How a “tech break” can help students refocus

Larry Rosen (photo by Nick Pandolfo)

Psychologist Larry Rosen laments the fact that technology is driving us all to distraction. This past weekend, he spoke at a Hechinger Institute seminar for education reporters, which focused on how digital media are transforming teaching and learning in U.S. schools. The seminar, held in Chicago, was made possible by support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

In a forthcoming book, iDisorder, Rosen argues that all our tech gadgets and applications are turning us into basket-cases suffering from versions of obsessive-compulsive disorder and attention-deficit syndrome.

“Kids are thinking all the time, ‘Oh my god, who texted me? What’s on Facebook?’” says Rosen, a professor at California State University-Dominguez Hills. He says the average computer programmer or medical student can only stay focused on a task in front of him- or herself for three minutes.

Rosen has suggestions for fighting back, and some of them are counterintuitive. Instead of resisting the urge to text, check Facebook or watch a YouTube video, Rosen says just do it. That’s right: Cure the tech disorder with a dose of more technology!

Rosen calls it a tech break. But rather than taking a break from technology, you give yourself permission to embrace technology for a particular amount of time, be it one minute or 15. “It works amazingly,” he says.

Here’s why: If your brain keeps thinking about a text message you need to return, it’s better to send that text to get the nagging impulse out of your head. Once you stop thinking about sending that text, then you’ve literally freed up space in your brain to focus on more important things, like solving the global energy crisis or creating world peace. Or, just getting that research paper done.

The trick is to be disciplined and only take tech breaks at predefined intervals. One example would be to work hard for 10 minutes, and then allow yourself one minute to check email. For a child doing homework, Rosen suggests rewarding the child with 15 minutes of tech time for each half-hour of focused study. Rosen advises giving the child an option of spending the 15 minutes immediately or accumulating it for later use. After all, you need more than 15 minutes to get into a good video game.

Rosen’s theory has interesting implications for schools. Would kids be more focused and productive if teachers told students to take their cell phones out of their lockers and check their texts in the middle of every class?

Fortunately, there are other effective ways to reset the brain. Rosen lists a bunch: listening to beautiful music, looking at art and practicing yoga. Or going outside for a hike.


POSTED BY ON November 8, 2011

Comments & Trackbacks (33) | Post a Comment

Darrellene Canada

I teach 12th graders in Contemporary World Problems. I am constantly telling them to put their cell phones away. Your plan is better

cheryl

Did you try this or is it just a theory?

Cletus Acho

Sounds like the student has only one waiting text message to return. No–instituting a “tech break” in the middle of classes smacks of opening a box of cankerworms.

Michelle Burley

Our high school went from banning cell phones to allowing them between classes and at lunch. The kids are doing much better at only trying to use them at those times, rather than trying to sneak in to their bags to check a text in the middle of class. Of course, they still have to get to where they are going during the 5 minutes of passing time, and there is a little too much texting while walking, but they will get to class quickly and sit for 3 minutes and text or check FB, and then when the bell rings, they sometimes need a gentle reminder or they quickly finish a text, but then they don’t put up a fight about putting the devices away.

Merelle Sage

I currently teach 4th graders and have had to confiscate cell phone that ring during the middle of a lesson. I think that allowing students a “tech break ” during instruction is really going to create some problems. Besides why would they need a tech break anyway? Majority of the schools on all levels of education are utilizing technology to conduct lessons and facilitate learning. Therefore they are using some sort of technology already. The last thing i need is to give my students a break to socialize when time is already precious. They must know and understand time and place, in class is not the time, in school is not the place.

[...] That finding has dire implications for students’ ability to learn at every education level. Instead of paying attention in class, “Kids are thinking all the time, ‘Oh my god, who texted me? What’s on Facebook?’” Rosen told the group, according to the Hechinger Report. [...]

[...] That finding has dire implications for students’ ability to learn at every education level. Instead of paying attention in class, “Kids are thinking all the time, ‘Oh my god, who texted me? What’s on Facebook?’” Rosen told the group, according to the Hechinger Report. [...]

[...] [...]

Jesse Purvis

I do this for my 7th grade language arts class everyday . 22 students are separated into 3 groups which are all reading a different book right now. I meet with one group for a whole class period to discuss the book while the other two groups are doing their work for the week. The students who are not meeting with me areon what I call the 20/50 program. They give me 50 good minutes of hard work and then they have 20 minutes to surf the web, draw, read a magazine, or whatever they can do to get their mind off of the work (no talking). I find that my 7th grade, who used to be labeled the “bad class” because of their chattiness, work more efficiently when they have this schedule. They are turning in stellar work, finding out how to work together when I am not available, and having fun exploring topics they find interesting (approved sites of course!). I got this idea from reading about how Google demands its employees to work a certain portion of the day on something they want to work on rather than a company project.

Sandy

yeah i think that is a great idea having a break once in a while after they work hard and the more they work the more they get to relax.

