‘An 8 second attention span’: how to help children focus for longer.

Having a shorter attention span than a goldfish is a good media story – but it doesn’t have to apply to our children.

This week I was inspired to write about ‘focus’ because of a rather eccentric article that appeared in The Telegraph. It suggested that the human attention span has reduced so much that a goldfish can now focus for longer. Almost to prove this point, they amusingly posted a picture of a man on a boat looking at his smart phone, missing the whale emerging from the water next to him.

The claim that attention span has reduced to 8 seconds is dangerously close to Ben Goldacre intervention territory. But for parents, focus can be a serious issue. How many times have school reports come back with ‘needs to focus’ or ‘concentration needs to improve’ written on at least one line.

In this age of digital distractions, it’s no wonder that children struggle to concentrate. We as adults certainly do – how many times have we accidently caught ourselves on Facebook when we should have been writing a difficult email, or used Twitter as a way to put off doing the washing up?

For any child with an active imagination the world is a minefield of potential disturbances. The problem is that this is often misinterpreted. In America the instances of diagnoses of ADHD have risen 5% each year since 2011 – in Kentucky alone, 19% of children have been diagnosed with the disorder. Many of these children are being ‘treated’ with drugs.

In most cultures ADHD cases occur in about 5% of a population. But in the USA it is higher mainly due to the fact that the American Psychiatric Association classes fidgeting, a reluctance to do homework, and frequently losing schoolbooks as ADHD.

ADHD is a very real and difficult problem for those who have it – and effective learning measures can be put in place to help those children who struggle with it. But although it may not be as extreme as ADHD, focussing can still be an issue.

Many methods can help your child focus, but as everyone learns, acts, and reacts differently, the strategies will be different for each child. As a tutoring agency we are particularly focussed on this.

But underpinning these strategies are strong methodologies. A few of the key ones are below. Understanding these methodologies can parents to improve their child’s attention & focus, by building effective strategies.

  1. Learning not performance.

 A study by the Institute of Education showed that if children were encouraged to focus on performance in tests then their performance dropped. When the children were pushed to achieve certain scores, they abandoned strategic thinking, persisted with failing strategies, alongside developing a feeling of helplessness. But when children were presented with learning orientated attitudes, their results improved, along with their general behaviour.

A child will feel the pressure of a test or exams, so where a parent can help is by encouraging them to focus on particular learning, and keep their mind engaged. This way focus will improve, as it is not distracted by unnecessary stress.

  1. Practice

It’s been suggested that practice is the key to improving focus. In the same way that one wouldn’t try to run a marathon straight off, expecting a child to focus on revision for 8 hours straight is not going to happen. Building up the lengths of time is a guaranteed way to see results. It’s like a muscle – use improves performance. As a parent, you can use this understanding to help them put effective strategies in place.

  1. Engagement

Often the reason for a lack of focus is because of boredom. This can be for a variety of reasons, including the child being particularly intelligent and disenchanted by the pace, or the topic being presented in a way that just doesn’t interest them. The teachers that we remember from our school days are the ones that engaged us with their subject the best. So working out how a child can be better engaged with a subject or even topic will really improve focus. Learning doesn’t have to be ‘serious’ – if the child is engaged and learning, that’s the result that we should be aiming for.

By Jonathan Coates @coates_jonathan

Education Apps Review for 4-8 year olds

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With tablet computers and smartphones becoming ever-more ubiquitous, it is inevitable that they will eventually form an integral part of the educational landscape for our children. Indeed, that is already being borne out, to some degree, by the plethora of educational games and apps available for Apple’s family of products.
This month, we have taken a look at some of the free offerings aimed at children aged 4 to 8. While most of these apps would require in-app purchases in order to unlock the full degree of enriching content, they are free to download, and thus, free to test. If your child doesn’t take to it, you’re not out-of-pocket. Below are brief snapshots of apps covering a wide range of topics, from fundamental English and Maths, through to coding!

Little Pim- Offering a variety of languages, including Russian and Chinese, Little Pim effectively consists of flashcards, with accompanying audio, that help children learn a basic range of vocabulary in the chosen language. There is nothing too impressive here, however, the variety of languages on offer is great to whet the appetite for more!

Daisy the Dino – A great introduction to computer coding to young children, Daisy the Dino uses a dinosaur animation that the child controls using basic commands. This programme introduces children to the logic and sequencing commands used within more sophisticated programming. There are two modes, one allowing the player to create any sort of animation they choose, and another setting specific challenges that grow more complex as the child progresses. Hopscotch, the makers of this app, also make other coding apps, allowing children to progress to more difficult challenges once they have mastered the basics.

BrainPOP UK- BrainPOP provides a series of short educational videos across a range of subjects, including science, technology, and the arts. Children watch the videos, then take quizzes based on what they just watched. There are three free movies per subject area, with more available to purchase. This app is best suited for the older kids in the age group (7-8).

