Focus.  Think.  Pay attention.

If you’re going to accomplish anything, you’ve got to focus.

Recently, I’ve had a stream of twelfth graders coming into my office.  Graduation is only a few weeks away, and there are a few students who still have not passed a reading SOL, which, without passing it, they will not be eligible to graduate.

There are many conversations to have around SOLs.  Are they important?  Are they a good use of time?

One thing is real – for some students, it is the hardest thing they will ever accomplish, and for that reason, we should respect their determination to work to pass this final milestone.

As I work more and more with students, I see that I have an awesome opportunity to teach them real skills that they can use for the rest of their lives, that just happen to be the same skills they need to pass the SOLs.  How to infer.  How to use context clues to define a word.  How to use pictures to help clarify setting.

And, surprisingly, how to pay attention.

I am lucky that I work with an amazing staff.  Recently, I was talking to an outstanding English teacher about a student who we are concerned may not graduate.  In our conversation, she stated that it isn’t the content that he doesn’t have a command over, but his ability to stay focused.

And this is where a team comes together.

The thing is, people can do something about focus.

In general, people can focus for + or – 2 minutes of their age.  This means for me, for example, I should be able to focus on something for 39 to 43.  Of course, if a person is really interested (my six-year-old boy can do Legos for two hours straight) the amount of time one is able to pay attention is extended.

So I sit with this student.  I talk to him about his attention.  I explain that a person is able to reset his attention once he realizes that he is no longer focusing anymore.  And it’s true.  Adults do this all of the time. They are sitting, reading the newspaper, and suddenly they realize that they don’t know what they just read because they were thinking about how the dog needs to be trimmed, or the kids need different cheese sticks cause they didn’t like the ones with white in them or the car needs an oil change.  It used to happen in school.  You’d be sitting there reading your United States history book, and suddenly you would realize that you just turned four pages and all you remember is that you’ve been focused on if that girl or boy in your Chemistry class saw you looking at her or him.  But, once you realize, you stop, pull yourself together, and start focusing.

The truth is, you could do it sooner.  As soon as you realize you’re not paying attention, you can do something – maybe stand up, maybe roll your neck, maybe close your eyes and think of Hawaii, maybe do a quick doodle – and then you set your mind to your task, and you’re focused.
Kids can do this.  Teach them to pay attention to paying attention.  Teach them that they can reset their attention once they realize they’re not paying attention. And, voila, they can pay attention again.

I taught this to two students, they both will walk in two weeks because they’ve passed their last needed SOL.  And, it’s a skill they can use for the rest of their lives.


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