We All Need Unplugged Alone Time

Alone Time

For some of us, it is difficult to truly be alone with our thoughts. We are constantly bombarded with all sorts of stimuli. If we have a spare moment, we often fill it by turning to our smart phones. It has gotten to the point that many of us simply do not know how to be alone.

In Reclaiming Conversation Sherry Turkle writes, “We slip into thinking that always being connected is going to make us less lonely. But we are at risk because it is actually the reverse: If we are unable to be alone, we don’t teach our children to be alone, they will only know how to be lonely.”
That’s a funny thought. We need to teach our students how to be alone. Before we get in to some strategies on how to do that, let’s look at the benefits of solitude.

“It is only when we are alone with our thoughts—not reacting to external stimuli—that we engage that part of the brain’s basic infrastructure devoted to building up a sense of our stable autobiographical past. This is the “default mode network.” So, without solitude, we can’t construct a stable sense of self. Yet children who grow up digital have always had something external to respond to. When they go online, their minds are not wandering but rather are captured and divided.”

Simply having a phone, a laptop, or a tablet computer is a distraction. This has a negative impact on student performance.

It is time for us to reconsider the tools we use to do our jobs. Computers might be quick and efficient, but is their use in the classroom truly accomplishing what we want when it comes to student learning? We can ask the same question when it comes to group work.

“When we let our minds wander, we set our brains free. Our brains are most productive when there is no demand that they be reactive. For some, this goes against cultural expectations. American culture tends to worship sociality. We have wanted to believe that we are our most creative during ‘brainstorming’ and ‘groupthink’ sessions. But this turns out not to be the case. New ideas are more likely to emerge from people thinking on their own. Solitude is where we learn to trust our imaginations.”

One thing we can teach our students to do is to not turn to technology when they finish a task or get bored.

“These days, we may mistake time on the net for solitude. It isn’t. In fact, solitude is challenged by our habit of turning to our screens rather than inward. And it is challenged by our culture off continual sharing. People who grew up with social media will often say that they don’t feel like themselves; indeed, they sometimes can’t feel themselves, unless they are posting, messaging, or texting. Sometimes people say that they need to share a thought or feeling in order to think it, feel it. This is the sensibility of ‘I share, therefore I am.’ Or otherwise put: ‘I want to have a feeling: I need to send a text.’”

It’s hard to combat social media, but we can ban it from our classrooms. We can have a rule that students are not allowed to be on social media or send any digital messages during instructional time. Of course, if we do this, we must have strict consequences. There will be no warnings. Students caught using technology for anything other than learning will lose the privilege.

It might be a better idea to ban phones from the classroom altogether. Simply collect them at the start of class. At first, the students will be reluctant to surrender them, but if you set up a procedure, it will become second nature. One way to do this is with a pocket chart. You can see an example of that in the feature image above.

Teaching Tip Tuesday – inspiration from my classroom to yours