Learning Tips 12: Focus!

From years of experience as a primary school teacher, I know that children are wired differently to adults – if a task is not fun, they get bored and shift their attention to something more interesting, unlike most adults who have learnt to complete a task, whether they like it or not.

(Although I have observed that very intelligent people sometimes act more like children when disinterested.)

Ringing bells takes a lot of concentration. The average adult is unable to concentrate continuously for more than 42 minutes – just about time for a quarter peal, but nowhere near long enough for a peal. So how do we learners improve our concentration and lengthen our ability to remain absolutely focused? If I was helping kids to lengthen their concentration spans, this is what I would do:

•Play focus games to build attention. In an adult context this might be a daily crossword, or learning a poem by heart.

•Prepare a distraction-free environment – soft music (ha!), soft lighting, a comfortable temperature (ha! ha!) and remove all gadgets (do any of your gadgets actually work in an isolated rural tower?)

•Fix a routine. If you know what is likely to happen next, you can focus more easily on the Now.

•Recommend that they eat beans on toast for breakfast. (The idea of 12 or more adults gathered together in a confined space who have all consumed baked beans recently does not bear thinking about.)

•Divide bigger tasks into smaller tasks. Manageable chunks make learning less overwhelming. (This is more sensible advice than the bean-eating one.)

•Naps and breaks boost concentration. Perhaps not practical in a tower situation, but frequent opportunities to rest are possible. Probably best not to nod off, though.

•Recognise preferred learning methods (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic). This helps the learner to understand information better.

•Prepare individuals for the next task. If you warn someone of what is coming up next, they can be better mentally prepared.

•Set short time goals for better concentration. It is more effective to concentrate fully for 10minutes, than vaguely for 20 minutes.

•Set up a reward system (for many adults it is called The Pub.)

•Allow time for distractions. Kids are naturally energetic and exuberant and need to vent their energy. It may actually help them to focus better on the next task. How about adult laps around the churchyard? Loser buys the first round.

•Use energy effectively. Some people function better at different times of the day. If you are a morning person, an 8pm practice session might not be a wise choice. Can you fit your ringing around your circadian rhythms? Simulators can help vary practice times and this might also tick the‘distraction’ box.

•Deep breathing and imagery. Combine simple relaxation techniques such as deep breathing (or in some cases, remembering to breathe at all) with positive visual imagery.So there you have it – my top tips for improving concentration. Please don’t try the baked beans one.

Photograph by Leo McLaren

This article by Mary Jones (author of the Accidental Ringer blog) first appeared in the July 2019 edition of Tower Talk magazine. To subscribe to this free, quarterly e-newsletter, please fill in this form

Leave a Reply