Does your child stay up all night doing homework? Is he or she often texting or online while doing homework or studying? Is it possible for students to study and do their homework effectively while being distracted by technology? Is focusing attention on homework really all that important? It’s just homework, right?
Welcome to the 21st century. A world filled with distractions every where you turn. How is it even possible to get homework done at all, let alone focus on doing homework without being distracted by a wide variety of electronic gadgets. Back in the not so distant past, you might have heard a kid saying "It doesn't matter if I have the TV on while I do my homework. It's not like I'm studying for a test." Today, it's a bit more complicated as students and their smart phones are inseparable. What might at first glance seem harmelss, doing homework or studying while watching TV, texting or checking social media can actually impair learning the material as well as lower test scores. Research has shown that it's one of the worst study habits a student can develop.
Is There an App For That?
With nearly everyone over the age of 10 having a cell phone and access to the internet these days, it's quite common to find students dividing their attention between texting, checking social media websites and surfing the internet while doing homework and studying for exams. Given that text messaging is the way many students communicate with each other, it's not easy for parents to explain to them that when it's time to do homework or study for an exam it's necessary to turn their phone off.
In all likelihood, they will argue about this as students of all ages seem to have a misconception that they can pay attention to more than one thing at a time and that multitasking is an effective way to do homework or study for a test. How are you, their parent, going to respond? With research. In this blog post, we reviewed the most up to date research that we could find on the subject of multitasking to give parents a better understanding of what it takes to be a successful student.
What Does Research Show About Studying While Distracted by Technology?
In a study conducted by Dr. Larry Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University - Dominguez Hills, students were observed studying for a 15 minute period where they were told to "study something important.” He found was that students generally started to lose focus after about three minutes. On average "students only spent about 65 percent of the observation period actually studying." That’s not exactly what you might consider “quality” studying time.
Dr. Rosen did another study where he surveyed high school students and asked them how often they switch from studying to doing something related to technology such as checking email, Facebook, texting or watching TV. Across all grade levels, 80% of students reported that they switch between studying and technology somewhat often to very often. Rosen calls this “Continuous Partial Attention,” meaning that most of the time, students are not focused on studying but rather are moving their attention back and forth between studying and various forms of technology. As you might expect, students who were the most distracted generally had the most windows open on their computers. Students who were less distracted had higher GPAs than students who switched back and forth fairly often and those who regularly check Facebook or text messages. Students who had strategies for studying also had higher GPAs according to Rosen’s findings.
Rosen explains, “Young people’s technology use is really about quelling anxiety...they don’t want to miss out or to be the last person to hear some news (or like or comment about a post online).” One of the major problems with texting and posting on Facebook and other social media sites while in class and/or studying, is that "they draw on the same mental resources—using language, parsing meaning—demanded by schoolwork." Ultimately, he concludes, if we want students to learn and perform at their best, smart phones and other online distractions must be managed.
Can Doing Homework While Distracted by Technology Affect Test Scores?
In another study of 8-18 year old students done by the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly one third of the students surveyed confessed that when they were doing homework, they were also watching TV, texting, or listening to music. Victoria Rideout, the lead author of the study, warns parents about the dangers of media multitasking. This concern is distinct from worrying about how much kids are online or how much kids are media multitasking overall. “It’s multitasking while learning that has the biggest potential downside,”she says.
If a student is focused when doing their homework, they actually retain more of the information when it comes time to take a test on the same subject matter. It's like studying for the test little by little and absorbing the information in small chunks. The strategy of ‘chunking’ bits of information has been shown to be the most effective way to learn larger amounts of information and is a useful test prep strategy. If a student does her homework while multitasking, that will result in less information being retained and therefore more time will be required for test preparation in order to achieve the same result. Compounding matters, if homework is done while multitasking in an introductory class, it will be more difficult to build on that “shaky foundation of knowledge” in the more advanced class the next semester.
Dr. David Meyer, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan observed that “under most conditions, the brain simply cannot do two complex tasks at the same time. Listening to a lecture while texting, or doing homework and being on Facebook—each of these tasks is very demanding, and each of them uses the same area of the brain, the prefrontal cortex." Most students incorrectly believe that they can perform two challenging tasks at the same time, according to Meyer. They may like to do it, they may even be addicted to it, but there’s no getting around the fact that it’s far better to focus on one task from start to finish.”
Quick Test for Students to Determine if Multitasking Impacts Performance
Here’s a fun, 3 minute test that you can do along with your kids to demonstrate if multitasking impacts performance (and the time it takes to complete homework). Taking this simple test will allow students to see for themselves if multitasking could potentially be affecting their studying.
