Focusing in Today’s Technological World (for “Students” of All Ages)

Each week at TCR, educational magazines are passed around to all the editors to keep us aware of trends, hot topics, and current research. It’s become one of our “eyes” into the classroom. Each magazine has its own focus, whether it be technology, literacy, or the like. And while some of the articles can have overlapping ideas, one article I read today put a new spin on an old idea. Little did they know, however, that their subjects included more than just students.

In “Focusing the Brain,” an article in Educational Leadership, Marilee Sprenger suggests that because students have multiple technological devices and often use more than one at once, they’ve become “passive viewers.”¹ Instead of thoroughly reviewing, absorbing, and then reflecting on information, students are skimming, scanning, and then quickly moving on to the next task. Sprenger illustrates this through Emily—an average teenager who is “focusing on her homework assignment.” Naturally, while researching the Civil War, she is listening to Coldplay, sending instant messages, answering her cell phone, and text-messaging. Sound like someone you know? Actually, it sounds like a lot of people I know.

Just the other night, I was sitting in my room with my laptop open, listening to Swell Season, reading recipes online for turkey brine, and answering my husband’s shopping list questions, all while watching Glee—well, sort of watching (but not really reading or offering many grocery options for my husband). It’s terrible! Last month I was reading Real Simple and was delighted to find a spoof on multitasking. The author, A. J. Jacobs, vowed to go “cold turkey” from multitasking for a month. Instead, he would focus on one task at a time. He called it Operation Focus.² Of course, more often than not, he failed (though, not without a valiant effort). We all do. How can we not? We’re surrounded by gadgets, people, TV shows, and, if you’re a teacher, activities, realia, and STUDENTS! You might be the worst violators of multitasking out of everyone (Be proud!). But, here’s the thing, if you can isolate the times that require focused attention and truly deliver, then it’s OK to multitask every other time. The key is balance. This is the lesson that has to be passed onto students. Remind them that it’s OK to focus on one idea at a time. Advise them to reflect after each time they’ve read something, so they can really absorb it. And if these don’t work? Banish the techno-toys! (Just don’t take mine away.)


¹ Marilee Sprenger, “Focusing the Brain,” Educational Leadership 67, no. 1 (2009): 34–39.
² A. J. Jacobs, “How I Stopped the Multitasking Madness: One man’s quest to go from manic multitasker to Zen unitasker in one month flat,” Real Simple (September 2009): 198–202.

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