Thursday, March 3, 2016

Teaching our Students how to Focus

Most people can identify with the idea that some children, young and old, struggle to focus at appropriate times. In school, this becomes more evident as we continuously ask our students to follow directions, listen to instruction, complete tasks and follow along, sometimes at a very quick pace and with multiple distractions. And so, just like we teach students math, reading and writing, we as teachers can also teach students how to focus within the classroom so that they can be their most successful selves.

Sample Picture Shown to Students to Teach what Focusing Looks and Feels Like
You may be wondering, though, how do you possibly teach someone how to focus? Isn’t it just something you do or don’t do? Well, this isn’t always the case. Some students may not yet have the self awareness to know if they are focusing or not. Which requires us as teachers to help them become more self aware and begin to show them what focusing looks and feels like so that they can begin to self monitor if they are focusing when they should be. And it isn’t as tricky as it might sound, thanks to some inventive tools and strategies.

The first step in making students more self aware of their attention and focus in the classroom is to simply show them what it looks and feels like in different settings. We might show students pictures of various classroom situations and discuss which students look like they are focusing and which ones don’t. There is also discussion about what focusing feels like. We talk about what types of thoughts we should have when we are focused in different situations. Then we allow students the opportunity to begin to self monitor their focus in the classroom.

While in the classroom, we start out by cuing the student every few minutes. This may be with a visual sign that the teacher gives or, in some situations, we use a special tool to cue a student. We sometimes use watches or devices that vibrate once on a set minute interval. That way the student is cued every few minutes without disrupting the class. When the watch vibrates the student takes a few seconds to mark on a chart if they are focused or not in that moment, based on the instruction they have been given. Another staff member in the room may monitor this from time to time with the child to ensure that the student is monitoring appropriately.
The goal of this technique is not to discipline the child for not focusing, but rather, to help them better identify if they are focusing when they need to. The child has the opportunity to self track their progress which typically results in more attentive behavior in the classroom. Over time, as a student becomes more self aware, the need to cue a student is diminished in order to allow them to self monitor more naturally without having the cue.  

Overall, the ability to focus when necessary is a challenge for many children. Some of these simple techniques and tools can help us better prepare our students to be attentive in all that they do in school and in their future.

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