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Lesson Plan: How to Improve Your Focus

If you struggle to sit through a class or complete a homework assignment without wanting to check your phone every few minutes, this lesson can help. Lesson plan from The New York Times

Featured Article: “How to Focus Like It’s 1990” by Dana G. Smith

Do you get distracted easily? When you have a homework assignment to complete, a book to read, an instrument to practice or a room to clean, is it easy for you to stay focused and do it, or does your mind drift and wander? Do you quickly begin to daydream, check your social media feed or think about what you want to eat? Are you distracted by constant dings and pings from your phone? In short, do you find yourself thinking about everything but the task at hand?

If you answered yes, you’re not alone. As Dana G. Smith writes in today’s featured article, “Smartphones, pings and Insta-everything have shortened our attention spans.” In this lesson, you’ll learn how to get some old-school concentration back with tips from experts.

The article you are about to read refers to a 2004 study which found that people averaged two and a half minutes on any given task before switching to something else. By 2012, the average time had dropped to 75 seconds. Now, we spend about 47 seconds on a task, on average.

Discuss with a partner: Do these findings surprise you? Or do they resonate with your experience of trying to concentrate? What do you think could explain the shortening of our attention spans?

How long do you think you can focus on something before you get distracted? Test it out: Grab a stopwatch and start reading the featured article. How long can you read before your mind starts to wander, you get interrupted by a ding on your phone or your brain simply needs a break? Can you beat 47 seconds? If you could, how easy or difficult was that experience for you? What ultimately broke your concentration? Share what you noticed with your partner.

Do you think you need to work on improving your concentration? If you were to try this again, what tips or tricks might you use to help stay focused?

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. What does the study done by Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine, show us about attention spans today?

2. What are three things, according to the article, that cause us to get distracted and grab our phones? Which of these, if any, do you tend to experience when you are trying to focus?

3. Turning off notifications is often suggested as a way to reduce distractions. Why won’t this on its own solve the problem of distraction?

4. The article offers three ways we can improve our focus. What are they? Which one sounds most useful for you and why?

5. Dr. Mark and Larry Rosen, a professor emeritus of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, both favor taking tech breaks over going cold turkey and giving up technology altogether. Why? Have you ever tried to give up technology for an hour, a day or longer? How did it go for you?

6. Maryanne Wolf, a professor in residence at the University of California, Los Angeles Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, says reading on paper is better than reading on a screen. Why would that be? How often do you read on paper? Do you think it could help you focus? Why or why not?

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