Curriculum

News Flash? Screen Time Detracts from Homework

December 17, 2009 2 min read

Students would rather do just about anything than their homework. There’s no news there. It probably won’t be a surprise either that more than three-fourths of middle school students spend three hours or more a day in front of a computer, television, or cellphone screen. All this time with technology, a new report says, comes at the expense of homework, which the majority of students devote less than an hour to each day.

The “Raytheon U.S. Middle School Students Math Habits Study” looked at the habits and attitudes of middle school students toward math and homework.

The report, however, seems to suggest that students would be doing homework if they didn’t have all this screen time, an assumption that probably wouldn’t match up with reality. It also doesn’t necessarily account for the time students spend in front of the television or computer while doing their homework.

I know I’m not the only mother in the world who regularly hounds her children about turning off the television during homework time. I’m sure I’m not the only one who loses that battle on a regular basis either.

My kids, and especially my middle school aged daughter, insist that they concentrate better with background noise. That is their perception, but research suggests otherwise. Studies on students who multitask—do homework while exchanging text messages while listening to music on their MP3 player—have found that they do not generally do any of the simultaneous tasks as well as they could.

Some teachers, however, told me recently that they now allow students to listen to their music through headphones at times during class, resulting in more students seeming to focus intently on their work. At Atlanta’s Roswell High School, students are allowed liberal use of their music players, although cellphones are still banned. When I visited the school earlier this month, several students told me they are better able to concentrate on academic work when they are listening to music.

Of course, as a card-carrying middle-aged person I’m supposed to dismiss such utterances as youthful foolishness. I stopped to think twice about my own attitude, however, when I donned my earbuds while writing a story the other day, a habit I’ve picked up to drown out the noise and activity around me in the office. I was making great progress in analyzing my notes and doing some final research on the Web while working on my piece. But after about 40 minutes of deep concentration, I snapped out of my trance when the song I was listening to repeated. It was only then that I realized my player was set to repeat mode and that the same song had been playing over and over the entire time.

What’s the policy in your school?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.

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