There is a lot of talk about multitasking these days. Many claim they can do two things at once. However, if two tasks require conscious attention, we cannot do both of them at the same time and do both well. If we try to do two things at once, performance on both of them drops.
What does this mean in school or when doing homework? Students and parents need to understand:
- When a task requires focused attention, students need to purposefully ignore anything else that distracts them. For example, if your son is working on his math homework, he should not be watching television, playing video games between problems, listening to loud music, answering his cell phone, or watching YouTube videos. In fact, it is a good idea to remove these distractions from his study area.
- Students who bring a laptop or tablet to school must discipline themselves. When in class, your daughter should keep her computer open to the word processor to take notes and not flip back and forth between that and shopping online for new shoes.
- When text messaging, pretty much all of one’s attention is absorbed. Text messaging while walking or jogging can be dangerous. Statistics are showing that texting while driving is causing a huge number of car accidents because it takes up too much of our attention. Similarly, in class, text messaging occupies attention and blocks learning.
None of this is new information, but it is important. Not very long ago, almost none of my students owned a smartphone. Today it is rare that they don’t have one within easy reach. I love that we can look up information almost instantly when someone asks a question. But, because the number of devices like smartphones is increasing, the potential for distraction in class is also increasing. This affects students’ ability to learn and produce quality work. This growing problem warrants examination.
I would love to have input from you. Do you talk to your children about responsible use of their electronic devices at home and in school? What should teachers do to help their students understand the effects of trying to multitask when learning something new? Do you believe we can multitask effectively or are we really allowing ourselves to be distracted when we should be working?