Top 3 Negative Outcomes of Studying While Being Distracted by Technology
According to an article by Annie Murphy Paul, research has shown that there are various negative outcomes that result from students multitasking while doing homework. Paul describes the top 3 negative outcomes. "First, the assignment takes longer to complete, because of the time spent on distracting activities and because, upon returning to the assignment, the student has to re-familiarize himself with the material.” Second, the mental fatigue caused by repeatedly dropping and picking up a mental thread leads to more mistakes. “Third, students’ subsequent memory of what they’re working on will be impaired if their attention is divided.” Paul explains, “The moment of encoding information is what matters most for retention, and dozens of laboratory studies have demonstrated that when our attention is divided during encoding, we remember that piece of information less well—or not at all."
Paul goes on to write, "Finally, researchers have found that media multitasking while learning is correlated with lower grades. In Rosen’s study (discussed above), students who used Facebook during the 15-minute observation period had lower grade-point averages than those who didn’t go on the site. In addition, two recent studies by Reynol Junco, a faculty associate at Harvard’s Berkan Center for Internet & Society, found that texting and using Facebook—in class and while doing homework—were negatively correlated with college students’ GPAs."
In conclusion, the evidence is overwhelming. Studying or doing homework while sitting in front of the TV, using social media or texting, makes it more difficult to learn and retain the information, increases the time it takes to complete homework, and may ultimately result in lower test scores.
Is your child attached to his smart phone or other electronic gadgets? If so, and grades are suffering, it might be time to take action. Are you ready to help your child break the multitasking habit, learn to focus attention on homework and get on the path to academic success?
How Parents Can Help Children Manage Distractions While Studying
Teach your child to take technology breaks to separate doing homework from using technology. Here's the strategy: After your child has worked on his homework without interruption for 15 minutes, he is then allowed a technology break for 2-3 minutes to text and post to social media. When the break time is up, you instruct him to turn off his electronic devices for another 15 minutes of doing homework or studying. Students can extend their working time to 20, 30 or 45 minutes and perhaps extend their technology break time to 5-7 minutes. If your child complains that the technology break time is too short, you can let him know that when he is finished with his homework, he can use technology for as long as he wants (or whatever amount of time you say is ok).
Would you like to cut your child's homework time in half?
If so, click below to download our free guide to "Cutting Homework Time in Half." You might also want to contact us to see if Executive Function coaching can help your child with focusing attention on homework.
Photo credit: Gitte Laasby
Attribution: A much more detailed discussion of some of these studies can be found in Slate Magazine (May 3, 2013) by Annie Murphy Paul, a fellow at the New America Foundation and author of the book Brilliant: The Science of How We Get Smarter.
Michael Howard is the Director of Marketing for Beyond BookSmart. He joined the company in 2012 and works remotely from Los Angeles. He is responsible for researching and developing marketing strategies, marketing materials, updating and optimizing the company website, social media, and search engine optimization. Michael earned his BA in Psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and his MS in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Lamar University.
How To Take A Study Break That Actually Works
Reviewing class lessons, finishing homework assignments, and studying for tests takes a lot of time, effort, and dedication from students. With all this hard work happening outside of class time, it’s important to make sure students take proper study breaks. These breaks help maintain top study performance and can actually increase focus, reduce stress, and help students better retain information they learn.
However, many students (and their parents) aren’t quite sure how to take an effective study break and find themselves asking:
“How do I take a study break?”
“What should I do during a study break?”
“How long should a study break be?”
So, how can you make sure your child is taking study breaks that are contributing to the learning process? We’ve come up with a number of study break tips, ideas, and activities that will help make studying easier and more effective for students.
Find out some of the biggest study break mistakes students make, and what you should be doing instead.
Study Break Tips: What Not To Do… And What To Do Instead
1. Taking Breaks
What Not To Do: Take long breaks.
Let’s face it — it can sometimes be tough to get your child to do his or her homework. This can make it even more difficult to get your child back into study mode after a long break. Of course, It’s important to make sure your child is taking breaks if needed, but breaks longer than 10-15 minutes should be avoided.
What to do Instead: Take regular, short study breaks.
Set an alarm for every 20-30 minutes and have your child take a short 5-10 minute break. Shorter study breaks will give your child just enough time to breathe, stretch and re-focus before he or she gets back to the homework.
2. Get Moving
What Not To Do: Sit for long periods of time without moving.
Studying can be physically hard on the body and children especially can find it difficult to sit still for long periods at a time. It’s important that your child takes breaks to move around and stretch to work off that extra energy.