Planet Geo- Planet Geo presents children with a series of map-based challenges on various aspects of geography. Puzzles include locating UNESCO World Heritage Sites on a global map, fitting countries into their respective continents, grouping countries by location. There are 6 puzzle types, only one of which is entirely free, but with interesting geography puzzles and bold graphics, this app is a great way to challenge and extend geography knowledge.

Spellinglish- Spellinglish is a pretty straightforward spelling app. The app announces words and asks the children to spell them, keeping track of their statistics as they progress through the levels. The vocabulary is varied, and many of the words will be quite a challenge, even for the older children in this age group. However, it’s a great app for introducing new words, and stretching the abilities of those children with more developed spelling and phonics skills.

Language! – This app, by Tribalnova, has three very basic games contained within it covering vocabulary, sentence formation, and listening comprehension. While these games are likely to be vastly too simplistic for native English speakers, this app would be a great way of helping very young children who are learning English to grasp the basics. The vocabulary and listening games require children to identify items that are hidden around the screen, while the sentence formation game presents them with a selection of verbs and nouns in picture form, and asks them to create short sentences by placing the words in a sensible order.

Johnny Grammar’s Word Challenge – This app, produced by the British Council, is perhaps the best entirely free grammar and spelling app available. Children can choose from ‘Grammar’, ‘Words’, or ‘Spelling’ categories, and choose their level of difficulty within each category, allowing the app to grow with the child’s abilities. Each category has a selection of interesting topics to choose from, and the app produces a quiz on each. This app also introduces a number of unique language challenges, including introducing young children to idiomatic expressions and the foundations of more complex grammar.

Storytelling- The Storytelling app walks children through three activities related to a single story- reading it, illustrating it, and writing it. Children read along with an illustrated story to familiarise themselves with it. They can then complete a challenge wherein they match illustrations from the story with the appropriate story point. Finally, they are able to use the illustrations from the story as inspiration for their own story. This app is a great way to introduce young children to key storytelling concepts such as structuring and presenting, describing, and resolving problems or conflicts.

Grammaropolis- Grammaropolis walks children through the different parts of speech, such as nouns, verbs, and interjections. Taking a page from Schoolhouse Rock, each section presents a series of short videos which explain and demonstrate the usage of the part of speech in questions, after which children complete quizzes which demonstrate what they’ve learned. The videos are catchy and colourful, and are a great way to make learning grammar less dry!

Maths Trainer- This app is great for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division drills. There are no frills here, just basic question and answer. Despite the basic nature of the app, it is a good app for helping children practice basic calculations.

DoodleMaths- DoodleMaths is a very comprehensive maths app. To begin with, children complete an assessment that determines their strengths and weaknesses across numerous mathematics topics, including calculations, geometry, and fractions and decimals. Once the app has determined the child’s strengths and weaknesses, it presents daily maths problems to build competency. Covering a vast range of problem types, as well as accommodating the child’s age and ability level, this is a great app to try!

Maths Wiz- Another quiz-style app, Maths Wiz covers a range of topics from addition through to basic geometry. Children can either complete quizzes, or enter ‘study mode’ which presents them with a range of questions and tracks the ones that they perform the best on. While not as sophisticated as DoddleMaths, this app allows children to practice different maths subjects, and to progress to more difficult material as they master one area.

Maths, Age 3-5 / 4-6 – These apps, part of a series aimed to grow with the child, begins with the very basics, such as sorting, matching, counting, and comparing, and progresses to more basic calculations. These apps are a great way to introduce young children to the concepts that form the foundations of a strong understanding of maths in a way that doesn’t necessarily focus on numbers.

7 Habits of Highly Successful Students

The new year has arrived and we have all thought of ways to improve ourselves over the course of 2014. Why not try to make yourself a better student? These 7 Habits of Highly Successful Students will help you improve your academic abilities and make for more effective learning!

1. Ask for help!
Teachers never tire of saying that ‘there is no such thing as a stupid question’…because it’s true! Forget about embarrassing yourself, or that other students may think less of you for not understanding a subject. If you don’t ask questions about things you don’t understand, you’re only hurting yourself! In fact, if you have a question, it is likely that other students do as well, and your teachers are there to help. You can never ask too many questions, or ask things to be clarified too much. If you still don’t feel like you understand something well enough, you can always get extra help. Search the internet, get a tutor, or ask your friends for help…all of the extra effort will be well worth it in the end!

2. Set A Schedule
Getting into a routine has many benefits for students. It helps with time management and assists in setting priorities. Schedules should prioritise schoolwork over things like television and games. This ensures that distraction is kept to a minimum, and helps develop self-control. Getting into a regular routine also helps minimise stress by keeping you organised. The fewer variables you have to worry about on any given day, the more energy you’ll have to dedicate to schoolwork, making you a more effective learner!

