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4 Ways to Engage Distracted Students

The increase in handheld technology has created a culture of inattentive students. According to a Pew Research Center survey titled, “2013 Teens and Technology,” 78 percent of teenagers own a cell phone, and nearly half of those (47 percent) own a smartphone — 23 percent of teens own tablets. Tech gadgets like smartphones and tablets, whether used for communication or entertainment, can create classroom distractions. If mobile devices go un-monitored, they can consume students’ attention entirely.

Measuring Student Engagement

According to a group of university researchers, student engagement has three key components:

  • Emotional — are students genuinely interested in their lessons? Are they eager to come to class?
  • Behavioral — are students turning in their homework on time? Are they actively participating in discussions?
  • Cognitive — do students apply what they have learned to other environments, in other classes or at home?

Below are four ways to engage distracted students.

1. Think Differently

Today’s students are intimately familiar with the digital world. Discovering ways to use students’ smartphones as educational tools and incorporating mobile technology into the learning process can help minimize classroom distractions.

For example, teachers can enhance the learning process by incorporating web research into daily lessons. By giving students a time limit, teachers can better control activities like using search engines to find answers to web research questions. Further, teachers can gamify the process by rewarding the first student to find the correct answer.

Teachers can also enhance students’ writing skills by assigning daily 10-minute writing exercises that students save to a Google document to share with the class. Assignments like these may inspire engagement in students since they know their classmates will read their work.

Note-taking can become an engaging classroom activity as well by allowing students to use the cameras on their phones or devices. Pictures of white board instructions, charts or other classroom set-ups can help students remember their assignments, and they can easily share their notes with each other.

2. Digital Learning

Instructing learners through digital platforms such as instructional games and applications can increase motivation and learning.

Educational game websites such as Funbrain, Clever Island and Bubbabrain provide an engaging virtual world of instruction in math, science, reading, vocabulary, physics and many other subjects.

Educational applications like Motion Math Educator Suite by Motion Math, My Incredible Body by Zybright and WWF Together by the World Wildlife Fund motivate students to learn about math, human anatomy and wildlife conservation through interesting interactive elements, fun animations and eye-catching computer graphics.

3. Group Activities

Interacting with fellow classmates through lively group discussion, role playing or a shared activities can stimulate students’ minds and hold their attention. Engaging group activities can help students generate ideas, learn social skills and feel confident about their lessons. Students working in groups also hold each other accountable for their work. They can rely on each other to remember important study questions or topics.

4. Effective Classroom Management

To manage technology in the classroom effectively, teachers should share classroom policies regarding phones and tablets at the beginning of the school year. By listing instances of when and how students may or may not use their devices and cell phones, teachers help their students understand the role of technology in the classroom. Examples of digital rules might include the following:

  • Every device must be muted.
  • Unless the teacher says otherwise, devices are prohibited during lectures and question-and-answer sessions.
  • Tablets are allowed only for note-taking and group exercises.

To encourage students to follow the rules, you can reward them with incentives that include extra time with their devices in class.

Students are likely going to continue bringing their digital devices to class for the foreseeable future. Discovering new ways to use mobile technology as a teaching tool can engage distracted students and help minimize classroom distractions.

Learn about the LSUS M.Ed. Curriculum and Instruction online program.


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