Facilitating student discussion is a complex talk. Pose engaging questions, keep the conversation momentum going, stay on topic, and encourage quieter voices to participate. Could two Upper School boys guide their peers through 45 minutes of discussion about electronic devices and distractions? Yes, they did! Our guides, “Mr. H.” and “Mr. G.,” did such a great job that I simply relaxed and enjoyed the conversation.
The group of 14 students generated a long list of techniques for minimizing distractions, as high quality a set of suggestions as any I have seen experts write.
- Only check Twitter on your phone, not your computer.
- Use a timer to work for specific chunks of time.
- Set your phone to Do Not Disturb when you work.
- Install the Self Control or Concentrate app to block access to social sites.
- Charge your phone in another room.
- Have a parent keep your phone.
- Learn which music helps you concentrate and which distracts.
- Don’t start a Netflix episode on a break.
- Use distraction-free (full screen) mode when writing or reading.
The students went far beyond strategies. They explored the paradoxes and tradeoffs that they experience. Stay up late to get more done one night, and you are less productive the next day. Sports force you to be more organized but can also make you tired. School firewalls may keep social sites away but do not teach you self control. Homework can actually be more active than class time.
Did the students solve the problem of distraction from devices? Not at all! While they know the strategies, they acknowledge that they do not always use them. Self-discipline is complex. It is uncomfortable to work for hours at night, tough to resist social interactions. This suggests a new focus for education around devices and distractions. Learning strategies is just the first step. Setting meaningful goals, building self discipline, and practicing mindfulness are equally, if not more important.