[...] Tal vez no tanto. Esa es la solución que propone el psicólogo Larry Rosen según The Hechinger Report para resolver la falta de concentración en los alumnos, que en vez de poner atención en clases [...]

[...] How a Tech Break Can Help Students Focus [...]

Stanislav Vylet

I saw Dr. Rosen speak at the Brain & Learning Conference in Washington D.C last month. I have decided to implement “Tech Breaks” in my classes, with great results. I noticed more focus and student engagement as a result.

more info

Greetings! Very helpful advice within this article! It is the little changes that produce the largest changes. Thanks a lot for sharing!

[...] on homework, to have 15 minutes of a tech break, then study again. The only thing in the article, “How a “tech break” can help students refocus,” that I can agree with is the statement Rosen argues: that all our tech gadgets and applications are [...]

[...] ability to resist the lure of technology can be consciously cultivated, Rosen maintains. He advises students to take “tech breaks” to satisfy their cravings for electronic communication: After they’ve labored on their [...]

[...] ability to resist the lure of technology can be consciously cultivated, Rosen maintains. He advises students to take “tech breaks” to satisfy their cravings for electronic communication: After they’ve labored on their schoolwork [...]

[...] ability to resist the lure of technology can be consciously cultivated, Rosen maintains. He advises students to take “tech breaks” to satisfy their cravings for electronic communication: After they’ve labored on their schoolwork [...]

[...] ability to resist the lure of technology can be consciously cultivated, Rosen maintains. He advises students to take “tech breaks” to satisfy their cravings for electronic communication: After they’ve labored on their [...]

SusannahB

I think that this is a great idea and I will try to use it when studying in the future.

TD

This is a good reward for those who constantly need to check their phones. If they get a certain amount of work done, checking their devices could be a small treat. ” If your brain keeps thinking about a text message you need to return, it’s better to send that text to get the nagging impulse out of your head.” Being distracted doesn’t only mean physically. It could be a bothering thought that keeps reminding them to look at their phone. Therefore, it’s better to have a technology break than doing homework for two hours and staring at the phone.

Sofia Andrade

I agree with this article because it is a good idea. We do spend a lot of time using technology and don’t focus on what we actually have to be doing. I think we can all do leave our phones or whatever is distracting us for a couple of minutes so we can actually pay attention to what we are suppose to do and get it done.

david

I think they should let teenagers have tech breaks during class,maybe like the last 5minutes of the period. And i think its a great theory for kids to try in the future

AK

I think that this sounds like a brilliant solution and I will start to use this method of rewarding myself with tech time. I find it very hard to concentrate when doing anything that I would rather not be doing. Having access to the internet makes concentrating even harder because I know that I could be online when I am supposed to be doing school work.

Ariana Alonso

I think the tech break is a marvelous idea, however I do not think it is appropriate during school hours. This piece of advice was very helpful!

Isabella Deatherage

I really like this idea of a “tech break” actually. Being honest with myself, I do get easily distracted by my phone, and homework takes me a lot longer to do than it should. I try not to go on my phone, but when I get a text I feel a strong urge to answer it. I also feel more inclined to answer it when I am stuck on a problem that I don’t know. After thinking about what the answer could be for about 30 seconds, I tend to give up on it and go on my phone because “I’ll come back to it later”.

Andrew B

Honestly, I think this method should on be for addicts. If I have to use this method to stop me from looking at my phone while I do my homework, then that means I have a problem. When I do my homework, I have to stay away from all technology because I focus better when I am focusing on one thing. Majority of the teenagers, do this, but some of us have the ability to control our technology.

Nicole L.

Yes, I would try this because I have no control when it comes to using my electronic devices. I think its reasonable to work efficently for a good amount of time with out distractions, then to take a break and do what you want.

Alex Hernandez

A tech break can help because it refreshes the brain after it has been focused on one thing. Plus, if some kids cant handle it, then they need to go on for a few seconds to help.

Justin Padriquilla

I agree with Rosen’s idea, and I am going to give it a try to see if it actually does improve my efficiency! Unlike other people, I can live without using my phone 24/7.

Amin Ahmed

I agree. I am not on my cellphone that much to the point where I have to take “tech breaks” but there is people who do need it. I know some people that stay on their phones more than half the class. People who stay on their phones for over half the class time usually end up lost and always need help. I try to avoid taking out my phone during class unless I am getting an important phone call. When I am doing my homework, I keep my phone away from me and when I have to go eat or something or take a break, thats when I take out my phone.

Ajhane' Hall

I feel like Rosen’s idea of taking a break for 15 minutes is pretty reasonable and I would definitely try this out. It probably does work out well because our brain can not think of 2 things at once. We should make our time useful and still get things done but do it one at a time.

Athena Bautista

It’s an interesting theory that i think is very plausible. Students do an action more when it’s forbidden. Ironic but true. If we are allowed a tech break our itching would be satisfied, which would make us more focused on the lesson.

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