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A Pupil’s Afternoon

    Ben finally pulled himself away from the newest video game, “The Racing Willy”, to start his math homework. He discovered a pack of Gummy Bears on his desk. “Damn! Only one piece left!” he grumbled as he angrily gnashed the red animal between his teeth. While half-heartedly chewing, he sees a tennis ball wedged between a pack of vocabulary cards and his Latin textbook. “I still have to call Fabien to see when we can get together for another tennis game!” he thinks. He is already on his way to the phone.

    The phone call lasts somewhat longer than planned. A half-hour later he remembers his homework. Benjamin finds yet another yellow Gummy Bear amongst his pencils as he returns to his desk.

    “Today must be my lucky day!” he thinks as he takes out his math notebook. “Where is that damn math textbook?” After a short search, he finds it in his schoolbag. “He who seeks shall find!” After he notes his answers in his notebook, he stumbles across another barrier, “Where is my ruler?” Luckily, he instantly remembers that he brought it yesterday to his father’s workshop. Benjamin rushes to see if the glue of the half-finished birdhouse is dry. He returns to his desk 20 minutes later. Luckily, he does not have to search for his compass; it is stuck in the bulletin board above his desk, which is often used as a target. “My pencil needs sharpening again!” notices Ben. As he does not want to interrupt his homework again, he consoles himself with the thought that lines theoretically already have a zero circumference.

    His mother calls him to dinner. Ben calculates and draws for a half-hour interrupted only by a quick search for new calculator batteries and to empty the overflowing garbage can where he finds another Gummy Bear (a joyful discovery). Benjamin takes off. “The whole afternoon was spent doing stupid homework! I can’t do anything else!” He copies the rest of his homework the following day before class from his classmate Alexander. “It was only a half a page!” he reassures himself with a shake of the head.


    “Geez, Benjamin just can’t concentrate”, sighs his mother. “What am I supposed to do? I try so hard.” Benjamin is also perplexed.

    An important step towards improving learning concentration is clearly shown through this short story*: a “cluttered” desk offers many distractions and blocks any whole-hearted concentration on a single task.

    It is not possible to list precisely what items should and should not be found on the ideal desk. It goes without saying it’s different for every subject or exercise: when learning geography, an atlas, geography textbook, and your workbook are needed; for mathematics homework, aside from the exercise book and notebook, a calculator, a compass, pencil and eraser are needed. Therefore, it is not easy to generalize what your ideal workplace should look like, and what tools should and should not be made available.

    However, there is a simple rule of thumb: only those things that are needed for learning and working on a topic should be prepared and at hand on the desk. Nothing else. You may argue, “Then I always have to move things around!”

    Exactly! But this small task makes the adjustment easier and helps you to concentrate on the new task. It is best to make a break when changing subjects.

    There are, of course, a couple of tools that should always be within reach. A dictionary, a grammar book, writing paper, and pens or pencils are added to that list. Your work plan should always be close by. Each completed task should be crossed off the list when finished.

    A small exercise: resourceful scientists have discovered that room temperature, lighting, desk and seat heights, carpet colour, and background noise level play a part in determining how concentrated and successfully one can study. However, what theoretically sounds good is often difficult to put into practice. Therefore, it is best that you carefully look at your desk and consider what is and is not needed.
    *This story is of course completely fictitious – any similarity to other pupils is purely random and is not intentional.

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