I can relate to students who find it difficult to avoid the distractions that are ever present with their peers, their devices, and the all the other competing interests in their lives. These distractions are part of the world today and are not going away anytime soon, so I think it behooves teachers and students alike to regularly revisit strategies for improved concentration on important tasks and projects.
1. Forest: Forest is a simple app that runs on smart phones and web browsers. When a user wants to start focusing on studying, writing, group discussion, or any other offline task, they start the app for a specified about of time (the default is about 30 minutes). Starting the app starts the process of growing a virtual tree. Sure virtual trees are not the coolest thing ever, but what I do find motivating is when users navigate out of the app or website and they have to select the option "give up" only to be met with another confirmation screen that says "are you sure you want to give up? This will kill your cute, little tree". In addition, they are motivated by a prompt that they can do better next time and a running total of minutes focused in a day. There are also some fun rewards and break options for active users. For iPhone this app cost me $1.99, but it is free for Firefox and chrome and also available for purchase on android and windows phones.
2. Phones out and off: I know a few teachers who successfully encourage (and sometimes incentivize) students to turn off their phones and keep them out on their desk. Keeping them out on their desks while off helps keep students accountable by making them obvious to teachers if turned on, but also decreases any liability issues or confusion that may arise from teachers collecting phones in a basket or other area of the classroom. Teachers who I know have taken this stance have been open with parents and guardians about how to get a hold of their student through a direct line to the teacher (like celly) or through the main office in case of emergency.
3. Dispel the multi-tasking myth: Many students and teachers think that multi-tasking is getting more done in less time, but countless sources have found quite the opposite. I love to get students thinking by sharing this Talk of the Nation story with them:
4. Talk about personal development, grit, and instant gratification, and priorities: It may seem like a willful choice for teenagers (and adults alike) to waste time with distractions and try to get away with the bare minimum. I actually think it is mostly a lack of mindfulness, trapping students in a rut of doing what they have always done without thinking about the implications to their goals and dreams. All that being said, I think a short, daily moment of inspiration in the form of a quote or mini-advice session can help students be more mindful of the distractions they face. I read an adage somewhere that the way we speak to our youth becomes the voice inside their head and I really want that voice to tell them to resist the desire to tune out. Here's a great poem that I think will resonate with students:
5. Create a schedule: For long block periods, teachers can create a clear agenda with scheduled breaks to allow students who are anxious about being away from friends or social media outlets for long periods of time. Knowing when they will be able to check in with their favorite distractions may help some students focus on the important tasks of learning uninterrupted.
6. Teach students to turn off notifications: I'm sure that they know or can figure out how to turn off distracting notifications, but they might have not considered the option. This suggestion can be especially effective if the paired with a thoughtful teacher led discussion about whether students are controlling phones or phones are controlling students.
How do you help students stop distracted learning? We would love to hear from you in the comment section below!