Concentration Circuits and Student Focus

Deep Work by Cal Newport

I recently finished reading Cal Newport’s new book Deep Work. In the book Newport talks about the importance of creating concentration circuits to help tackle harder work. The basic premise behind a concentration circuit is to leave your normal place of work and venture out into the world. Once you reach a new destination you start working. When you feel that your focus is wavering you simply pack up and move to a different location to continue working. Newport argues that by switching locations you refocus and feel more motivated to complete your work. For more on creating a concentration circuit check out Cal’s blog.

Cal Newport Concentration Circuit


Creating a Mini Concentration Circuit for My Class

Without knowing it I created a mini concentration circuit for my students in 2013. At the time my students were working on ALEKS, an online math program, that required each student to work on their own personalized plan. For the first portion of the year my students worked in the classroom due to the fact that I was working in an iMac lab. Around February we had a switch in technology and my classroom was outfitted with Macbook Airs. One day on a whim I asked if the students wanted to go outside and work on ALEKS. A majority said yes so we headed outside. Here’s what I noticed by taking my class outside and changing their environment.

  1. My students were more focused. The simple act of changing things up and heading outside rejuvenated their desire to work.
  2. The environment felt less school like. In the classroom things can become very stale and can start to feel sterile like a medical office. The room feels stuffy and has that weird nothing is happening hum. By heading outside my students were able to breath in fresh air, feel the breeze as it went by, and were given some white noise to help them focus.
  3. I felt more rejuvenated and focused. My students were only in the classroom for 100 minutes….I was in there all day. By heading outside I felt a resurgence in my own motivation and focus which ultimately helped my students.

After my first experiment with leaving the classroom was successful I committed to finding other ways to get my students out of the classroom. We conducted erosion walks around campus, filmed movies outside, went outside to erupt volcanoes, and of course continued to work on ALEKS outside. While I never fully developed a full circuit of multiple locations, I did notice that everyone in my class enjoyed these small changes in location.

@mrbradfordtech Reasons to head outside with your students

So how can I create a concentration circuit for my students?

The simplest form of a concentration circuit in a classroom is having different centers. By having the students rotate around the classroom and work from different locations you are starting to have the students grasp the idea of the concentration circuit. By even switching a student from their assigned seat to a new location you can see small increases in focus and concentration.

While centers in the classroom are great, you are still in the same location that you work from every day. A real change to your work environment would be to get your students out of the classroom. To get your students outside you could simply start by doing what I did and move your students outside to work. Instead of reading in class have the students find a tree outside and read under the tree. Need to have them work on a project? Take your tech and other tools to the lunch area. Taking your students does not require much planning beyond selecting a location and making sure that the location is not being used by someone else. If you would like to take your concentration circuit lessons to the next level try and find several locations around the campus that the students can work from.

A Simple Question to Ask Your Students

 "Hey, do you guys want to go outside to work?"

I know the idea of taking 30+ student outside can be intimidating but it’s worth it. I didn’t plan or think of a detailed lesson that involved going outside. I simply said “Hey do you guys want to go outside to work?” and it paid off for both my students and I. I would encourage you to ask your students the same question.

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