Why focus is important for both students and teachers

November 7, 2022


Getting students to focus on a task can be a challenge, especially with all of the distractions available in this current day and age. In this post I'll share some ideas on what you can do to work with this. And give some tips for your own professional life as well!

Estimated time to read this article: 5 minutes

Last week I read a book to my son about a gnome who was totally fine with just working with wood, a good meal and playing his guitar.

Nothing else.

Just a few things to focus on.

No distractions at all.

How different from the world (and the classroom) we are currently in.

Students are easily distracted nowadays, but that simply has to do with the world around them as well.

For example: research shows that the average shot length of a movie has gone down from 12 seconds in 1930 to about 2.5 seconds in 2014, when the research was conducted.

I can imagine it has declined even more since.

All the more reason to talk about focus today!

Why focus is important

Multitasking is a myth, as you might be well aware.

Mark Tigchelaar in his book ‘Focus aan/uit’ actually shares that every time you lose focus, it might take between 8 and 20 minutes to get your full attention back.

In other words: if your students get a task and are distracted a couple of times, the lesson is almost over.

Personally I noticed this in class last week: I gave a task to students, but some students took quite long to actually start doing it, distracting others in the process.

I saw that even the students who wanted to start but were distracted had a hard time focusing again.

In other words: I needed to help my students find focus.

But how does one go about making sure both you and your students stay focused?

Focus in the classroom

First of all, focus does not equal silence.

Students can be in the ‘zone of learning’ while cooperating and helping each other out.

Now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about task focus.

Before students can be focused, they need to start with a task.

This can be a challenge sometimes.

Here are some reasons might not start with a task, based on my own experience:

  • They don’t know what to do
  • They don’t have the resources they need to start
  • They don’t see the relevance of the task
  • They feel like they can complete the task at another time
  • They are tired (little you can do about that though )

Almost all of these can be taken care of by giving a clear instruction (this is what you have to do because … and this is what you need to do that) and a check for understanding (raise your hand if you don’t understand what to do)

And to tackle the ‘all the time in the world’ challenge: simply provide a time limit for the task.

I use this all the time, both in my lessons and during workshops.

It helps students to stay focused and myself as well!

Interestingly, it might also make a task harder for students who might normally find it too easy.

This way you can create a challenge for those students, even when the task at hand is not too hard for them.

Focus as a teacher

Talking about time limits, I let students time me when I explain something new.

To make sure I also stay focused on the things I need to say, not all of the things I want to say (and might just be a little less relevant).

Students appreciate this accountability and feel more responsible as well.

After all, the more you talk, the less students do. And in a CLIL lesson, student speaking time is very important.

Not because you want students to speak. Using a language is never the goal.

But to use the language in a meaningful way, learning both the content and the language.

Apart from the moments in a lesson, a teacher’s life is hectic.

Here are a few ideas to help you focus, both from my personal experience and Mark’s book:

  • Have an inbox to write down any idea or task, which you empty on a regular basis (I use a bullet journal for that)
  • When a task has a deadline, plan it in your calendar instead of leaving it on a to-do list. Somewhere. This helps you to allocate time for it and realise if you can actually complete all of the tasks.
  • Set a timer if you have an appointment so you don’t have to check the clock every 5 minutes.
  • Plan breaks. I know, easier said than done. But there is so much research that shows that breaks actually make more productive people…


To conclude, one more fun fact from Mark’s book:

If you get distracted multiple times in a row, you make 20 per cent more mistakes on average.

Combine that with the fact we get distracted 500 times a day on average and one might conclude focus is important 😉

Which of the ideas in this article are of use to you?

Do you have something you do in class or personally to improve focus?

Curious to hear about it!

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}