Summary: How can we keep students focused on schoolwork with all the electronic temptations surrounding them? By engaging the students completely with our lessons, keeping students actively involved in their learning, and reflecting on our practice to avoid blaming the technology or kids’ short attention spans, in my opinion.
Let’s face it: Most kids love gadgets. They love their cell phones, iPods, iPads, and video game consoles. If they could get away with it, they would spend almost all of their day focused on one gadget or another, just like I used to be with books. Instead of bookworms, perhaps we should call these kids “gadgetworms.”
So, how can we keep them focused on our lesson when they would rather text their friends? We can return to the very first principle of good lesson planning.
1. Start from Where the Students Are
Student-centered teachers take their students’ interests, capabilities, and goals to heart. Their lessons tend to be more successful as a result. The successful lesson plans I have created are a result of what I predict my students will enjoy, based on what I know of them. I could never use that exact same lesson plan again, because it was tailored toward a particular group of students.
A fellow teacher felt that her students were not responding well to Romeo and Juliet. After reflecting on the problems she was having, she decided to give them a project using the famous balcony scene. She asked them to rewrite the scene as if Romeo and Juliet were texting each other. The results were hilarious – and showed true understanding of the scene. Shelly simply incorporated one of their interests – texting – into the lesson, acknowledging their love of this form of communication while also requiring them to learn Shakespeare. I was observing from the back of the room and did not see any real texting going on because the students were having fun learning.
2. Use Active Learning Techniques
When students are busy and actively involved in their learning, they don’t have time to use their phones or iPods. If you want to incorporate technology into the classroom (and who doesn’t?), you can help students adopt the active learning model by getting them to use the skills in their wheelhouse.
Here are some recent articles from Edudemic that provide suggestions for tech in the classroom:
- 6 Video Games to Use in Your Classroom Tomorrow
- How to Use Game Dynamics in the Classroom
- 100 Teaching Tools You Should Know About
- How to Find Teacher-Approved Technology Right Now
Of course, the tech you use should be appropriate for your students and connected to your content. There are so many choices for teachers today that something is bound to work for you, allowing you to harness the skills students have and engage them in active learning.
3. Don’t Blame the Technology
I would not use the lure of electronic devices as the reason why students can’t stay focused in the classroom. I’m pretty tough on myself when it comes to finding reasons a lesson bombed, so I am less likely to do that and more likely to blame myself. Still, my experience has shown that if the lessons are engaging, student-centered, and appropriately presented, kids will focus and their devices will stay in their pockets.
What do you do in your classroom to keep learners focused amid the potential distractions? After all, distractions aren’t new–they’re just getting more expensive.