Written by Katelynn Brown
“The real message is because attention is under siege more than it has ever been in human history, we have more distractions than ever before, we have to be more focused on cultivating the skills of attention. It’s about using the devices smartly but having the capacity to concentrate as you need to, when you want to. The more you can concentrate the better you’ll do on anything, because whatever talent you have, you can’t apply it if you are distracted.” –Daniel Goleman
Attention and focus are two aspects of our everyday lives. In any activity, learning experience, or action that is presented throughout the day we demonstrate our ability to utilize focus and attention. Our ability to demonstrate and utilize focus and attention can be impacted by distractions. These distractions can come in multiple forms and can affect our ability to focus and concentrate. Many times we can become distracted and we do not even acknowledge that it has occurred. Especially in the 21st century, technology has become both a benefit and a hindrance to student attention and focus. Many times throughout the day we become distracted by cellphones and computers without even realizing it. In the classroom, it is important that educators guide students in developing and improving their ability to ignore distractions. As students embrace attention and focus, they are better able to learn and retain information in the classroom.
Can I Strengthen My Focus?
In the classroom, there are multiple techniques that educators can use to help students avoid distractions and strengthen their focus. These methods can include a variety of activities and practices that teachers can model, demonstrate, and incorporate into the classroom. Each of these methods can assist the students in strengthening and improving their knowledge of focus and selective attention. The integration of these instructional methods can truly influence the academic performance of students in the classroom by strengthening their ability to focus and diminishing their tendency to become distracted.
1. Teach students what staying focused looks like
Throughout the day, teachers should model and explain what staying focused looks, sounds, and feels like. In the classroom, teachers can use interactive modeling. Interactive modeling is an effective way to show students how to stay focused. This instructional method not only shows students how to do a multitude of particular skills but also shows them why it is important to do it well. Teachers must explicitly explain to students why staying focused is important and then must work to model those behaviors to students. During this time, teachers model exactly what their eyes, mouths, hands, and feet should be doing when students are focused on a multitude of tasks.
2. Get students up and moving
As people, but especially as children, we are naturally inclined to move and be active. Many times in the classroom, teachers forget that students are active individuals and thus our expectations are not realistic. Teachers can get students up and moving during instruction by including “Brain Breaks” into instruction. Teachers can increase the effectiveness of student learning by incorporating Brain breaks throughout the day. Brain breaks can include using yoga moves, playing a quick game, allowing students to walk around the classroom or wiggle, or using websites such as GoNoodle. As you take this time to allow students to move around, students will refocus and foster well-being and academic performance.
3. Teach students how to refocus
One important way to help students build stamina is to give them strategies for getting back on track when they lose focus. One way to help students learn to refocus is for teachers to have students practice doing multiple things at once. As teachers give students multiple things at once, students are training their brains to focus on what they are doing. Through continues practice, students are less likely to lose focus. Another technique would be for teachers to teach students how to take small breaks without disrupting their concentration. When students notice that they have lost focus, teachers can show students how to use different techniques to help regain focus. These breaks can include breathing techniques, walking around, or taking time to move around.
4. Help students build endurance
Students can improve and strengthen their ability to focus by building endurance. This can be done by having students think about focus related to something they are interested in. Teachers can have students think about areas that interest them and how that knowledge is developed through continuous focus and practice. Students can build endurance in any area through patience, practice, and time. In order for students to strengthen their endurance, teachers must provide students with opportunity and time to practice this skill. Through repeated practice, students will be able to effectively ignore distractions and utilize focus.
5. Adjust instructional time frames
During instruction, sometimes teachers find that students are not able to maintain focus and stay on task. When these difficulties occur in the classroom, this would be the time to consider breaking content into smaller time intervals. Teachers need to remember that students can only concentrate on material for a limited amount of time. During instruction it might be necessary for teachers to adjust time frames if students are demonstrating difficulty focusing. Teachers should be cautious of lengthy instruction and lectures. While presenting instruction, it is important that teachers work to ensure that students remain involved in the material and active in the lesson. Teachers can do this by involving hands on instruction and questions into the lesson.
6. Play memory games
Memory games helps students to strengthen their focus in a fun way. Through the use of these games, students are able to concentrate when challenged. In the school day, teachers can integrate these games into the regular instructional time. Teachers can also encourage this use of memory games during student’s free time as well. Games such as red-light-green-light, I-Spy, and Simon Says challenge students to focus and pay attention. Through these games, students are able to repeatedly practice focus through the use of a fun and interactive game.
7. Breakdown tasks
This technique requires the teacher to be responsive and aware of the needs of students in the classroom. Teachers need to assess how students are performing in the classroom. Teachers need to remember that learning is not a one size fits all method. If students seem to demonstrate difficulty with the instructional material, teachers should attempt to differentiate instruction. Teachers can do this by breaking material into smaller chunks. Teachers should break up instruction into smaller chunks, as students complete chunks of instruction the students can take a break, and then return to the next chunk of information and instruction. With the implementation of this strategy, students may complete tasks faster.
In the classroom, there are various techniques that can be used to help students strengthen and improve their ability to focus. Teachers can help students to strengthen this skill with repeated practice of these various techniques. As students continue to practice focus and attention, the skill will become more automatic and students will begin to do it naturally. As students improve their ability to focus and pay selective attention, students can improve their learning experience and retain more information.
Cox, J. (n.d.). Teaching strategies to help students stay focused. Retrieved 2017, from http://www.teachhub.com/teaching-strategies-help-students-stay-focused
Reeves, D. (2015, July 10). 7 ways to increase a student’s attention span. Retrieved 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/discussion/7-ways-increase-students-attention-span
Schwartz, K. (2013, December 5). Age of distraction: Why it’s crucial for students to learn to focus. Retrieved 2017, from https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/12/05/age-of-distraction-why-its-crucial-for-students-to-learn-to-focus/
Umstatter, K. (2014, January 3). Teaching students to stay focused. Retrieved 2017, from https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/teaching-students