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The Impact of Violence on Learning

Spacing out

Some of us space out. This means we stop living in the moment and go somewhere else in our mind. Some people call this dissociation or daydreaming. It may become such a habit that we don’t know when we are doing it. When we are not present with our full attention we may miss all or part of a lesson and find it hard to understand what we are trying to learn. We may space out and run away from things that make us anxious, so that we miss tests, and fail to complete work on time.


Spacing out can feel like this...

digital images by: Judy Murphy, Debbie Lifshen, and Jenny Horsman

* If you hold your cursor over a slide, it will not change to the next picture until you remove it.

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Grace Anne's Experience

After grade 12, I set out for university, with excitement, anticipation and anxiety. The city was an unknown to me, but I found my way and got a place to stay. Attending classes, though, came as a shock. I simply could not pay attention. I tried many things, but after coming out of class time after time with only two or three lines of notes and no idea of what the professor had said, I decided I was just too stupid and undisciplined to pay attention. Still, I was determined to continue. I developed a routine of memorizing texts and attending each class once a week or so to ask fellow students about assignments and tests. No one seemed to notice my absences.

Twenty-five years later, I realize this lack of concentration was a pattern of disassociation I developed in school. I had found I could get good marks by memorizing the texts. The same technique worked in university.

“Grace Anne’s Story” in Isolating the Barriers and Strategies for Prevention: A Kit about Violence and Women’s Education for Adult Educators and Adult Learners. Prepared by Canadian Congress for Learning Opportunities for Women.

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A Poem by Phillipa Brown

Sometimes we can feel so overwhelmed that our only way to cope is to leave our bodies.

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Students Reflect on Concentration and focus (PDF file - 26k)

Nearly all of the women involved in a research study on learning and violence wrote about having problems concentrating, focusing or remembering what they were learning.

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What does it feel like to space out?

Spacing out or dissociating takes many forms. We might feel hazy, as if we are in a fog, or in the clouds. Sound might fade in and out, or the words on the page might come and go. Maybe the room we are in gets further away from us. Maybe we feel ourselves floating away with whatever we see passing outside the window. It may be hard to breathe. We might feel panicky, or we might enjoy the spacey feeling. We might find time has passed but we don’t remember. We might just feel a little distant and find it hard to focus on the task at hand. We may find ourselves jumping up and doing anything but the work that is making us anxious.

Many people space out in some way or other. Spacing out helps us survive when we can’t get away. If we honour it for helping us survive in the past, we can find simple ways to work with it now, so it doesn’t get in the way of learning.

See for yourself.

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Struck Dumb: A Story

"Struck Dumb" - by Mary Nyquist (PDF file - 2.32MB)

"Trying to Learn"  Illustration by Rosalind Penfold - www.dragonslippers.com

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