Earlier today I found myself listening to Shaun Wilden talking at the IHWO online conference at the same time as I was trying to create a handwritten sample for a new book of mine. The news was on too, and I was also tweeting about the conference and other things. I was MULTI-TASKING!
(Yes, men can do it too – though see below)
The thing is, I wasn’t doing any of it very well or very efficiently. I could have finished the handwriting in half the time; I could have engaged with Shaun’s fabulous presentation more avidly, and even my tweets seemed a bit ragged – and I’ve forgotten what the news was about.
(So perhaps men CAN’T do it!)
And it got me to wondering about stuff. For example, the tech educators say that because kids multi-task all the time (they have endless computer windows and apps running at the same time – well actually so do us older digital residents, but that’s another matter), we, the teachers should join them and harness this because otherwise we’re ‘past it’, and not dealing with their (the kids’) reality.
But wait a minute. Multi-tasking has been getting a bad press recently. Maybe it’s not the kind of magic we thought it was. Hey, don’t take my word for it. Listen to Sherry Turkle (see above), author of Alone Together. You can hear/see her by watching a Yotube clip here (I am not allowed to post it into this blog). Basically the argument goes like this:
a We don’t really multi-task anyway. We skip from one task to the next and back again.
b The more tasks we are skipping backwards and forwards from, the less ‘good’ we are at each individual task. We may think we are being creative but actually we aren’t.
c We should re-train outselves as unitaskers – because our on-task work will not be degraded by the brain-time we are giving to other tasks.
This reminds me of a quote from Rodney Batstone which I included in my last methodology book. It goes like this: do tasks which require simultaneous processing of form and meaning ‘overload the learners’s system, leading to less intake rather than more’? (That was in the ‘Key concepts’ section of ELT Journal 50/3, 1996).
It’s a profound question, and one which I am wrestling with right now. Perhaps if – following Turkle’s line of argument – language learning is focused, uni-directional and uncluttered, then it will be more successful. Perhaps by restricting the input we would give them a better start, a better chance – and perhaps many of the more exciting and excitable activities that we all love so much may actually get in the way.
Please don’t misunderstand me! My professional world is all about methods, approaches, techniques, activities, routines. I love nothing better than observing new and exciting procedures in lessons. I am entranced by the never-ending creativity which new generations of teachers bring to the job of teaching. But maybe
if Sherry Turkle is right about multi-tasking, then maybe we should simplify things down? Back to substitution dialogues? Restrict rather than amplify? Get kids on-task, one task at a time. Only one.
Yes, I know my questions are naive. But sometimes those questions work.
I would really love to hear what you think about all this. I need some thinking-direction!