Attention, please!

Boosting concentration levels in class has nothing to do with novelty fads, says headmaster Ben Evans

“Take off your shoes and stand up during lessons, there will be no afternoon classes in future and expect a game of compulsory chess daily and a bit of meditation thrown in.” Some believe these kinds of radical tactics are the ideal remedy for boosting pupil concentration in class. I say nonsense.

Education is littered with fads and they all have an impact while there is still a novelty value, but they are called fads for a reason – because they lack substance and will soon become ineffective. Standing up and taking shoes off in lessons simply allows pupils who naturally fidget the opportunity to fidget more rather than tackling the root cause, which is usually boredom – and often the result of dull teaching. Of course such fads will come and go and will always attract column inches, but at the chalk face they achieve little. Schools that rely on such antics will continue to foster boredom and lack of focus while their pupils drift off-task and don’t learn to their full potential.

If we look at the root cause of lack of concentration, it stems from boredom. Whether that be through lack of challenge and stimulation or an inability to access the curriculum and learning objectives, the result is the same. Poor behaviour management, too much ‘teacher-talk’, slow pace of lesson, reliance on worksheets and textbook learning are also common culprits.

Schools must rethink how they teach. Is it all instruction, comprehension and examination or are we looking to excite, engage and involve? Keep explanations brief: children have short attention spans. We need to be teaching children to be confident in their own learning ability, to be independent thinkers who can learn faster. Lessons need to be pacy and time limits set clearly to ensure pupils have little opportunity to drift off or waste time.

Keeping classes interactive and encouraging pupils to think and challenge themselves is also vital. Using an interactive ‘fun starter’ is a good way to begin a lesson because it helps pupils to stay alert, wake up their brains and become engaged. This could be something related or completely unrelated to the lesson but based on the skills required.

While collaborative learning is important, how you seat pupils also requires careful consideration. Gone are the days when teachers can sit behind a desk at the front of the classroom. In my school, all desks are pushed against the walls so there is no barrier between teacher and pupils. Targeted questioning (a range of questions to assess all abilities) is essential to make sure all pupils are engaged and encouraged to listen.

Time of day can also affect concentration. Mornings are usually best, straight after lunch isn’t great and the last lesson of the day is the ‘graveyard slot’. But children need to be taught at all of these times so it mustn’t be used as an excuse for poor concentration. If the children are drowsy, get them outside into the fresh air and use playground markings to make lessons active, visit the library for a change of scenery etc. Ensure that classrooms are well ventilated and lit with LED lighting where possible (which is said to improve concentration as there is no buzz, less heat and rooms are brighter).

Expectations of concentration should be high and children should understand the type of behaviour that is acceptable and that which is not. However, dull and uninspired teaching is often to blame and there should be no place for this in schools today. The most radical idea we should be entertaining is to refuse to accept any teaching which is less than outstanding. A curriculum based on active and creative learning is essential and teachers who deliver fun and inspirational lessons will succeed in boosting concentration long term. 

Ben Evans is headmaster of Edge Grove School W: www.edgegrove.com

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