If you’re finding staying focused in class more difficult than crafting the perfect caption for your latest Instagram selfie, you’re not alone.

Especially as final deadlines, practice exams and the often-dreaded time of year draws closer, it’s easy to lose the motivation to continue actively engaging in classroom content. One of the things which teachers, and many other adults, often don’t fully appreciate is just how difficult it can be to concentrate in a typical classroom scenario:

 

Your teacher is droning on, whilst you mindlessly read the accompanying black and white textbook, a reminder of how dull the work really seems. Beside you, with a vibrant array of colours, Becky is highlighting every possible sentence in her notes, as others attempt to secretly use their phones under the desk. 

As the class eventually ends, you notice a sense of unfulfillment and frustration – whether you didn’t enjoy the content or it simply just didn’t ‘click’, everyone loses focus in class sometimes. However, as tempting as it may be, we cannot allow ourselves to be continually distracted.

The issue is that focus is a largely intricate concept. Whilst everyone will experience moments of unfocus at some point in their lives, but for their own individual reasons, and there is no universal step-by-step guide for focusing during classes. Instead, we each need our own strategies, based on our personal circumstances.Having observed the complexity of focus, or the lack of it, this guide will discuss some potential reasons as to why focusing may be difficult, and strategies to help you maximise your time in class again. 

 

I Feel Bored When I Listen to the Teacher

Once we have established that we don’t enjoy something, we’re more likely to avoid it. The same can be said of classwork, where, if the content is unenjoyable to us, we are not motivated to study it. At this point, we’d rather be doing virtually anything else, and we become inevitably distracted. Luckily, classroom boredom is manageable!

 

  • Personalising Your Notes

As discussed in a previous video, note-taking on a device is not nearly as effective as handwriting them. When handwriting, it’s merely impossible to copy everything being said, meaning you’re forced to consider only what is necessary to remember. This is the cognitive process which increases the retention of concepts and makes handwriting the superior note-taking method.

Unlike the strict design of typed notes, handwriting also allows you to include creative personalisation. This likely to increase your motivation to engage in the classroom and write consistent notes. 

You don’t have to be the next Picasso in order to do this, and your notes shouldn’t be an artistic masterpiece, but you may enjoy using small doodles or diagrams of relevance to the content. Mind-maps are also an effective method, as they allow for important ideas to be easily identifiable (and totally colourful too!). 

 

 

If you are not enjoying the content discussed in class, it is highly likely that the notes you take will also be uninteresting to you. When your notes are visually appealing, you may be more inclined to refer to them when necessary, increasing your engagement with the content.

 

I Struggle to Understand the Topic

When faced with a difficult topic, we typically procrastinate, freeze, or attempt the subject with an approach which only causes more frustration. Often, our first instinct is to concentrate on the details of the subject and fail to see the ‘bigger picture’. 

If you’ve recently found yourself behind on any classroom content, do not panic, as this will only lead to more unnecessary frustration. Instead, try these strategies for regaining your understanding. 

 

  • Go Back to the Basics

Everything begins with a foundation. When we struggle to grasp an understanding of new content, it’s most often because we are lacking the background material necessary to establish more complex information.  

It may seem tedious, or a waste of time, but hear me out! By taking a step back and starting again with basic content, you are providing yourself with this crucial foundation which will act as a base-point for you to expand your knowledge. 

Allow yourself some time to revise basic concepts, and ensure you have mastered these before addressing more advanced work. Then, you’ll feel more confident in approaching the content discussed in class, and more prepared to engage with the difficult work.

We all need the occasional extra ‘push’ sometimes, and this is not something to feel disheartened or ashamed about. If you feel you would benefit from a little more help with a concept, bring this up with your teacher, and you will likely find that the issue is not as extreme as it feels. 

 

  • Ask Your Teacher for Help

We all need the occasional extra ‘push’ sometimes, and this is not something to feel disheartened or ashamed about. If you feel you would benefit from a little more help with a concept, bring this up with your teacher, and you will likely find that the issue is not as extreme as it feels. 

This is particularly important because your teacher will continue to discuss increasingly difficult portions of a topic when they are under the impression that everyone understands what is being taught. 

Approaching your teacher doesn’t have to be a daunting task – simply identify which areas you need support with and discuss these with the appropriate teacher as soon as possible. Alternatively, you could ask a classmate or older peer, who is confident with the concept.

By taking advantage of the resources available to you, you are taking an important step towards regaining your understanding of a topic and improving your personal learning. Your teacher is quite literally there to help you, so make the most of this when necessary.

