By Teachers, For Teachers
Anyone that has ever worked with kids for longer than five minutes knows how difficult it can be to keep a child focused and engaged.
According to research, this is very common. Studies have found that children between the ages of 6 and 8 years old have an average attention span of 15 minutes, and for children younger than that, the number drops by five minutes. Some researchers also say that the average human attention span is about 20 minutes long, and that includes middle schoolers and teenagers. If we look at this data, it’s no wonder why our students are having a hard time staying focused for longer than fifteen minutes into our lessons.
Our job as teachers is to teach our students to stretch their ability to focus. With all that is expected of them now, this is essential. In addition to that, we must use multiple teaching strategies to keep them engaged and help them stay focused on what they are learning or doing.
Here are a few more teaching strategies that seem to work well in the classroom.
Interactive modeling is an effective way to show students how to stay focused. This differs from traditional modeling, because not only does it show students how to do a particular skill, but it shows them why it is important to do it as well. To use interactive modeling to teach students what staying focused looks like, and why it is important, you must first explain to students that you will modeling how to stay focused, and that is important to stay focused because it helps you grab onto your goals and keeps you motivated.
Next, you must model what staying focused looks like; What their eyes, hands, feet, etc. should look like. Practice keeping quiet and talking only when necessary. Finally, discuss what students noticed during the modeling process, and invite students to model what they saw as well. This is a great strategy to use with younger students.
To teach students how to refocus themselves, you need to have them practice doing multiple things at once. By giving students multiple tasks at once, you are training their brain to focus on what they are doing. When they are doing multiple things at one time, they are less likely to lose focus, which is your ultimate goal in the first place.
Another way to teach students to refocus is to show them what they can do when they notice that their focus has been lost. For example, the simple task of quieting your mind and listening to yourself breathe in and out can help your mind refocus. By being mindful of the present moment, you will help refocus your mind on what you are currently doing.
Children are naturally inclined to move, and oftentimes, us teachers forget that and our expectations for them tend to be unrealistic. That is where “Brain breaks” fit in. Many of you may have heard of them, and some of you probably even used them. But did you know that the true intention of a brain break is to help refocus a child’s attention? You can increase the effectiveness of your students’ learning by just taking a few breaks throughout the day. All you have to do is get your students up and moving. You can do a few yoga poses, play a quick game of follow the leader, or just take a few moments to have the children get their wiggles out by dancing in place. These few minutes that you take out of your daily schedule will help students refocus and foster not only their academic success, but their well-being too.
A good way for students to see what is sustaining their focus is to reflect upon what they think is getting in their way. Try and get students to open up and discuss what they think is hindering their focus by having them write their thoughts into a journal or discuss with their classmates. Maybe it is something that is going on at home, a friend who is sitting next to them who is distracting them, or a worry about an upcoming test or track meet. Whatever the case may be, talking or writing about their feelings can help students learn how to refocus their energy on the present moment.
Another way that you can help students learn to stay focused is to help them build endurance. You can do that by relating it to something that they know. For example, you can use the analogy of a professional athlete. A professional athlete has to train day in and day out for months at a time in order to be in the shape they need to be in, to do their job and win. This takes time, patience, and practice. Students can build endurance in anything that they do, just as long as they put in the time and effort each day and practice. If they want to learn to focus their attention on reading for 30 minutes straight, then they need to work towards that goal each day, and eventually they will get there.
When used effectively, these five teaching strategies can help students learn to stay focused. With everything in life, it will take time and practice, but if you teach your students to use these strategies they will be able to increase their ability to remain focused.
Do you have any tips or suggestions on how to help students stay focused? Please share your ideas in the comment section below, we would love to hear your thoughts.