And there it is. The awkward silence that fills the few moments after a teacher asks a question. This silence is the physical evidence of a problem both students and teachers are facing: the student’s ability to stay focused when learning online.
“Yeah, I’m definitely more likely to use [my phone] when I’m at home because you don’t really have anyone to watch you or tell you can’t be on it…it becomes up to you. You can’t have people telling you want to do and what not to do,” said Isabella Infante, 12.
Coincidentally, teachers feel a similar responsibility for student’s focus when they are at home.
“I feel like [students being more distracted] affects me because it affects them academically. Students aren’t doing as well because of the distractions, so then that affects me because I’m like ‘am I doing my job?’ ‘How can I do this better?’ so that is harder to address when I can just look at [the student] and say ‘hey, put your phone away.’ It’s different that way,” said Kerri Rodden, English teacher.
Rodden, while she always made sure that students were paying proper attention to her and showing her the proper respect, has never tried to make phones in the classroom a big deal.
“I feel like if you make it a big deal then [students] kind of want to be on their phones,” said Rodden.
But a lot of things this year have changed a bit, including what distracts students from their studies.
“It’s just a different obstacle all together [when we are remote learning] because it’s hard to tell what they are on…I would say they are definitely more distracted because they have more distractions in front of them,” explained Rodden.
Infante also feels like it’s a different obstacle, but for a different reason.
“I think that it definitely takes a lot of restraint without someone else telling me not to be on my phone because it’s just easier now and sometimes that really does mess with my focus. [While] I think it’s not the most helpful, I do think it instills a sense of responsibility that you do have to get used to eventually,” said Infante.
“I feel like this whole experience is teaching self-discipline. So eventually students are going to have to take responsibility for their own education. They are going to have to learn to time manage and [say] ‘hey it’s not the appropriate time, I need to put my phone down.’ So do I feel like it has lasting effects? Maybe not super negative, but it is [reinforcing in] them bad life skills,” she says.
Everyone knows the silence that comes after teachers ask a question, it’s not special to remote learning, but that silence has taken on a new more potent meaning as students find their own balance between the distractions of life and the responsibilities of their education.