Multi-Tasking – Impressive, But Not Productive

When I did my homework, back in the Dark Ages, I would come home and sit at a table, and work without any sort of distraction, straight through until dinner time.  Now, “doing homework” takes the form of a 3-ring circus, many times because of the many ways students’ attention is demanded.
For that matter, just working in an office has challenged me to stay focused in the face of many different websites, the phone ringing, colleagues collaborating and a radio faintly playing in the background.  As I type this, I have no less than 7 windows open on my laptop, showing off how very busy and important I am (and how scattered my time can be in any given, even planned, day).  I have to have classical public radio on, with my headphones, in order to help myself focus.
Remember too, that supposedly, my brain is fully developed.  How do school-aged children do it?
Differently than we (or I) did.  They tend to want to juggle – read a page of a book, check instant messaging, read another page, maybe check Facebook or MySpace – and the results are not as centered or focused.   Students are truly inundated with all forms of mass media; much of it geared toward them.  I have attended workshops that have emphasized that the teacher should switch up instructional activities every 5-7 minutes in order to keep students’ brains engaged.  A teaching period is looking more and more like entertainment, to maintain high interest.
With all of the opportunities available, tools in the education world have many, many bells and whistles that can truly enhance instruction.  We MUST realize this, and instead of mandating our studying and learning habits on media-logged students, we can guide them to recognize what media is worth their time, and what isn’t.  Everyone gets distracted – but we each are distracted in our own way.  Our job is to help students recognize what helps keep them focused, and to guide them towards those methods.
Ok.  I think that’s all I had to say about that.  I have to go check my Facebook page now.
Happy day!
SIDEBAR:  National Public Radio’s Science Friday focused on this very topic in June, 2010.  It’s very interesting to see how this era of juggling and multi-tasking is manifesting itself.  You can listen to the show (about 23 minutes) or read the transcript by clicking here.

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