Saturday, 27 February 2016

Dealing with Distraction

Illustration by Alicia Toldi via

Parents understandably commonly complain that one of the particular challenges faced as parent in the 21st century is that of supporting homework in an age where increasingly and understandably more and more [home]work requires a screen, usually a laptop. In the 'good old days' of exercise and text books, a parent could at least be fairly confident that when their child was gazing intently at the relevant page, it was their work they were doing, and not perusing a peer comment on a social platform, or a YouTube video, or playing a game, or, well you get the idea. As a parent of two middle school kids, and as an assistant parent in one of our our boarding houses with students from G7 to G12 I have plenty of personal experience of this!

Before you get all nostalgic on me, it is worth noting why it makes sense to do homework on a laptop as well as at school, the main one being that this allows homework, to be, well, just work, ie, a continuation of the task they are already engaged in at school, as opposed to an isolated activity that is related to their work in school. Often now, the work you see your child engaged in at home is their work at school, continued.

Now if your work life as an adult involves screens this should sound familiar. If we're honest, even as adults, what will also feel familiar is the temptation for distraction, in this regard at least, this is a temptation you should be able to relate to, in fact many of the tips below, may actually be useful to you in your work as well... ;o)

Now I'm conscious that our teachers are possibly more au fait with strategies for ensuring that students in their classrooms are using their screens for the task at hand, and not for expanding their social capital, but parents are often not quite as aware, a fact that many kids are quick to exploit...

Hence this post.

Our Head of Campus, Frazer Cairns, has written a newsletter dealing with this topic, well worth a read if you haven't already, and this blog post in many ways serves as an addendum to that; some simple tips to help you to help your child to deal with distraction more effectively. More to the point, these tips are designed to empower you to feel more capable of telling when they are, and more importantly are NOT 'on task'.

You can find many of these tips included in the TutorTech Slide Deck that I manage and update regularly that we use with Middle School Tutor Groups, a slide deck that your child should be familiar with already, if not, they will be very soon...

So here for your delight and delectation are some simple strategies and deft devices for helping you, to help your child stay on task:

Don't Just Close it, Quit it

Students need to get out of the habit of leaving applications running in the background, as these have a habit of bouncing up and down like a jackrabbit on coke*—very distracting. Clicking the red icon just closes or hides the application, it’s actually still running in the background, to kill it you need to QUIT it. 

Deal with the Dock

Command Q or right click on the dock. If you can see a little black dot, that app is still running. 

Be on the lookout for Apps running in the dock that most likely have nothing to do with school work, or the assignment they are currently working on, Apps like Skype, Steam, Minecraft, et cetera:

Do Not Disturb

Click those lines at the top right corner of the screen on the Mac (the notification centre) and pull down, this activates a very handy but under utilised function built into every Mac.

Check Notifications Settings

Maybe people have no idea these even exist, but they do, and check them you should. You can even automatically activate 'Do not Disturb' automatically during certain hours.

Kill Chrome Notifications as well...

We advise our students to use the Chrome browser for work, and Safari (or another browser) for play/socialising, then quit that social browser while working, as mentioned above. With that in mind they should turn off the notifications Chrome generates from sites like Facebook et al, unfortunately it is a little buried... the following should help you dig it out though, click to enlarge the images:

Click to enlarge

Fill the Screen

Make the most of the limited screen space, hit that green button and use the whole screen whenever you can. (Esc key to exit). This encourages 'single-tasking', ie one thing at a time, rather than the notoriously inefficient 'multi-tasking'. If they need to use more than one app, eg browser and a word processor, with both fullscreen they can swipe between them using the 'Four finger swipe' (see below), if they're running El Capitan they could even utilise the split view feature.

F3 'The All Seeing Key' & The 4 Finger Swipe

This is extremely useful, and also extremely devious, depending on the way this is used! This is one of the powerful features built into track pads on the Mac, that makes switching between full screen apps very easy; great if you're working between apps, not if you're child is using it to hide what they're really doing... 

F3: The all seeing key via jandpbiz
Fortunately these swiping gestures are easy to spot (see below). An easy way to check to see if their swiping is justified is to press the F3 key (Mission Control) on the Mac, this displays all open windows/spaces at once, allowing you to see at a glance what's going on. If there's a lot of apps on display, they probably need to quit the ones they don't need, see my point above!

Be Aware of Behaviour

There are many uses for screens, but the ones that are the least likely to be associated with, shall we say 'modes of reflection/writing/response' typical of [home]work are very different to those you would expect when interacting in real time with peers, or/and playing games. So, if your child is giggling away to him/herself, or intensely hammering the keys/frantically twitching the trackpad, chances are they are not working... 

If in doubt—hit the all seeing F3 key—Mission Control.

Use the Room

Many teachers have find this to be a particularly useful strategy in the classroom; make sure your child is positioned in such a way that their back is facing you, then you can easily see their screen, whether this is in central space in the home, or the position of their desk in their bedroom, this is a simple but effective monitoring strategy.

See how happy he is that you can see what he's doing? ;o)

Keep the Goal in Mind

Last but certainly not least, as amply illustrated by the amazing Bill Watson below, the real secret to success in terms of maintaining focus on homework, as with any work, is a determination to succeed; no amount of distraction or procrastination will enable your child to actually get their homework completed. While a minority of students may have a barrage of strategies for concealing their futile attempts at multi-tasking, they will still need to actually produce the completed assignment.

What you get out of your computer depends on what you put into it... (Calvin & Hobbes)

* Coca cola of course—what were you thinking?