“Blinkers, sometimes known as blinders, are a piece of horse tack that prevent the horse seeing to the rear and, in some cases, to the side.  Many racehorse trainers believe these keep horses focused on what is in front, encouraging them to pay attention to the race rather than other distractions, such as crowds. Additionally, blinkers are commonly seen on driving horses, to keep them from being distracted or spooked, especially on crowded city streets.” – Wikipedia

As more and more schools encourage and allow students to use technology in the classroom, how do we keep students focused on the lesson objective?  Do students need blinkers?  This quandary stems from the question I’m currently investigating, “How can teachers and/or students help students to keep their use of their mobile phone “in check” so they can learn since so many apps are sending notifications begging them to interact?” Current data from Schaffhauser (2016) reveals some urgency.  Student “check their digital devices, particularly smartphones, an average of 11.43 times during class for non-classroom activities…Nearly nine in 10 (89 percent) responded, ‘don’t pay attention’ and 80.5 percent listed ‘missed instruction.’” Social media explodes with sensational posts from celebrities and updates from friends minute-to-minute throughout the day, every day. The distraction of the “crowd” is great.  How do we assist students?  How do we support classroom teachers?

Mei Low (2016) suggests schools look at three options to manage student distraction, what administrators and IT can monitor or restrict, how teachers can better integrate technology into the learning process, and parent app and device monitoring.  While all of these can have an impact, what I found lacking was the student as the agent of control and change. Where is the sustainability in top-down management?  What about developing students’ self-awareness?  How about activating students’ metacognition?  Could teachers do a better job of not only integrating technology, but educating students about use.  Could this have a greater impact than solely emphasizing teachers make lessons more engaging?  I think all teachers should have engaging lessons, but I don’t believe that it is enough.  Today I received this quote in my email inbox from ThinkwithGoogle.com; “70% of teenage YouTube subscribers say they relate to YouTube creators more than traditional celebrities.”  Social media is a kryptonite to television and cable.  It’s also one in the classroom for students.  By kryptonite I mean something that is crippling and disabling!  I do not believe that the word distraction sufficiently describe the distractibility of smartphone apps.  

Some of my thinking toward a solution, comes from the research of Daley, Hillaire, and Sutherland (2016).  They investigated students ability to understand, interpret, and metacognitively reflect on their own data.  This included how it influenced students’ subsequent steps.  The study was based on online learning environment experiences.  They had found that students were “notoriously unlikely to engage in the many kinds of behaviors designers seek, particularly when the wealth of resources available in the form of embedded supports.”  The findings suggested potential for providing students with guided reflection about their own learning data to improve help-seeking behaviors.  In turn I thought, what if we could provide student’s explicit detailed data about their social media use?  Can students understand, interpret, metacognitively reflect, and make changes to their behaviors based on the data?  Dey (2012) found that, “The key to modifying behaviors and emotional reactivity may lie in the orbitofrontal and middle prefrontal areas of the brain which are affected by the metacognitive aspects of mindfulness.”

While posing this meaty question, I wasn’t even aware of a way to collect the data efficiently to get the process started.  With a little web browsing, I came across the smartphone app, Qustodio.  It is one of many apps that allows parents to monitor their child’s device usage – apps and web use.  


It has many features such as location tracking and who children are texting or calling, but the component that interests me is the monitoring time spent on social networks.  What if we had students install this app and then interpret, reflect, and suggest next steps based on their data?  Would students see an issue?  What comparisons would they need to look at?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Most of all, what professional development would teachers need to foster and facilitate this conversation?  What modeling could technology coaches provide? 

ISTE Coaching Standard 3a calls on coaches to “model effective classroom management and collaborative learning strategies to maximize teacher and student use of digital tools and resources and access to technology-rich learning environments.”  Student engagement is a topic that is promoted again and again in one-to-one computing initiatives and teacher professional development these days.  I’m maintaining that while this is good, it is not enough!  I believe we need to include some app regulation and self-assessment.  Our students do not wear blinders. They see the red notifications.  They feel the vibrations of incoming texts.  IT departments, teachers, and parents will not have a large longitudinal impact with top-down strategies.  As an integration coach in my district, I’m going to intentionally embed modeling and promotion of  reflection related to mindfulness and self-regulation into my professional development sessions and modeled and co-taught lessons.  Teachers will also learn about device management tips, classroom arrangement and charging considerations, parent communication recommendations, and digital citizenship and common language suggestions as we move toward one-to-one access to devices.

Works Cited:

Daley, S. G., Hillaire, G., & Sutherland, L. M. (2016).  Beyond performance data: improving student help seeking by collecting and displaying influential data in an online middle-school science curriculum.  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bjet.12221/full

Dey, S. (2012).  Mindfulness, smartphone apps, and emotion regulation a mixed methods study.  Retrieved from http://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/46723353/SDEY-CRP-FINAL.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAJ56TQJRTWSMTNPEA&Expires=1469470394&Signature=C8jwiygEtlWLD2sNI8ZhGp8wyBk%3D&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DMINDFULNESS_SMARTPHONE_APPS_AND_EMOTION.pdf

International Society for Technology in Education. (n.d.). ISTE Standards for Coaches. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/ISTE-standards/standards-for-coaches

Low, M. (2016). Old-school or new age: is technology a distraction in education? (2016). Retrieved from https://educators.co.nz/story/old-school-or-new-age-technology-distraction-education/

Luong, L. (2016). Tips to manage your child’s time on devices. Retrieved from https://www.mercyhome.org/blog/parenting/tips-and-tools-to-monitor-your-childs-time-on-devices/#.V5AJrI7j-Q8

Schaffhauser, D. (2016). Research: College Students More Distracted Than Ever. Retrieved from https://campustechnology.com/articles/2016/01/20/research-college-students-more-distracted-than-ever.aspx


Markham, Pete. 2014 Sleigh and Cutter Festival – Horse Head and Bridal. https://flic.kr/p/jA3U8i (CC BY 2.0)

Skeptical View.  Horse.  https://flic.kr/p/db72cn (CC BY 2.0)