Learning How to Focus

Take a look at the photo below. What does it tell you? What do you notice?
It tells me that with close to 60 tabs open, this student was so distracted by the extension that he/she wasted a significant amount of time being off task. The worrying thing is that if this student continues these patterns of behaviour, he/she will find it increasingly hard to focus on learning. Let’s face it – learning is our business!

But how much direct teaching goes into helping students learn how to focus? I’m willing to wager not enough. We need to be fair to our students: we can’t expect them to pick it up through osmosis. As teachers, part of our role is to teach into how to focus, not merely that one should focus.Telling students to delete distracting elements such as non-educational chrome extensions is not enough; students need to understand the reasons behind the request – why is it unsuitable for learning?

After all, they’re not doing this maliciously – they have a genuine curiosity and love making their devices feel like their own. The trouble is, many of their choices have a negative impact on their ability to stay on track and focused.
Helping students to identify what helps their learning and what hinders their learning is a great place to start.
Chrome Extensions
Recently, we had a number of students install a Chrome Extension called Tabby Cat. It’s a cute, harmless-looking extension that shows a different cat every time you open a new tab. You can interact with it, and sometimes you will get little gifts to play with. Sounds ok, right?
I asked the class to tell me what they liked about this Tabby Cat. Predictably, the responses were as follows:
“It’s cute!”
“It’s fun because you get toys to play with if you keep opening new tabs.”
“Every new tab is different.”
“I want to see what is going to happen next and if I will get any gifts”

Helping students understand that each new picture of a cat is essentially rewarding distracting behaviour, can help them make better choices.One recommendation is to replace Tabby Cat with the Chrome Extension Momentum, which gives one new picture a day, together with the question: What is your main focus for today? This personal reminder prompts students that they have a task to complete, with a beautiful photo that doesn’t change every tab.

Vision and Movement

“Vision trumps all other senses,”  according to John Medina, author of Brain Rules. Approximately half of the brain’s resources are dedicated to processing visuals. Our brains are attuned to noticing colour and movement, so moving backgrounds, animated gifs and scrolling advertisements draw our attention.


In a G3 class recently, we did an audit of our visual noise. Common things we saw were:
  • Animated snow falling on Gmail backgrounds (or similar)
  • Desktop backgrounds where the picture changes every 5 seconds
  • Highly pixelated images used as desktop backgrounds
In pairs, students helped each other make good decisions to remove distracting movement – that was the easy part. The hard part was making good decisions about their desktop backgrounds. Saying goodbye to their favourite sports star or cartoon character was more of a challenge for some.

We discussed quality resolution of images being more pleasing to the eye. We also introduced the idea of colour association. Green is a calming colour (think, Green Rooms backstage in theatres) and blue can help with productivity. Encouraging students to choose a green/blue-based image that is high quality helped them see they still had some choice and the option of personalisation, but not at the expense of their focus.

Number of Desktops

Students using school laptops that don’t go home, really have no need for multiple desktops. Deleting extra desktops will help to remove the temptation to swipe between apps.


Reader View (Safari) or Readability (Chrome Extension) 
When looking at websites, particularly those which have articles, using Reader View in Safari or  the Chrome Extension Readability can help strip away those annoying advertisements and other extraneous and distracting material, allowing us to focus primarily on the text and images in the article. Check out the tutorial below:

Effective Digital Reading using Safari Reader View from UWC South East Asia on Vimeo.

Tidying your “Room” 
When in a rush, it’s easy to leave your desktop background as a cluttered disaster, always thinking, “I’ll clean it up later.” Many of our student’s desktops look like this (not unlike my teenage bedroom):
A secondary-click (right-click, or 2-finger tap) > Clean up by > Kind, helps organise files into groups of the same type. See below:
Once organised by kind, it’s easy to trash all the screenshots and/or arrange files into folders.
We recommend moving files/folders to Google Drive or Documents on a Mac (depending on file type) rather than keep things on the desktop, so as to make startup as smooth as possible. Aesthetically, it’s also more pleasing!
These suggestions are aimed at helping empower our younger students to make better choices by being well informed about distracting elements on their laptop. If you are interested in specific apps and Chrome Extensions to take managing distractions one step further (blocking specific sites etc), you may wish to check out our recent Parenting in the Digital Age resources.
Do you have any other great tips for managing distractions in primary? We welcome your ideas!

