Pay attention now!

A nice little summary of some of Prensky’s writing is to be found on the online Encyclopedia of Educational Technology. It includes the joke that Prensky makes about ADD. This is part of the ‘Engage me or Enrage me’ theme he presents. Basically, he claims, the problem is not that ‘kids’ have problems with attention, its just that they don’t want to – or that this is only a problem for the old-fashioned methods of teaching. Kids are so used to operating at ‘Twitch Speed’ that anything less just doesn’t cut it.

Well what if it turned out there were ways of improving childrens attention at school without any need to convert the curriculum into a series of digital games? If instead of pandering to the need for constant visual stimulation, it were possible to help children learn the discipline required for concentrating, listening and thinking without flashy graphics? It appears that there may be one fairly simple solution that can lead to dramatic improvements: it’s called food.

A lot has been written about diet and behaviour, and I’m not about to review it. That would take too long – but the effects of diet on concentration are known. It is also known that much of the modern diet that many children are fed – often in schools themselves – can contribute to behavioural problems. Then there are other subtle effects from where children and parents don’t spend time at a table to eat breakfast and dinner together. Joanna Blythman’s book Bad Food Britain has a few chapters on this.

A practical solution for schools? Breakfast clubs. My wife found an article in the October issue of She – an interview with Carmel McConnell, the founder of the Magic Breakfast charity which provides free breakfasts to schools around London. A couple of snippets from the interview:

“…five primary school head teachers who all told the same story – that many pupils arrived too hungry to concentrate.”

“Staff… have told me it has made a real difference – the kids are more settled, pay more attention, and exam results are improving.”

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