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Thinking Digitally – Approaches to Digital Distraction

22 Jan

Digital Distraction is one of the most pressing issues in the classroom these days. With 1:1 programmes becoming ubiquitous, almost every child has a device of one kind or another on their person at any given moment. This is a fabulous opportunity for teachers to use. A student asked me the other day if she needed to bring her dictionary to school every day. She said it was rather heavy. She was sitting with her iPad open in front of her, so I just kind of looked at her in a funny way! It is all very well to have policies in place where devices are switched off when they are not needed, but students need to learn good habits which will help them focus on any given task and avoid digital distraction.

Thinking Digitally LogoEasier said than done! We all know how easy it is to be seduced off-task by that SMS or whatsapp that pops up on your phone just as you are opening up the spreadsheet that needs to be finished by lunch time at the latest. An email pops up in the corner of your screen – of course you are going to attend to that instead of the urgent report! Children face exactly the same pressures at school, and at home when doing homework.

We are introducing a new Habit Of Mind at my school – Thinking Digitally. What are the digital habits of successful thinkers? In thinking through the strategies that one can adopt to teach good habits, perhaps the most crucial is around the issue of digital distraction. So I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how to achieve this. And it’s not at all straight forward. A good thinking strategy is usually a simple idea or approach, which is easy to remember, and easy to apply. For example, the de Bono Thinking Hats represent six modes of thought which can be used to guide parallel thinking and stimulate collaborative work. The modes of thought are colour-coded to help memorization and, once understood, are easy to apply.

An effective strategy needs to be framed in the positive. To get good, you must do this! A good graphic organizer, for example, shapes how you approach a task, rather than steering you away from something. So the challenge was to frame a digital distraction strategy that was positive rather than a list of Thou Shalt Nots! It also seemed to me that to be memorable the strategy needed to be short! A list of 10 pointers was just too long!

I looked on the Internet and found lots of lists about switching off, and focusing on one task at a time, and so on, but to me it seemed to boil down to one simple sequence. If you follow these steps you will be focusing on a single task at a time, and cultivating healthier habits.

FIRST

FINISH

THEN

REWARD

Do the hard or urgent thing first! Get it out of the way!
Finish one thing before you start another!
When you’ve done some work, reward yourself by doing something more pleasurable! If you’ve finished one piece of homework, reward yourself by checking your whatsapp for five minutes.
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