A recent study found that students’ minds were most likely to wander in class on Mondays and Fridays. Presumably, thoughts about the previous or upcoming weekend were just too distracting. So how can you improve your students’ focus and stay concentrated during lessons?
Research shows that the ability to concentrate and pay attention is something that can be improved, even from a very young age. Our ability to focus is not a fixed quantity. We’ve reviewed the research and recommend eight strategies to help students focus better in class.
1. Eat breakfast
There is a growing body of research that shows that people who eat breakfast have better concentration over the course of the morning. Unfortunately, many students regularly skip breakfast, with one study reporting that 60% of teenage boys and 70% of teenage girls do so.
A fascinating study split students into three groups; those that ate breakfast, those that did not and those that had an energy drink instead. These students were monitored over the course of four days and took part in tests to measure their attention and memory. The results? Students who ate breakfast did significantly better than their peers who skipped it or just had an energy drink.
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. We have all heard this statement before, however, it is important that students are eating the right foods to help improve their mental focus. Here are a few foods that can boost productivity in the mornings:
Other research has found a host of other benefits to eating breakfast. This includes improving physical health, better mental health and reducing feelings of fatigue. You can read more about this research in our blog about why breakfast is important.
2. Put the distraction away
Out of sight really is out of mind. One study found that simply having your phone out, even if you are not using it, can make you perform up to 20% worse in cognitive tests. One of the most famous studies in psychology, the Marshmallow Test, found that students who did not look at the temptation in front of them were less likely to engage with it.
So if you want to improve concentration, before you start your work, clear your immediate environment of potential distractions. When revising in the classroom, teachers could encourage students to put their phones in their bags or leave them in their lockers, to keep the biggest distractions away from the classroom environment.
3. Choose your study mate carefully
Working with other people has been associated with reducing stress, improving performance and developing resilience. It can also help boost focus and work ethic. A recent journal found that if a student is seated next to someone who is working hard, then it will increase their work ethic. Interestingly, this impact was found to be consistent regardless of whether their peer was doing an easier or more difficult task than them, and even when the task was similar or unrelated.
Teachers could enhance this work ethic by using a seating plan to create pairs of students that will work well together. Research has found that seating plans are important in classrooms as they promote positive academic and behavioural outcomes.
4. Take notes in class
Taking notes in class gives students something positive and productive to focus on. This will reduce their need to seek distractions elsewhere. When it comes to taking notes, don’t overcomplicate it with technology. Having a notebook for each subject can be a great way for students to keep track of their work, whilst also allowing deeper processing. A recent studyfound that students who took notes longhand outperformed their peers who used laptops. This could be because laptop note-takers tend to process less information, as they often fail to reframe what they are being taught into their own words.
5. Face forward
People tend to focus on what they can see. Simply put, if you are not facing the person who is talking to you then you are more likely to be distracted by what is in your eye-line (see Marshmallow study mentioned earlier).
The classroom potentially holds a lot of distractions for students, from their peers to wall displays. It is important for the teacher to keep the students engaged. This can be done by creating a seating plan in which all students are in direct view of the teacher, and by encouraging students to have classroom discussions. Interacting with other students and having face-to-face discussions can help keep them focused on what they are learning as well as becoming better listeners.
6. Have someone set your regularly deadlines
Left to our own devices, people tend to procrastinate. In fact, some studies have found that 75% of students consider themselves procrastinators, with 50% doing so regularly and to a level that is considered problematic. Research suggests that most students are poor predictors at estimating how long a task will take to complete, as they get distracted or face unexpected obstacles along the way.
One study found that when people set their own deadlines, they tend to procrastinate. However, when a teacher sets small regular deadlines, this help students manage their time better and perform significantly better in their coursework, achieving higher grades overall.
7. Do the hard task early
Our daily biological clocks, known as our Circadian Rhythm, ensure that we are often at our most alert at about 10am before we suffer a mid-afternoon dip. The harder the task, the more energy and concentration we need to complete it. It therefore makes sense to do the hardest and most important tasks early , because trying to start them when you are tired is difficult, often resulting in people putting them off for another day. It is worth noting that this approach may not work for everyone, as some people are ‘night owls’, but evidence suggests that even these people get lower grades.
8. Get a good night’s sleep
The National Sleep Foundation recommend GCSE and Sixth Form Students need up to 10 hours a night. However, many teenagers are not getting anywhere near this, with many reporting that they sleep for less than 7 hours a night. Evidence suggests that those who get a good night’s sleep have far better focus, concentration and self-regulation the next day.
In a fascinating study, researchers found that sleepy participants remembered about 40% less than their more alert peers. What made this really interesting was that they found that the sleepy participants remembered a lot less positive and neutral things, but almost the same amount of negative things.
Concentration and attention are especially important in students as they are crucial in having a productive school day. There are many strategies that teachers can introduce in the classroom to improve students’ focus, which can also be applied outside of school to create habits that have long-lasting positive effects. Improving mental focus will allow both students and teachers to make the most out of the school day and enhance learning.
Check out our blog on How to Improve Concentration for more tips and tricks to help your students and yourself focus better.