Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Distracted Students or Distracted Educators?
Nowadays almost all students arrive at school with a cellphone or smartphone in their pockets. Sit in most high school classes and you will witness students secretly checking text messages or emails without the teacher realizing. Even parents are sending their children messages when they know their children are in class. It is no wonder many of us are becoming increasingly more frustrated by what we see as a distraction from student learning.
Distracted students...is this actually a new phenomenon? Didn't students used to write notes to each other and secretly pass them to others in the classroom? Weren't other students composing notes to pass on to friends later on in the day? I would argue that distracted students are nothing new. No, our students may not be writing notes to each other with a pen and paper anymore. But the reality is our students are simply using new tools to communicate with each other. Instead of pens and paper, our students are now using phones to compose their messages. Yet, suddenly we are using technology as the scapegoat for a problem that has always existed.
The better question to ask is 'Why are our students so distracted?' The simple truth is they are more interested in communicating and interacting with their peers than they are in some of the things they are doing at school. Unfortunately, there are some students who probably feel as though what they are doing in class is distracting them from their ability to interact with their friends.
Students, much like ourselves, are social beings. They want to interact with each other and the majority of them are quite willing to interact with each other about the topics covered in their classes. In most cases, it's not the content of a lesson that they find boring. More often than not, the reason our students tune us out is because we have not given our students an adequate opportunity to interact with each other about the material. In some instances, technology may be a useful tool that enables our students to interact with each other, but again, I'd like to focus on the fact that the incorporation of technology or social media into a lesson isn't necessary in order for our students to interact with each other and engage in the content.
The point I'm trying to make is that we shouldn't focus on the digital tools as the distraction. Schools can create policies banning cellphones from the classroom and we can micro-manage our students in an attempt to police them, but in the end is this where our energy is best spent?
I believe it is time for us to accept the fact that the reason our students' attention gives way to distractions is because they are not engaging in their learning. The tools that our students bring to school are not the distraction. We should derive some comfort from this because the reality is that our students are not going to stop bringing these tools with them to school. We must take responsibility for the fact that as educators we hold the power to engage our students in their learning, thereby minimizing their tendency to be distracted. Much like our students, we should not allow ourselves to be distracted by the prominence of cellphones. Our focus should be on improving our pedagogy in an effort to increase student engagement.