Life as a Digital Literacy Coach

IMG_9127This year I have changed my role and moved out of the classroom and into the role of a digital literacy coach. Although I have written other blogs in various online places, I decided that I would start here for my new role.

I was initially excited and nervous about coming out of the classroom where I had been for all of my teaching career and start a new job without a classroom to call my own. I had mostly been teaching grade 4, 5 and 7 over my career and changing roles to where I would be mostly working with teachers would be very different.

I originally got into teaching because I loved making a difference in students’ lives. I loved having a connection with the students and being there for them, able to help them through the speed bumps of their lives. My biggest concern was that I would lose this connection and stop being someone who could be influential in students’ lives. Could I still be someone who mattered in the school? Yes. Yes, I could. And I would hope that my sphere of influence would be even wider than if I were in the classroom.

Before I left the classroom last year, one of my colleagues mentioned to me that they really wanted to be more tech savy because he saw what the students coming out of my class could do at the end of the year and was sad that his students were not at the same level. It wasn’t even close. I feel that this was only because I integrated technology into the lessons where it would make sense and be best for learning. Many other teachers, including this colleague, only integrated technology when it was planned for. So the only technology he would do is when we had planned an activity or an assessment. This obviously wasn’t going to help his students as much as mine who used technology when they felt it would be beneficial to their learning.

I really believe that the best person to help students with technology is the classroom teacher. Not an IT teacher who sees them once in a while. The classroom teacher has the opportunity to integrate technology at any point where it can help improve student learning. A separate teacher who takes the class could never do this as effectively.

IMG_9141One thing that I love about my school is my job and how my school values my role. Digital Literacy Coach is my official title or DLC for short. My job is to help teachers integrate technology into their classrooms. Although I also come into classrooms to help, co-teach and directly teach, that is the lesser part of my role. My main objective is to help teachers become better at integrating technology because they are the ones who are going to do it on a daily basis. So if I can help teachers become more comfortable and proficient with technology then I am helping the students.

Because I am not always working directly with students and because I am responsible for many classes across a number of grade levels (K1 to grade 5), it may not be easy to measure my impact on individual students. Sure, if I was in a small handful of classrooms on a regular basis I might be able to see and measure the change easier. The change I see might be a teacher’s attitude towards technology or the way a teacher talks about technology to their students. The change I see might be in the students’ skills improving or their excitement towards technology. Ideally, I would love to see students choosing to use technology to improve their own learning without having to be directed to do so by the teacher. That is where the transformation would really take place.

When I originally started thinking about ideas for this blog post, I thought I would write about how the role starts with forming relationships with teachers. How, as a classroom teacher I was in charge of my to do list while as a DLC everyone else is in charge of my to do list and puts things on it for me. I thought I would talk about how I was doing some of the things in this role in past years but also doing my regular classroom work too. I thought I might talk about how much I am loving the role and not really missing the classroom. All those things are still true and valid but that isn’t really what it is all about.

It is all about helping students with technology. And now I am doing that but in a different capacity. I’m doing that through helping teachers.

This all brings me back to why I originally entered teaching. To make a difference and be influential in students lives. As a digital literacy coach I feel that I am doing this through helping the teachers become more proficient in technology who in turn help the students. So am I on the front lines with the students? No, not as much. I am behind the scenes working with a large number of teachers helping all of them to help students be more proficient in technology. The students may not know it, but there I am, working away, trying to make their lives better. That is the life of a digital literacy coach.