Distracted by Tech? Address the Problem, Not the Symptom

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone asked me to block a site. Truthfully, I’d charge people that want me to block all games from the internet a little more.  It would  fund my retirement nicely. It’s a problem that occurs everywhere- the complaint that games and social media distract students and make it difficult if not impossible for them to do the learning they need to do.

Lately the complaints have ramped up from teachers frustrated by students who are running out of time to complete work before the end of the year. They ask me to look through the students’ laptops and find out what they are doing instead of work. It’s tedious but it is part of my job so I do it.

Students have never been at a loss for ways to avoid work. This year I am seeing some old tools like Stealthy paired with newer ones like PanicButton. These are extensions from the Chrome Webstore that allow students to get around our filters (Stealthy) and hide webpages that they don’t want you to see (PanicButton).

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The extensions will show up (unless they are hidden) to the right of the address bar in Chrome as shown in the photo above. I suggest you start looking for them.

ImageThe Stealthy button is a red square with an arrow in it. When it’s red, it’s off and the school’s filter is in place. When it’s green, it’s on and the student is using a proxy server to get around the filter. This will allow them to go anywhere they want. There’s no free lunch here- there are risks. You can read about them here.

ImageThe Panic Button is a red circle with either a target in it or an exclamation point. Both do the same thing- they hide the pages the student doesn’t want you to see, and replaces them with a more school appropriate page. Students can set the page they want you to see.

We CANNOT control the use of these tools. We can’t block them. We can make the students remove them. They are easily re-added as soon as we turn our backs. It’s less of a discipline issue than it is a sign that the student has become disconnected from the learning.

I’ll challenge you to think of these tools not as the problem itself but as a symptom of a bigger issue. Not completing work is not a new problem. It is not caused by laptops, phones, or iPads. Technology has certainly made procrastination easier but it didn’t invent it. All these tools are a big fat arrow pointing at the real problem- the student is stuck.

So why did I bother to point these things out? Because they are a visual that leads you to conversations with your students. When you see that students have installed these kinds of tools it’s kind of like noticing they have a rash. It certainly provides an opening to begin a discussion. I had the opportunity to chat with two young men this week about their use of both of these tools. I asked what educational purpose they served, and as you could expect they had a hard time coming up with one.

Both students are athletes. I asked them if they would ever consider working hard in practice when the coach was watching, and slacking off and doing something else when the coach had their back turned. They thought this was ridiculous! Why would they do that? How would they ever get better? Neither wanted to sit the bench, and they acknowledged that that kind of behavior would be counterproductive.

This made things too easy. I asked how they thought using the PanicButton was going to help them if it only made them look like they were learning. Neither could come up with an answer.

Here’s where the door opens for you as a teacher. Distraction, procrastination, defiance- they are all symptoms of the same problem. Disengagement. It might be disengagement from a particular assignment or it might be disengagement from school as a whole.  It’s our job as teachers to figure out WHY. It’s not about “who’s fault” it is. It’s about finding solutions. Forward motion is the goal.

I’m not a social worker so I can’t fix the big problems- but here are some suggestions you might try for the smaller ones. Keep in mind that this does not have to be done for an entire class- apply these as you identify students who could use them.

Reading issues:

  • Print articles students need to read. When reading gets tough and Facebook is on another tab, the temptation is to turn to the easier task.
  • Use summarizing tools like Skimzee, SummarizeThis and TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read). Some work better than others but most work better than not reading at all.
  • Remove ads from pages by using Clearly in Chrome or Reader in Safari.

Distraction Issues:

  • Not all work is best done on the laptop. Decide if closing the lid will be beneficial for students.
  • Sometimes GoogleDocs provides too many notifications about new email, chat requests, etc. Have students write in Pages. Pages files can be uploaded for storage, or they can paste their work into a GoogleDoc when they are done. They can also use WriteSpace, a tool that provides a black screen with a cursor for distraction free writing.
  • Have students turn their airports off if they don’t need the internet.
  • Seating. If you know a child has a hard time focusing, do not let them sit in the hallway or with their back against the wall. Give them a seat where their screen is visible and keep an eye on what they are doing.
  • Ask students to use tools like IAMSTUDYING or Website Blocker. These allow the students to customize a filter that will block the sites they need to stay off of as well as the times they’d like them blocked. Helping students learn to self monitor can be crucial.

Accountability:

  • Exit tickets are a great way to hold students accountable for what they have done in class. Some teachers start with a daily goal and ask students to evaluate how they have done. They don’t leave class without handing in the ticket.
  • Ask them to email a copy of their daily work to you. It will only take a minute for you to evaluate what they have done and know how well they are using their time. This is especially effective when you are doing a whole class video. VideoNot.es gives you an easy way to do this.

If you’ve been in the classroom any time at all, you already have a hefty toolbox of strategies to help students. When you look at the behavior with technology as a symptom it makes it easier to put together a set of strategies to get your students moving ahead.

 

 

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One response to “Distracted by Tech? Address the Problem, Not the Symptom

  1. Wonderful post – thank you for doing this for all of us educators who haven’t had a well thought-out answer to the “Distraction” argument of technology. Great insights. ~ Jon

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