What to Do Instead: Take regular breaks to stretch.
Getting up and moving around can help re-energize the body, clear the mind, and help reduce any stress that your child might be experiencing. Encourage your child get up, stretch, or take a short walk around the house or outside when he or she is taking a break.
3. Fuel The Body & Mind
What Not To Do: Study on an empty stomach.
Studying while hungry or dehydrated can make it much more difficult for students to focus and process all the information they are learning.
What to Do Instead: Have a nutritious snack and drink water.
Eating a nutritious snack before studying can help your child stay more focused, and provide the energy he or she needs for a successful study session. Staying hydrated also helps with the ability to focus, so keep water glasses topped up.
4. Timing Is Everything
What Not To Do: Study late in the evening.
Starting a study session or homework assignments too late in the evening means your child may not have the energy to stay focused. This can lead to delayed bedtimes and incomplete assignments — neither of which is a good way to start off the next school day.
What to Do Instead: Create a homework or study routine.
Whether it’s right after school, or right after dinner, setting time aside earlier in the evening helps your child be more alert and ready to learn. Ensure your child also gets enough sleep every night so he or she is well rested and ready to learn the following day.
5. TV-Free Zone
What Not To Do: Turn on the TV.
It can be tempting to break up the quiet studying time with a favourite television program, but it can make it very difficult to get your child back to doing his or her homework.
What to Do Instead: Put on some music.
Instead of turning on the TV, have your child put on a favourite song to dance or sing to. Music increases energy levels and can also help reduce any anxiety so he or she can get back to the books with a clearer head.
6. Stay Off Social Media
What Not To Do: Surf the Internet.
It’s easy to get lost in the online world, where a 5 minute break can quickly become 55. If your child is constantly checking Facebook updates, he or she isn’t going to be properly focused on studying.
What to Do Instead: Log out of social media accounts and turn off the cellphone.
Instead, encourage your child to use his or her study break activities to do something that gets his or her blood flowing, like taking a quick walk outside or around the house.
7. Try, Try Again
What Not to Do: Give up.
If your child is feeling stuck on a certain concept, it can be easy for him or her to become frustrated and to give up completely.
What to Do Instead: Move on to a new question or topic.
If your child is having trouble with a particular question or section, let him or her move on and come back to it later. You can also try making flashcards with your child to help with organizing and remembering information. These cards are also great to use when studying for quizzes or tests.
8. Keep it Organized
What Not to Do: Study in a messy or noisy area.
An untidy or loud workspace, like a noisy home or a messy room, can be a huge source of distraction and take the mind off the actual task at hand: studying.
What to Do Instead: Keep the study area tidy and quiet.
If your child’s desk or study space is messy, make sure it is organized first so it doesn’t distract from studying. Clear the dining table after a meal if this is the regular study space. Plan a regular quiet time in the house with no television or loud activities in order to help your child get his or her homework or studying done.
9. Remember to Recharge
What Not to Do: Forget to take a break.
Taking a break from studying is just as important as studying itself. It might seem like a good idea to try to power through all the homework or studying your child has to do at once, but not taking breaks can quickly lead to stress and frustration. Make sure your child has enough time for studying as well as breaks to help him or her stay fresh and focused.
What to do Instead: Set up a reward system.
Help your child break down the task into smaller checkpoints and reward him or her when they reach a homework checkpoint. Whether it’s a favourite treat or a fun study break activity, little rewards can help children reach their study goals.
10. Plan Your Time
What Not to Do: Cram.
Putting off homework assignments and studying until the last minute will make it harder and more tiring. Make sure your child doesn’t leave everything until the last minute and try to cram it all into one night.
What to do Instead: Plan ahead.
Ensure your child gives him or herself lots of time to study as well as time to take study breaks. Have your child review what he or she learned in class each day, set up regular homework routines, and plan out study sessions in advance for older children. Creating a family study routine will make homework and study sessions more effective and enjoyable.
Study Breaks Make All The Difference
Studying can be a challenging experience for student and parents alike, but it doesn’t have to be. Knowing how to refresh your mind and body during study breaks is helpful for ensuring students are getting an effective and positive studying experience. Planning ahead, staying hydrated and nourished, moving regularly, and setting goals with study break rewards will all help make studying easier and more enjoyable for your child.
If your child needs help developing better study habits, Oxford Learning’s Study Skills Program can teach them the skills they need, including note-taking, creating effective study notes, time management and more. Contact us today!
Do you have any study tips of your own? Share them with us and other parents on our Facebook page!
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Study Break Tips: How To Take A Study Break That Works
Nov 07, 2016•Homework, Studying