3. Eat Well
One of the best things that you can do for your brain is to make sure you eat a healthy and balanced diet. Diets that are high in sugary and fatty junk foods can make you feel lethargic, or prevent you from focusing by sending your body on a sugar rush! Eating lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins will give your body and your brain the best kinds of energy and help you maintain focus throughout a long school day. Likewise, it’s important to eat three square meals a day, particularly a good breakfast! Students who eat a well-balanced breakfast, avoiding sugary cereals or treats, perform better in school because their bodies have the best available energy to help them learn.

4. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Pulling an all-nighter doesn’t do anyone any favours! Sleep is your brain’s way of recharging and processing all of the things you’ve learned over the course of a long day. Without a good night’s sleep, you can’t focus well the next day, and won’t absorb as much information. Getting into a routine will help you get enough sleep, and you should aim for 8 hours at night so that you awaken recharged and ready to take on the day.

5. Do More than the Bare Minimum
The most successful students go above and beyond the requirements set by their teachers. Not only does this show your teacher that you care about your schoolwork and that you are willing to put in a good effort, it also helps you understand your subjects more completely. Not understanding your classroom reading material? Read related books, or books about the time or place in which the book is set. It will help you develop context and give you a more complete understanding. A similar approach can be taken to all subjects. Don’t just stick to the required reading lists or texts, read extra and research more! You may just find that it helps you appreciate your subjects in ways you wouldn’t have imagined.

6. Have Passion for your Subjects.
It’s hard to motivate yourself to excel when you find your subjects tedious or boring. For older students who can choose the subjects that they study, this can be easy to fix by focusing on those subjects you find the most stimulating. However, for younger pupils, the best way to engage with subjects that you find boring is to find ways to apply those subjects, or their lessons, to your everyday life. If you can’t manage to get yourself excited or passionate about maths, try finding everyday applications for mathematical principles. It’s easier to connect with subjects that are relevant and useful.

7. Relax!
While it is, of course, important to work hard and be dedicated to your schoolwork, it is also important to give yourself time to relax. Take time out, relax, and do something special for yourself. Getting overworked or over-stressed leads to poor sleep, fatigue, and an inability to focus and learn. Even when you feel like you can’t, make sure you give yourself a moment to take a few deep breaths, relax, and regroup.

Last Minute Revision Tips for the 11+ Entrance Exams

11+ exams are fast approaching, and the Christmas holiday provides a perfect opportunity to do some last-minute revision and preparation.

In the last few weeks, it is important to focus your attentions on the elements of the exam that are most important. Focusing on a few key aspects of each subject area will allow students to maximize their revision time while also allowing them to relax and enjoy the time at home.

Below you will find some tips on how to revise most effectively in the last few weeks before the exam.

English
1. Focus on comprehension technique. While verbal reasoning is a part of many exams, it is less important than comprehension skills. Furthermore, many schools complete verbal reasoning practice during class time. As such, use your own revision time to address comprehension practice. For instance, now is the optimal time to start working through sample papers or past papers in order to become familiar with the types of questions asked and how best to approach each.

2. Practice timed compositions. Getting accustomed to the time limits on exams is crucial to success. Exam writing sections can range from 30 minutes to one hour in length. It is best to prepare by attempting different types of writing exercises at different time intervals.

3. Read! Reading helps expand vocabulary, and exposes students to a variety of different stories and writing styles, thus providing them with plenty of ammunition for their writing sections and helping reduce the chance of “writer’s block” striking during the exam.

Maths
The best way to prepare for maths? Practice! Practice! Practice!

Keep track of the questions that are routinely missed, and make sure to focus on those types of questions as the exam approaches. For instance, questions that students routinely find difficult include: number problems, date problems, speed, distance and time, averages, and conversions. If you’re struggling with questions like these, but are having no difficulty with others, focus your attentions wisely.

Basic skills such as adding fractions, finding percentages, and area and perimeter problems are best improved by using text books for added practice. Attempting some more challenging problems can also help develop skills by forcing students to really dissect what a question is asking.

Finally, useful resources can be found at the websites listed below.

Http://www.m-a.org.uk/jsp/index.jsp?lnk=251

Http://www.ukmt.org.uk

Http://nrich.maths.org/frontpage

Last but not least…
Relax! Don’t stay up until midnight the day before the exam trying to cram in as much study time as possible. This will only cause stress, which will harm your performance.

The day before the exam, give yourself time to unwind, relax, and get a good night’s sleep.
Remember to eat a good breakfast on exam day, as well! Getting a good start to the day will ensure focus and stamina through an exhausting day of testing.

Good Luck!