We live in a time when there are more distractions than ever before. So much is vying for out attention and this makes it really challenging for kids to focus on schoolwork (or anything else for that matter). We need tools that work.
Computers present a unique challenge because much of the schoolwork students do is done on them. While using this technology for schoolwork is great, there is a strong temptation to think you can multitask with other tabs or apps in the background. Unfortunately, this ends up being a huge detriment to learning, though students rarely acknowledge this.
I’m constantly working with students to combat this urge. It’s a huge challenge on many levels. First of all, most kids tend to have a very unrealistic perception of how focused they need to be and think that they can multitask “just fine.” They have all sorts of excuses and rationalizations to explain why it’s ok. In the end, the quality of learning is compromised, which has far reaching effects.
Here are some common interruptions I see:
- Magic the gathering
- Music creation apps
- Music that is disruptive
Now, I want to mention that not all of this is bad. For example, for some people, white noise or certain types of music (baroque for example) can help the brain when the task is mundane. But when it comes to more complex tasks, like writing papers, the research shows that most music interferes. And again, to further complicate matters, many students are simply not realistic about where the line is for them.
Internet Blocker Apps
Internet blocker apps are one of the best solutions to the problem of disruptive tabs. Here are the two that I use regularly with students:
These are both free apps that allow the user to block their own access to all the sites or mail servers that are distracting. The user chooses how long to block for, adds sites to the list and starts the app! Even if you restart the computer or delete the app, it still blocks for the amount of time you set it for.
Tips on how to use blockers
1. There must be buy-in. In other words, the students must believe that it would be helpful. When adults try too hard to force kids to use these, they feel suffocated and resist, and this is obviously counterproductive. Therefore, ask yourself how you can get buy-in, how you can help the student see that it is to their benefit.
2. Ownership is key. This is closely related to buy in. Students must feel ownership of using the app. They need to feel like it is their idea, like they are in control of it. They need to feel empowered rather than pushed.
3. Be realistic about how long you want to focus for. 20-30 minute study sprints with very short movement breaks is a great way to start.
Check out the apps here
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