[iDC] partial vs. peripheral attention

Tiffany Holmes tholme at artic.edu
Tue Jan 2 11:25:19 EST 2007

Hi all.  The problem of continuous partial attention (CPA) is  
growing.  I'm particularly interested in how what might seem like  
productive multi-tasking could affect learning and comprehension in  
young people...a problem that Brian Holmes pointed out this am.

There was a great NYT magazine article (Nov 26, 2006, link: http:// 
www.kipp.org/08/pressdetail.cfm?a=291) called "What it takes to make  
a student."  In it, Paul Tough visits a highly successful charter  
school in inner city NYC where a new technique for eliminating CPA is  

Students at the KIPP charter schools follow a system for learning  
invented by the founders, David Levin and Michael Feinberg, called  
SLANT.  The acronym sums up the appropriate classroom behavior: sit  
up, listen, ask questions, nod and track the speaker with their  
eyes.  The following is quoted from Tough's article:

"Levin’s contention is that Americans of a certain background learn  
these methods for taking in information early on and employ them  
instinctively. KIPP students, he says, need to be taught the methods  
explicitly. And so it is a little unnerving to stand at the front of  
a KIPP class; every eye is on you. When a student speaks, every head  
swivels to watch her. To anyone raised in the principles of  
progressive education, the uniformity and discipline in KIPP  
classrooms can be off-putting. But the kids I spoke to said they use  
the Slant method not because they fear they will be punished  
otherwise but because it works: it helps them to learn. (They may  
also like the feeling of having their classmates’ undivided attention  
when they ask or answer a question.) When Levin asked the music class  
to demonstrate the opposite of Slanting — “Give us the normal school  
look,” he said — the students, in unison, all started goofing off,  
staring into space and slouching. Middle-class Americans know  
intuitively that “good behavior” is mostly a game with established  
rules; the KIPP students seemed to be experiencing the pleasure of  
being let in on a joke."

Levin and Feinberg's SLANT method works on inner-city elementary and  
middle school students but what about for college students and  
academics?  Have we forgotten how to be polite--how to fully focus on  
a lecture?  Or are standards of "politeness" changing based on the  
exploding market for peripheral mobile communication devices?  Attend  
any academic conference with a wireless network and ask yourself how  
many people in the audience are following the discussion 100%.

Closing the laptop lid and trying out the SLANT method might be  
educational for us older folk as well as the younger ones.

Cheers, Tiff
Tiffany Holmes, Associate Professor
Chair, Department of Art and Technology Studies
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
112 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago IL 60603
Phone: 312-345-3760,  Fax: 312-345-3565
Mobile: 312-493-0302

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