I was at a dinner once, and at the table, someone pulled out their phone in the middle of a conversation to check what was happening with a ball game or something. The person stayed on the phone a bit too long for the liking of others at the table and when his wife called him on it, he said he was multi-tasking.
I was looking at the dented fender of a friend of mine. I asked him how he got it. He said his daughter was on her way to her new job when it happened. I asked if someone hit her. “No,” he said, “she was texting and she hit a parked car.” I raised an eyebrow. He replied, “Usually, she is a good multitasker.” I asked where her new job was. It was at an insurance office.
I could go on and on about the perils of multitasking. Would you really want your surgeon to be checking her messages while taking something out of your body? Is it really necessary for your pilot to update his relationship status on Facebook during takeoff of your flight? Do teachers really need to check their texts during an assembly and then get mad at students for not being good audience members? Does my wife really have to distract me to tell me dinner is ready when I am about to advance a level on Candy Crush?
People think they can multitask but they (we) really can’t. What they are doing is dividing up their attention so that they can’t do ANY of those tasks well. (It’s like the joke about the wife who instead of using birth control, gives her husband some chewing gum. )
So I’ve come up with a remedy to multitasking: Mono-tasking.
This school year, I don’t know how it happened, but by the beginning of October I got completely overwhelmed. I had somehow gotten myself involved in a number of worthy projects but each of them was pulling me in different directions.
1. I was asked to present at a Social Studies conference. Putting the presentation together wasn’t too bad, but there is this movement in Social Studies to emphasize the Big Six Historical Thinking Concepts by Peter Seixas, and I have been trying to wrap my brain around them, but really hadn’t had the time.
2. I’ve been part of this massive Landscapes of Injustice project. For the last couple of years, I’ve been trying to figure out how to incorporate a mountain of research into teaching intermediate level Social Studies. Landscapes comes in and out of my consciousness as I receive information from different parts of the project.
3. I’ve been grappling with how to implement BC’s new curriculum. This is at the forefront of my mind as I work on this on a daily basis, with little success so far. I am part of a district committee that is supposed to inform the school board on implementing this curriculum, but it is such a different way of doing things, I have been having a hard time trying to find my own entry point.
4. For years, I have been working on inquiry and problem-based learning with intermittent success. Also, I have been learning about Social and Emotional Learning with more success. I am on two learning groups for each of these, both of which mean time outside of the classroom.
5. Another outside of school committee I am on is one to develop new IEP (Individualized Education Plans) for mostly students with special needs. When I received the invitation, I had to check to see if they were asking the right person because I was the only one who was not a Student Services teacher, as I am a regular classroom teacher. They assured me they were looking for some diverse input. I thought it was a one-time meeting, so I said yes. We will meet at least four times.
All of these committees and projects were asking something for me within a ten day span during October. I thought my head was going to explode. Usually, I am pretty good at juggling things, but in those circumstances my responsibilities are not as intense and can be spread throughout the year. This time, everything all seemed to be happening at once. It was beyond multitasking because there were too many things going on at the same time.
But as I was coming back from the Social Studies conference, I was reflecting on what I learned there. I did not just present but was able to attend sessions, and catch up with awesome teachers and researchers, many of whom I had met before in Ottawa. The big message I heard from them was: it’s all about the process. I’d heard this many times (including from my wise principal, Remi), but it had never really stuck with me, and when it did stick, it was like a revelation!
Instead of juggling all of these big projects as 5 or 6 different balls, make them into one big ball. What if I made all of my projects just one big project? One task, one direction. Like. Monotasking.
Here are the implications for me:
1. Make everything about one thing: process.
2. The new curriculum is mostly about process. The content is changing so rapidly, that it is taking a back seat to the big ideas, concepts, and processes.
3. Make my part of Landscapes of Injustice all about processes. Then the processes are already invented if I use the Historical Thinking Concepts to frame the Landscapes inquiry. Then use this inquiry as an entry point to the new curriculum. Then help make the new IEP reflect the processes, big ideas, and competencies (the main parts of the new curriculum).
4. What are the key processes my students need to develop? What questions will help guide their inquiry to discovering these processes?
5. How can I teach my students to see their lives as one big discovery instead of a series of disparate, distracting hoops to jump through?