Digital Distractions in Classrooms Can Lead to Chaos

By Rob Klindt

When it’s time for classroom study, are your students more focused on cellphones than science? Maybe you’ve noticed math students are ditching fractions for Facebook while others are texting with Twitter.

Welcome to the world of classroom digital distractions.

Education blogger Dan Reiner describes a distraction as anything that shifts attention from where it needs to be. While classroom distractions aren’t new, students have added new twists with digital devices like cellphones, tablets, media players and cameras.

A 2010 survey on daily media use by children and teenagers from the Kaiser Family Foundation found about two-thirds of 8- to 18-year-olds owned cellphones, while more than three-quarters had an iPod or similar media player. And a whopping 74 percent of seventh- through 12th-graders surveyed said they have a profile on a social networking site like Facebook.

And these teens are increasingly bringing this technology to school with them.

While e-books, tablets and educational apps have been a technological boon to educators, the hardware used to access them is capable of doing much more. That’s where teachers need to be proactive and define how and when students can use personal-tech devices. Three ways to do that:

1. Set Rules and Expectations

At the beginning of the school term, teachers need to establish clear rules and expectations on when and where personal tech devices can be used in the classroom. Make sure students know the rules are consistent. If the school or district has an official policy on student use of personal-tech devices, follow and adapt it as necessary for your classroom.

For many students, technology is addictive. It’s easy to get caught up in email, texting, social network updates, music and games — and sometimes it’s hard to stop. It helps when students know there are rules in place for using tech devices in the classroom and that they will be strictly enforced.

2. Take Steps to Prevent Digital Distractions

  • Develop a personal-technology “contract” that clearly states when and where cellphones, smartphones, iPods, tablets and similar devices can be used in the classroom. Make sure all students sign it.
  • Ask students who have personal-tech devices to turn them off and place them on top of their desks where you can see them. It’s also a good idea to put your own cellphone ringer on mute.
  • If there is a violation during class, address it right away and remove the device until the end of the class period. Then discuss the matter with the student and include a reminder about the contract and class rules.
  • If a student repeatedly violates the rules, take the device and hold it until the student’s parents can come to the school to pick it up and talk with you.
  • Make sure you turn off classroom televisions and computer monitors on when they’re not in use.
  • Do not allow students to charge personal-tech devices in classroom electrical outlets during class lecture or study times.

3. Establish a Daily Technology Time

Decide on a specific time during the school day when it’s OK for students to catch up on texting, email, or Twitter updates using their personal devices. Make sure students know this time is a special privilege and is tied to good classroom performance, behavior and completion of work.

Knowing in advance that there will be a time when they can connect their devices allows students to focus on class assignments and not worry about missing social media and tech updates.

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Do your students struggle with digital distractions during the school day? Log on to the comments area of this website and share your tips on how you manage these distractions.