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Maintaining Focus While Using Technology in the Classroom

Janelle Cox

While technology in the classroom may seem like, and is, a great way to keep students engaged in a lesson, it can also be a distraction. It’s tough enough to keep your eyes on all of your students at the same time when you are teaching a lesson. Then, you put a piece of technology in the classroom like an iPad into the mix, and you have even more distractions from your students. If it isn’t their wandering eyes, or goofing around with their peers, then it’s playing with apps or straying from the lesson. Any of these distractions can be quite challenging for teachers. Here are some teacher-tested ideas and best practices that your fellow educators have found to be an effective way to keep students focused and on task when the technology in the classroom tools are out.

Create a Technology in the Classroom Routine

Just as you would create a routine for your students to use the restroom or to hand in their homework, you must create a routine when using technology tools. Take the time to teach your students what they should be doing, and how they should be handling the piece of technology once it’s in their hands. Make sure that you teach all students the procedures, as well as the consequences for handling their tech tool.

Establish Tech Rules Together

Many teachers have found that when they include their students in creating the rules, the students seem to follow the rules more closely. As a class, brainstorm a list of rules that all students must follow, from how to handle the tech tool to what to do when you are using it. Create a list and have students design a poster of this list for the class to follow. You can even make it a challenge where you put students into teams of two to see who can create the best poster of the tech rules.

Position Yourself in the Middle

The key to keeping students focused at the same time is to position yourself where you can see all students at the same time. The best way to do this is to create a circle around you, and position yourself in the middle of that circle. To do this, ask all students to arrange their desks into a circle so they are all facing you in the middle of this circle. This way you will have visual access to every single student’s work.

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Teach Students How to Troubleshoot

Oftentimes, students get distracted when you are teaching a lesson because something is wrong with their piece of technology and they are eager to fix it. To hinder this distraction from ever happening, teach students how to troubleshoot. Create a list of common problems and how to fix them. For example, list questions like, “What do I do if my iPad won’t turn on?” or “What do I do if my headphones aren’t working?” By giving them the answers to their popular questions on a simple reference poster, you will eliminate a lot of unwanted classroom distractions.

Create Daily Tech Goals

Never tell students, “Here is your iPad, now go do your assignment.” You must give them specific directions for how they will complete the assignment if they will be completing their task on their own. The easiest way to do this is by creating a daily goal sheet. Students will refer to this sheet to see what their task is, and how they will accomplish it. At the end of the lesson, students must hand in their completed task sheet to you so you can see that they have completed their work.

Be Prepared for Everything and Anything

There will come a time when your preferred tech tool may have a glitch. So it’s important that you are prepared for this moment, because at this time students will be unfocused and distracted and your classroom may go from quiet to chaotic. You can try and prevent this from happening by always checking all tech tools, apps, and webpages beforehand. However, sometimes it may just be out of your hands. Make sure that you have a backup plan. Your job is to be able to shift gears immediately if a technology glitch happens.

Encourage Student Choice

If you really want to see your students maintain focus, then you must give them the opportunity to have a choice in what they are learning. When students are passionate about a topic they will be more engaged in it. Assign students to complete technology-based projects where they choose what they learn. Once they choose their own topic, they will be more likely to dive into the topic and really grasp what they are learning.

Do you have any ideas or tips on how students can effectively use technology in the classroom with fewer distractions? If so, please share your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below. We would love to hear all about them.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.