We previously discussed "How to teach intelligence", using some metacognitive (learning about learning) tools.
We thought we would continue the theme and discuss "how to improve your focus", again using the principles of metacognition.
Can you "teach" focus?
I believe you can. "Focus" is the ultimate discipline and a useful soft skill for anyone, whether you are 5 or 105! Like a muscle, the ability to control your focus can be practiced and perfected. Students are likely to miss something everyday at school, simply from being distracted.
Focus is something that can be improved with time, but it requires practice and self-awareness to achieve. Luckily, children seem better able to take on these ideas than us adults!
So what can you do to help?
1. Teach the difference between being physically and mentally present.
The first stage in developing attention is helping students become aware of when they are, or are not, focused. Help your child understand that when we're thinking about other things, or off in our own world, we are not present. I usually ask a student "Am I present in the room?" to which they would reply "Yes!". Then I will ask, "Am I mentally present right now?" and I will pretend to be distracted, look around the room or at my phone. My student will usually reply "No!" I will then ask them to explain why and how they can tell.
2. Explore why our minds sometimes wonder.
Whether it's from tiredness, boredom, extreme emotions or even fear. In helping your child understand that there are many reasons for not being present, we are helping them develop metacognition. It is important at this stage not to make not being present "bad" or "wrong". For example there are times when we don't need to be present, for example writing a shopping list on the bus. This strategy allows students to take action over their own thought processes.
3. Explore the consequences of not being present.
Discuss the consequences of not being present. For example, what happens when we miss an important point in an argument? Discuss why some car accidents can happen? One student remarked that he thought almost all problems in life are caused by making up for not being present when we should be. It's important to find examples in the student's own life.
4. Ask your child to think about when they do and don't feel present?
You and your child may discover a pattern, e.g. they are really present when playing their favourite computer game, but are not present when being read to, ask them why? Your child may lack focus towards the end of the day, think of solutions together on how you would tackle this or work with it?
The more students employ and practice these strategies, the more comfortable they will become applying them naturally to learning tasks, deriving meaning, and self-advocacy. These tools can help students to make adjustments to their own behaviour as they become more aware of themselves.