How Does Multitasking Change the Way Kids Learn?

“When I was grounded for a couple of months and didn’t have my phone, I got done extra early with homework.”

This is a student quote from the article, “With Tech Tools, How Should Teachers Tackle Multitasking In Class?” from the KQED Educational Blog, “Mind Shift: How We Learn. The article brings up points that many schools and families are challenged by regarding Personal Electronic Devices (P.E.D.).  The increased speed of wireless internet and phones able to do much more than just a few years ago, students and adults are being distracted with social media, text messages, and games available on line. I myself find I am reading less books than before, as there are so many interesting articles on line that take my attention away from my reading of books on my iPad. I can imagine what teenagers must be tempted by.

In Anne Murphy Paul’s article, “How Does Multitasking Change the Way Kids Learn?” she describes a study done in a California university that tracked 263 students doing homework.

Although the students had been told at the outset that they should “study something important, including homework, an upcoming examination or project, or reading a book for a course,” it wasn’t long before their attention drifted: Students’ “on-task behavior” started declining around the two-minute mark as they began responding to arriving texts or checking their Facebook feeds. By the time the 15 minutes were up, they had spent only about 65 percent of the observation period actually doing their schoolwork.

“We were amazed at how frequently they multitasked, even though they knew someone was watching,” Rosen says. “It really seems that they could not go for 15 minutes without engaging their devices,” adding, “It was kind of scary, actually.”

In other studies, professors looked at university students. One large survey found 80% of college students admit to texting during class. In another study involving spyware, professors at the University of Vermont found students multitasking with their laptops, including non course related software applications open and active about 42 percent of the time. Another study of law students showed 58 percent of second and third-year students who had laptops in class, were using them for non-class purposes over half of the time.

How does this apply to us at ISB? I think we need to look carefully at our P.E.D. policies in the classroom. Are they too much of a distraction? What classroom management techniques do we need to be aware of to help students focus on a task when a world of entertainment is just a tab away. Not only should we be concerned about in-class multitasking, but also at home. We should be addressing this with students and teaching them to concentrate and manage the demands of a buzzing phone or an active Facebook news feed. I suggest all of us read the second article, “How does Multitasking Change the Way Kids Learn?” and collect data from our students and teachers regarding multitasking.

The article ends on a positive note, however and I think this reflects the situation at our school.

Parents shouldn’t feel like ogres when they do so, she adds. “It’s important to remember that while a lot of kids do media multitask while doing homework, a lot of them don’t. One out of five kids in our study said they ‘never’ engage in other media while doing homework, and another one in five said they do so only ‘a little bit.’ This is not some universal norm that students and parents can’t buck. This is not an unreasonable thing to ask of your kid.”

So here’s the takeaway for parents of Generation M: Stop fretting about how much they’re on Facebook. Don’t harass them about how much they play video games. The digital native boosters are right that this is the social and emotional world in which young people live. Just make sure when they’re doing schoolwork, the cell phones are silent, the video screens are dark, and that every last window is closed but one.

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