Getting children to pay attention to anything nowadays seems like an impossibe task.
Social media and the internet has enabled them to access the information they need at a click of the button and no longer requires the same level of congnitive processing as it once did.
Imagine whizzing back in time to when you were a child and the option to ask an all-knowing instantly responsive gadget to give you the answer to everything - you'd absolutley take advantage.
The problem, if you only ever need to think of something for 2-3 seconds and then have Google tell you the answer, when are you actually learning to think and process information?
When are you teaching your brain to focus on a task?
In short, you're not.
So many young people I work with say they have a probelm concentrating.
But here's the thing - they don't have a concentration problem, they've just never taught themselves to concentrate.
Don't get me wrong, most classrooms are geared up for teaching, just the kids aren't geared up for learning.
No one wants to spend hours focusing on something they're not interested in.
That's human nature.
One thing I always say to them - if you were reading something you enjoy, playing a game with your friends or doing something you love would you get bored after 5 minutes?
The answer - no because I like it.
Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), do have difficulties concentrating.
This is 100% differerent.
They will still struggle to sit and focus on something they love, even if only for 5 minutes.
Before I jump into the 7 tricks, I just want you to know, that even if a child has ADHD, they can learn to concentrate for longer periods, it may just be a little harder work and take more time.
The 3 Tricks To Easily Improve Concentration In Class:
Trick 1: Chunk & Switch
Just like an adult brain, childrens brains can physically only function at full capacity for a certain amount of time.
When our brain gets tired, our focus and attention wanders & this is the exact time you're shouting at young Jimmy for hurling a pencil at his compadre...
The real elephant in the room when it comes to school is that learning about things you have no interest in will never be pleasurable.
Even, perpetual learners like myself, choose to stay away from things we find boring.
For some, maths is the most thrilling subject, for others, the thought of a 60 minute math class is equal to someone poking them in the eye (& in case you're wondering, this was how I felt).
The way to combat this natural instinct to find something more entertaining to do, is to limit the opportunity a child has to become bored.
Plan your lessons into smaller chunks which includes a variety of different approaches (& while we're on this subject, this has nothing to do with 'learning styles' this is a psychological myth which keeps being perpetuated - don't believe me, here's the link to the British Psychological Society Blog post Another Nail In The Coffin For Learning Styles)
You need to plan them in a way which encourages children to tap into their natural abilities.
Some kids love reading and taking notes, others love diving right in, others bossing everyone around ...
Giving your pupils the opportunity to embrace a subject in a way which feels good is the only way to help them get over the whole eye poking experience of a rubbish subject.
Switching it up enables all your students to excell and minimises the opportunity for boredom.
To help with this, there's a formula which can help you estimate a child's concentation span:
Childs age * 2mins to 5mins = Concentration Span
So a child who's 5 should be able to concentrate for between 10 & 25 minutes (5 years * 2minutes = 10 minutes, 5 years * 5 minutes = 25 minutes).
But, theres something this formula doesn't account for.
Adult brains give up the ghost after 25 minutes of non-stop work and need a 5 minute break...
So, from a developmental psychologists perspective, forget the over enthusiastic 5 minute projections and times it by 2 minutes when you're doing your lesson planning.
Trick 2: Healthy Competition
It doesn't matter how old we are, how intelligent we are or how refined we are, we all love a chance to prove that we're better at something than someone else.
Harnessing this, can be a great way to not only increase a child's concentration, but also give their self-esteem a little nudge in the right direction.
Competitions can range from a simple quiz, to finishing their work in the quickest time, to something much, much more elaborate.
I know a teacher who gets her pupils to play things like blockbusters and countdown at the beginning of every lesson as a re-cap of what they learned last time.
The hardest thing about this?
Teaching the kids what blockbusters is...
The pupils collect points for every right answer and over the space of the week they can trade their points for rewards.
Trick 3: Ask For Feedback
It doesn’t matter how many pieces of research are done, how long you’ve been teaching or how enthusiastically you deliver your lessons, the only people who truly know how you can keep them engaged are your pupils.
Because remember, it’s not really a concentration problem, it’s a teacher-to-pupil engagement problem.
Ask your pupils what they’re interested in, what they like doing, how they like learning, what things you’ve done they enjoyed & then simply do more of the same.
But here’s the really frustrating thing - what you do for this year group may be completely irrelevant for next year’s group.
This year may love the quizzes, competitions and action orientated lesson activities and next year, they hate it.
This is not about you, it’s about them.
You have to teach in a way they find engaging so that they are motivated to pay attention.
You can’t force someone to concentrate.
Imagine being told you had to stay focused on a white wall for 60 minutes, without allowing your concentration to wander.
I’d last maybe 5 minutes.
Regardless of who we are, or what we love there will be some subjects which we regard with the same enthusiasm as the plain white wall.
We are all inherently different.
We have different personalities, different interests, different perspectives on life and different desires.
Unless you know this of your pupils, you’ll struggle to get them to engage.
Good luck & don’t forget to let me know what you thought of the post in the comments below.
Have a great Friday & I’ll be back on Monday with the first Mentally Healthy Interview ‘When the Bubble Bursts After Chemo And The Anxiety Kicks In’.
Catch you soon, x Katie x