Dealing with Digital Distractions in the Classroom - Digital Literacy Dover

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Dealing with Digital Distractions in the Classroom

Whilst we all believe that technology and the iLearn initiative is improving our student's learning experience, we have to be proactive and look at the issue of digital distractions. In the absence of laptops, students will undoubtedly find some other means of distracting themselves during monotonous classes, but the temptation to send and email, open a chat in Skype or dip into YouTube is more tempting than ever.

Doonesbury, November 2011

How do we know that students are off task?

Body Language is always the first hint. The student's head position, eyes tracking quickly over the screen and rapid clicking are all signs of off task behaviour. Secondly, flicking and flashing screens are a second hint. In a Mac system students use multiple desktops and misson control to quickly switch between screens and hide functions. It is also difficult to see what activities students have running in the background. It could appear that they are working on a project, whilst also arranging YouTube playlists in the background.

Below are a collection of five hints, that can help manage the digital distractions. If you have other ideas or thoughts, please leave a comment at the end of this post. 

Consistency of Expectations

Setting expectations within a digital classroom is very important. At the beginning of a term you can have a short discussion to establish a social contract for the use of digital devices in the classroom. 

As a school we don't mandate any specific rules, but teachers are free to establish guidelines within their classes. Personally I prefer that students have laptops turned on and sitting on the desk, but not open to begin a lesson. When I am speaking or discussing something with student's, I ask them to lower their lids to 45 degrees with a a silly crocodile hand gesture and then wait for every student to follow. After a while students understand what is a appropriate in your class if you consistently reinforce these expectations. Posters around the room are a good idea or stickers and hints on the desks.

Visible Lesson Planning

A good lesson that keeps students involved, contains authentic learning experiences that are collaborative and interactive will obviously maintain student engagement. Lesson objectives can be listed on the whiteboard to highlight were the learning is heading, and what skills the teacher is looking for. Not every lesson will be action packed and full of excitement, but structure and purposeful activities will improve engagement.

Circulating around the Classroom 

Try teaching from different points in the class and avoid sitting at a desk at the front. You can use a laser pointer or clicker to teach from different parts of the room. This will let you see what the students are doing more easily. Be prepared to sit within and among the students when they are doing independent work. Sitting beside students in a casual fashion allows them to ask questions when they feel ready. Also think about the arrangement of the desks and the relative position of your desk. Manage the class by walking around, being visible and by rotating where students sit and grouping on a regular basis.

Use Timers to build focus

Students work better when they have some idea of the time expectations. Try interactive tools such as Triptico to set timers and keep kids focused. The free app has a range of cool activities to flash up on your projector. Ensuring a mixture of activities including group work, independent work and quick assessment are always a sure strategy to keep kids on their toes.

Pick your Battles

Obviously some indiscretions are worse than others. When a student is checking out a website and other students become distracted then most teachers would step in. Small warnings, and system of yellow and red cards could be appropriate. Laptops are a privilege so be prepared to remove the laptop for a period of time from a student who has ignored warnings and pass on this information to a Tutor and Head of Grade. Also rewarding students with good attitudes always works and letting them listen to music on occasions is also fine. 

If you have any other ideas, please leave a comment below. 


  1. Great post - in Grade 5 we're using 'knuckles' or 'lids' to prompt kids to lower/close lids. Just in case ya'll wanna pick that up in G6 next year!

    1. Thanks for the comments, I think it is hugely important that we have consistent expectation across classes, so that all kids get the same reinforcement. We use similar language in Grade 6, but next year will be easier with the work from the Grade 5 teachers.