitably will engage with is never successful. He moves from there into classes he's visited and observed, discussing practices and activities to reduce distraction and bring the student more fully into the classroom. In that way, I find his work is quite useful for instructors of any sort and those who work with instructors.

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