 

I Feel too Tired to Focus

Have you been up too late, eager to finish that dreaded assignment and an inhumane amount of caffeine just doesn’t seem to be working? Whether you’re running on a mere few hours of sleep, or you simply can’t keep your eyes open, remaining properly focused under these circumstances can be hugely challenging. 

Admittedly, the typical school timetable is not well-adapted for teenagers to sleep enough. Several studies have shown that early mornings are particularly difficult for developing adolescents. That being said, feeling exhausted throughout the school day is certainly not ideal, but is luckily avoidable with a few small changes.

 

  • Ditch the Caffeine, Stay Hydrated

When your assignments seem never-ending, you may be tempted by caffeinated drinks and sugary snacks for a quick burst of energy. This works temporarily, but the energy boost will soon fade and leave both you and your productivity crashing. 

The exhaustion you feel following a long night of studying or an extreme Netflix binge is essentially your body, and your brain, shutting down – the human body needs adequate sleep in order to properly function. 

When this occurs, ditching the caffeine and reaching for a bottle of fresh water is one of the most effective strategies. Dehydration forces our bodies to work even harder, only further increasing our exhaustion and decreasing our cognitive function and ability to retain information. 

So, it’s time to say goodbye to the Red Bull and hello to the H20! The easiest way to implement this is to simply keep a bottle of water with you throughout the day, and take gradual sips when you feel that tiredness sneaking back. 

 

  • Pace Yourself

If a major deadline is fast approaching and you’re stuck with a mountain of work, spending the entire night sat at a desk and cramming as much work as humanly possible is the best way to get everything done, right? Not quite. 

This is a recipe for both mental and physical exhaustion, which will only further affect your learning in the future, including a decreased sense of concentration during classes. The good news is, it’s possible to complete all your assignments without sabotaging your study throughout the school day. 

Allowing some time for yourself is crucial for getting back into studying to your best ability – having a shower or taking a short walk can be the difference between effectively studying and working in overdrive. 

You are much less likely to exhaust yourself this way, as you are not cramming an overwhelming amount of information into your brain in such a short period of time. 

Recharging yourself is the best way to continue your killer study session at complete mental-capacity. By maintaining simple, healthy habits such as increased water intake and regular study breaks, improving your general well-being and staying nourished is much more easily achievable. 

 

I’m Distracted by My Surroundings

With the prevalence of social media and various technologies, it is virtually (see what I did there?) impossible to avoid distraction – the average person is interrupted every ten minutes by an instant message or social notification. 

It is not uncommon to become distracted by our surroundings during class time, but this can seriously interfere with academic success and overall learning. Recent research has suggested that after being distracted, it can take an individual as many as 23 minutes to return to their original task. 

It is crucial to remove any potential classroom distractions, in order to maximise your time in classes and ensure that you are concentrating at your full potential. 

 

  • Switch Off your Phone!

We’ve all told ourselves that we’ll “just send one message” or ‘only look at Instagram for a second’, but this can quickly spiral into a full-blown social media fest and leave us wasting time that could be better spent. 

As obvious as it may seem, switching your phone off before your class begins, is the most effective way of avoiding this. 

Keeping your (switched-off) phone in your bag throughout your classes is also recommended. This way, it is no longer in sight and therefore not so physically accessible. By doing these things, you’re eliminating the potential for the temptation to pick up your phone and engage in social media. 

 

  • Sitting Near the Front of the Class

Classroom seating arrangements are often stereotyped or considered to be representative of a students’ personality. Often, the more active students are those who occupy the front rows in order not to miss any vital information, whereas more casual students opt for the seats towards the back, to avoid notice from their teachers. 

Distracting behaviour including note-passing and whispering is generally common amongst those who sit at the back of the class, and seating arrangements can therefore negatively affect academic performance, namely through decreased attention-span and concentration. 

Do these behaviours sound familiar, and as though they may be the cause of your decreased concentration during school? Much like switching your phone off, sitting towards the front of your classroom is the best way to decrease the temptation to be involved in distracting behaviour. 

A variety of studies recently investigated whether seat selection in a classroom contributed to better grades, and concluded that students who sit towards the front of their classroom often experienced academic benefits as a result. 

Students who occupy the front seats are less likely to become distracted by their surroundings, as they are in a more isolated position from where distractions typically occur. This will consequently increase your levels of concentration, as well as your engagement with the content being discussed. 

Sometimes, the key to regaining your focus and enhancing your learning is as simple as avoiding distraction. 

 

Reflection

Remembering that focus is a complex concept with varying circumstances for different individuals, it is important to reflect upon your personal reasons for lacking focus during school and the simple steps that can be taken to improve your circumstances. If you were entirely focused every minute of the day, you simply wouldn’t be human. 

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