Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

12.01.21Support in a Difficult Time: Helping Create Space for Attention-Building “Deep Work”

The Gift of Focus

We are continuing do our best to support teachers and leaders during what is an immensely challenging time for educators. Previously we offered free curriculum units for English teachers and free access to online training modules. You can find all of the resources on our Lifeboat Series page. Today we’re offering free access to an abbreviated Plug and Play Professional Development session designed to support teachers in creating space for students to do “deep work.”

Background: In a recent conversation, a colleague shared how hard it is for us, even on our remote team, to find time to do deep work. In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport studies the role of attention in establishing the conditions necessary to produce world-class knowledge work. The key to mastering complex material with speed and flair, Newport writes, is the ability to sustain states of unbroken attention and deep concentration. In other words, if we want to produce work that shows great thought or awesome learning, we need to be able to concentrate for sustained periods of time.

Organizing time so teachers and leaders can have uninterrupted periods of work time while in a school building is highly challenging in the best of times; given the staffing crises and COVID protocols so many schools are juggling, it is nary impossible now.

This idea of Deep Work is even more important when we think of our students, many of whom spent the two years of COVID in front of a screen, attention pulled away by competing devices and understandable distractions. If we want our students to be able to sustain their attention on the meaningful and challenging work we are putting in front of them, we owe them a distraction free environment in which they can start to build their ability to sustain focus and to work, deeply.

In order to support you install this academic system in your school and support your students’ ability to engage in deep work, you will find an abbreviated version of our Plug and Play training on a classroom system called Silent Solo. For access to the abbreviated Silent Solo Plug and Play, click here.

The training is designed to support teachers in creating a distraction-free space and time in which students strengthen their ability to focus for sustained periods of time.  We selected Silent Solo because we think the system supports a habit that will not only increase students’ ability to think deeply, but also will improve their writing. We also know it’s a relatively accessible system to teach in classrooms in which the classroom culture may be a bit rocky at this point in the year.  You may want to consider using the PD to support a post winter-break reset of independent work expectations.

The training contains several video examples; supporting slides, tips and facilitator notes; a section on trouble-shooting challenges; and a brief practice. We’ve designed it to take 60-75 minutes to complete.

We hope that providing this training may provide leaders with a bit more space in which to do your own creative intellectual work. And we hope even more that it creates space for your students to manifest their great potential and engage in creating beautiful academic work.

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