The other day, I started my session as I always do; asking my pupil the usual round of questions, I fill out their names on the register. Now the questions I ask are pretty much always the same: “How are you feeling today?”, “How was your week?”, “Can you start getting all your books out for me please?”
Eventually, I make my way onto my final question – secretly my favourite one – “So, have you got any homework for me to mark today?”
Now, don’t get me wrong. As a tutor, I’m indifferent to the process of marking student’s homework. It’s my job; just another thing on my checklist, something that has to be done. But I still enjoy this question because although most of my students are highly diligent, every once in a while I’ll get an excuse for why the homework is incomplete or simply undone.
Some students – one in particular – often ‘forgets’ he had homework altogether, no longer choosing to blind me with drivelling excuses. Instead I get the truth – something which I respect him for, no matter how frustrating it becomes. Now what is the truth, you may ask?
“I got distracted.”
And why was this child distracted? Well in this particular case, he was watching TV, some nonsensical show or another – one which he most definitely will forget about by the end of the week. Nevertheless it brought my attention to an issue that seems to be sweeping the nation: the rapid decline in the concentration of children on academia.
Let’s take a moment to be realistic; the world is rapidly changing. With everything being nothing more than a finger-tap away, childhoods are no longer what they used to be. Technology has become a drug, one which seems to have intoxicated the masses, so much so that even children are no longer spared.
Nowadays, children – teenagers in particular – aren’t made for long, tiresome periods where they are constricted to a specific room or a specific activity – unless of course the room is their own and the chosen activity involves their phone and hours of endless scrolling through social media. Oh no. Instead their draining cries and endless moans of boredom are usually reserved for when they are made to spend their time doing an activity chosen on behalf of them – often by their own parents: studying.
So it should come as no surprise that one of the most common issues parents have voiced is in regard to their child’s focus in learning. More often than not, a child is doing ‘ok’ at school yet as their concentration wavers, so do their grades. And unfortunately, no matter how lovely your child is, it is the end product – their grades – that matter to admission boards and employers.
Now although I cannot claim to have all the answers, I can shed a little light on how to tackle the matter. Primarily, I believe the best way to enhance their focus in learning is by encouraging children to have high expectations of themselves. This is something which I have briefly touched upon in a previous article “A Beginner‘s Guide to the ‘Wishy-Washiness’ of GCSE English”. I believe self-motivation is indeed the highest form of motivation – whether that is in their SATs, their GCSEs, their A-Levels or in any other part of their life; not only can it be used to improve one’s focus in learning, but also their confidence in themselves – something which has been proven to be a key characteristic of successful people.
Of course it would be ignorant of me to assume that is the sole solution. Motivation is unfortunately not as easy to acquire as more tangible goods are in this day and age. Thus, other factors may also be kept in mind as a means of refining ones focus in learning – please remember this is not a comprehensive list, but simple suggestions that may aid your child’s attainment:
Now this one seems pretty obvious. It is drilled us all from an early age that a good diet – particularly a nutritious breakfast – is beneficial to us all, regardless of our age. A healthy diet has a profound effect on a child’s energy levels, making them much more ready to learn and engage in tasks both in and out of school.
Numerous researches have found an association between the two – much of which has been essential to policy making: the very fact that Free School Meals are available to pupils is evidence enough of the significance of diet to a child’s concentration and attainment.
Yet another fairly obvious factor: sleep is essential for cognition. Not only does being well-rested mean a child is ready to learn and engage in school work the next day, but research also shows that while you sleep, neural pathways in the brain remain active, committing to memory much of what you have experienced in the day. This means having a regular sleep patterns helps retain learned knowledge, but also aids future learning by making you more responsive.
Distractions – particularly in the form of a phone, a tablet, a laptop and so on – are now an everyday part of our lives. They are inevitable and often seem inescapable. The best way round them is maintaining a balance. Rather than wasting hours on end on a device, simply take it away from you – place it in a different room, with a trusted well-wisher if you must: out of sight, out of mind.
Organization – the realistic and practical allocation of time.
At any given time, our bodies natural biological rhythms mean you can only fully engage in a task for around 90 minutes. This means that breaks are not only a beneficial, but a vital part of the learning process. And the best way to spend these breaks? Getting either a snack or some fresh air or simply allowing your child to do whatever it is that helps them unwind – even if it means giving them back their phones for 10 minutes or so.
Finally, linking to this idea of realistic time allocation, I shall leave you with these final words of wisdom: timetables are a godsend.
I cannot stress enough the significance of having a set routine where there are organised breaks and times for solid revision. I admit my timetable at GCSE was flexible. It was also realistic in the way my time was portioned out. I knew what times I personally worked best at and when I would lose focus: God forbid I revised on the weekends – nope, nah, never.
As weird as it sounds, I never revised on weekends – all my revision was to be done on weekdays alone. But that was me – I treated my weekends as a time to relax. I knew I would be horribly unproductive on those days and I used this information to the best of my abilities to ensure all revision was out the way so I had truly earned that time.
As a result, if I had missed out any revision, I would find the time to make up for it. A flexible set routine indeed. But how is it possible to have a set routine while remaining flexible I hear you cry?
Well, the only way to do this is by being honest to yourself. Encourage your child to reflect and ask themselves after each day: “I say I revised today for x number of hours… but how much of this was pure revision?”
And if the answer is considerably below the time you had claimed to have spent, then maybe it’s time to review that timetable and make some changes.