On the whole, humans are born into this world with a natural drive to explore and learn. Through observation and interaction, we absorb how to communicate our preferences and move our bodies. As our self-sufficiency increases, we search out problems to solve as we push the limits of our understanding as far as they can go.

Our accomplishments are celebrated when they occur, and (if we’re lucky) it’s understood that the adults in our lives will remain patient as we figure things out.  

Then we go to school, and everything changes.

Imagine that our learning is controlled by a metaphorical steering wheel. Up to school-age, for the most part, we’ve had pretty good control over what we learn and when. However, once we get to traditional school, the steering wheel (along with the stick shift, brake, and gas pedal) we’ve grown accustomed to controlling is taken over by a well-meaning adult who prescribes to us a path of study. Suddenly, we aren’t in the driver’s seat anymore, not even a little.

Although educational guidance is necessary and useful, this method of total adult control is not ideal for the young learner; it robs us of our ability to have independent thoughts and a connection to our intrinsic motivation. When a new student comes to me through a micro-school or for educational coaching, many times they do not have the self-connection to engage in deep, focused learning that is meaningful to them. The traditional school model has trained it out of them. Consequently, supporting a learner to have deeper focus is usually my first step in coaching a student with poor executive functioning skills or an aversion to focused or formal learning.

I help them by using a modified version of a simple method called the Pomodoro Technique. Created by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980’s, the Pomodoro Technique uses a timer to manage work into bite-size pieces. Pomodoro is Italian for tomato; the technique is named for the ubiquitous tomato-shaped timer found in kitchens all over the world.     

This practice tasks the learner to focus for a predetermined length of time. When time is up, the learner rests for another length of time. They continue in this fashion until their task is done.

The original method defines a focus period of twenty-five minutes as ideal. Unsurprisingly, I hack the Pomodoro Technique to work for my students. For students just starting out, twenty-five minutes is usually too long of a stretch. Instead, I begin a student with five-minute work periods and five-minute breaks.      

When I first learned of this method, I was reluctant to use it. I worried that my sensitive students, particularly the ones who struggle with anxiety around timed activities, would stress out unnecessarily. I’ve found that this is very rarely the case. I explain to them that I’m not expecting them to finish anything in a certain amount of time; my request is that they make a good effort towards focusing.

This method isn’t only for kids! I use this method with nearly every blog post I write.
Inside our modern selves, there’s always a conflict raging. Do I focus on my high-minded goals of learning and personal development, or do I satisfy my craving for instant gratification by looking up what my hilarious and witty friends are doing on Facebook? With the Pomodoro Technique, you can do both!

Interested in learning more about the structures and techniques I found useful in my micro-school? My book, Micro-Schools: Creating Personalized Learning on a Budget is out now on GHF Press. And if you still want more, check out the Build Your Micro-School Summer Institute