Emphasizing the Gift of Attention
Like most teachers, I’m a few weeks into the school year. I’ve dealt with shifting rosters, a classroom change, opening-school paperwork, and trying to establish a positive, productive classroom culture. Though my classroom actions and procedures, I’ve implicitly and explicitly emphasized certain behaviors and values, like collaboration, being on time, and organization.
What’s new this year is an emphasis on attention.
Without teaching ourselves–and students–how to sustain thought and practice concentration, I’m wary all of our innovative technology applications in the classroom can become merely engagement gimmicks, distracting us and students from deeper thought needed to make meaningful connections and compose or read longer texts. I’ve previously written about the phenomenon in the context of digital versus “old-school” reading.
Can students learn effectively–and deeply–without being trained—or practicing—the art of sustained focus and thought? Do we want classrooms to be places where digital tools and use are so ubiquitous that it’s difficult not to distract one’s self? It seems to be a disappearing skill for our young people, and while they might be clicking on hyperlinks left and right, Tweeting their friends, and completing a math assignment—all at the same time—I wonder how a generation of learners seemingly unable to pay attention will function.
But I’m not about to completely ban cell phones and discourage connectivity. Far from it.
I do allow students to use phones to access Schoology.com for classroom assignments and discussion boards. I do allow them to use the camera to take pictures for notes. They may use dictionary and thesaurus apps, and they do have ample access to laptops and desktops.
It takes self-discipline–especially for struggling high school students, to avoid the constant pull of social media, music videos on YouTube, Twitter feeds, and other information streams.
However, we’re doing a disservice if we don’t teach students how to use the amazing technology tools out there. In fact, to my amazement, only 4-5 out of my 80 students use Google Drive during an informal poll today. Tomorrow’s lesson? Explain how Google Drive helps my efficiency, productivity, and collaborative ability, then get them signed up, and share a document with a classmate.
Last year, I wrote about mindful use of technology, sharing these tips with the blogosphere. I’ll do the same with students.
I’ll explain that I can’t write this blog post very well, for example, with 13 windows open while checking my phone for texts every two minutes. I’ll explain that while it’s great to compose 140 character messages in thirty seconds, it’s even better to write a 500-word blog post. I’ll also admit that I feel the pull of digital distraction too, explaining that 20-25 minute focused bursts without multitasking is my preferred strategy for reading and writing.
It’s all the rage to supply all students with iPads or laptops, unleashing the power of technology tools for learning. We can’t forget what deeper learning entails, however, and whether or not our digital habits benefit academic growth.
So, can students learn effectively without disconnecting for meaningful periods of time? How do you handle digital distraction in your own life? Do you struggle staying productive? If you are a teacher, do you allow cell phone use in the classroom? Do you have a policy when and where phones are off-limits? How do you enforce it?