Insights is a SmartBrief Education Originals column that features perspectives from noted experts and leaders in education on the hot-button issues affecting schools and districts. All contributors are selected by the SmartBrief Education editorial team.
With the holidays behind us and school back in full swing, the classroom can be a hectic place. Yet even amid the controlled chaos, educators can support distraction-free classroom environments, whether teaching and learning are in-person, remote or hybrid by selecting the right edtech.
The first step is to identify barriers to focus, which can be harder than one thinks. Factors to look for include physical discomfort, classroom noise pollution and lack of autonomy. By recognizing what detracts from focus and making adjustments, you can support districtwide learning experiences that boost student outcomes.
Find the right fit
The right technology can help everyone in a classroom focus. But when those same solutions are uncomfortable and become distractions themselves, that’s a problem. Styluses that are too heavy for students to hold or headsets that fall off students’ heads can shift from engagement supports to interruptions. Educators understand the importance, too: Our research at Logitech shows that three-quarters believe students’ level of comfort while using edtech impacts their engagement in learning.
In a recent webinar, Bedston Burrell, technical operations analyst for audio-visual services at Edina Public Schools in Minnesota, talked about the important role physical comfort plays in choosing technology. “When it comes to non-negotiables, I think that the comfort piece is really, really big for me,” Burrell said.
Leaders like Burrell often look for technology built with students in mind. It can be difficult to find edtech designed specifically for students, but district leaders can factor students’ smaller sizes, differences in motor skills and even emotional growth into buying decisions. Thinking about how edtech is used in the classroom and talking to educators about which solutions are and aren’t working well can help identify areas for new investments for a distraction-free classroom.
Use technology to make learning active
For the last several years many district leaders have been looking for ways to actively engage students in learning. Technology has played a big role in that shift, and a Kahoot teacher survey shows that three-quarters of educators say technology is an important element for creating more student-centered, active learning.
One way to keep moving toward student-driven, active learning is to provide students options in what technology they use. Giving students more choice in technology could look like classrooms equipped with a variety of edtech solutions and support for educators on how to build lessons that use those tools in different ways. It could also mean students have avenues to share feedback with technology departments or decision-makers about current and future tools.
Building an edtech “pencil case” — with, for example, options for headsets, webcams, styluses and mice — would offer students choices of what to use for different projects or lessons. This would allow students greater freedom of expression, which in turn boosts motivation.
Promote bite-size breaks
Instead of fighting the idea of downtime seeping into the classroom, embrace it by promoting intentional breaks. Integrating pauses into learning helps students be actively involved in the experience, something 70% of educators say helps students focus, the Kahoot survey notes.
A classroom break doesn’t have to be an all-out stoppage of learning. Breaks can be part of a distraction-free classroom when teachers build them into activities. For example, an educator might have students gather materials from another room. Similarly, a semester-long experiment like growing a plant can incorporate pauses in the day for students to take a picture and use a stylus to annotate changes.
Taking regular breaks has been proven to reduce stress and end-of-day fatigue, as well as increase concentration, creativity and engagement.
Amplify educators’ voices for a distraction-free classroom
What’s one of the best tools an educator can have to boost student focus? “The only technology that’s really proven to impact student learning straight off the bat is the microphone,” edtech expert and teacher Alice Keeler says.
That may be because of noise pollution from both inside and outside the classroom. Researchers have found that many students have difficulty understanding what their teacher said due to noise. At the same time, our own research found that 75% of teachers have hoarse, strained voices at the end of the day
Providing educators with microphones is one solution. Furnishings that keep outside noises from filtering into learning spaces help too. District leaders can work with educators to add rugs to rooms or hang curtains over windows to fine-tune the acoustics of learning spaces, making it easier for everyone to focus.
There is no one way to boost focus in the new school year. But the best ones are those that enable flexible learning while maintaining students’ and educators’ energy and promote a distraction-free classroom. By implementing thoughtful strategies, district leaders can help students and educators focus, while still keeping learning fun and engaging.
Madeleine Mortimore is the global education innovation and research lead for Logitech, where she leads research on edtech hardware. With years of experience as a classroom teacher, Madeleine has developed a curriculum for grades four through 12 and has been a researcher at the MIT Teaching and Learning Lab. Learn more about Logitech’s research in The Ergonomics Equation.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.