Helping Students Stay Focused

Today I had a text from a student who (finally!) has recognized that her laptop is sometimes more of a distraction than a learning tool. In her senior year, she has  ground to make up and she wanted  help to stay connected with her work and disconnected from the things that pull her off track. She asked me if I could block a particular site that drags her off course.

I’ve played with the parental controls on the laptops and have found that when it comes to blocking websites, parental controls do more harm than good. For some reason, the parental controls DO block the websites we put in…and then they go a bit further and block ALL secure websites (those with https in the beginning of the address.) This makes it nearly impossible to use the internet- defeating the purpose of the controls in the first place.

And truthfully, it’s important for HER to regulate her internet use. I can clamp down the internet but it won’t keep her off her phone or her friend’s computer. She has to realize that the power to control herself lies ultimately within her- but it’s ok to add the needed supports.

And so rather than take her laptop and do unnecessary surgery, I pointed her towards the Chrome WebStore. A search of the webstore produced a number of apps and extensions that students can use to help keep themselves off of distracting sites. Here are a few that I like:

Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 12.03.58 PMStrict Workflow– allows students to block sites for a particular time period, give themselves a break, then block them again. The default is 25 minutes of blocking with 5 minutes of break, but this can be customized as the student wishes. It can also be set so that it only allows certain sites for a time period – for example, a student could ONLY go on a limited list of sites during a 50 minute class period if it was on that setting.

Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 12.05.15 PMStay Focused – similar to Strict Workflow, StayFocused allows students to create a list of blocked sites. It allows a lot of customization- for example, there is a nuclear option that allows them to block sites or allow only certain sites, set the time, and go- with no way to cancel it until the time runs out.

Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 12.05.56 PMBlocksite- like the other two, Blocksite lets a student customize a list of sites that won’t be allowed. The student can set a time to begin blocksite and a time to end it. In addition, Blocksite gives the option of creating a list of words that can’t be searched.

All of these tools are free. They are installed and controlled by the student.
They can just as easily  be uninstalled by the student. They don’t give teachers any control whatsoever- which is a good thing. What these tools DO give teachers is the opportunity to take advantage of a teachable moment. Telling a student who is addicted to Facebook to “just stay off of it” isn’t going to work. Nor is trying to watch their every move.  There is scientific evidence from brain researchers that says there is a chemical change in the brain that makes us seek the attention we get from others in social media. It’s OK for kids to understand that sometimes they don’t have the willpower to stay focused on a difficult task. I’ve used these tools myself to save myself from getting sucked into Facebook rather than doing homework.

I’m sending a link to this post to all of the students in grades 6-12. When the time comes, remind them that they have the ability to self-monitor themselves.

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