Written by Katelynn Brown
Focus, it’s a concept that we all think that we are familiar with. When asked to define what focus is, many people would say that focus is to pay attention to something in particular. Though this is true, focus is much more than that. As individual, when we say we think we are using focus, we are actually demonstrating selective attention. Selective attention is when we consciously focus on something by skillfully ignoring distracting stimuli. Through the use of selective attention, we are able to effectively ignore different types of distraction. Research has determined that attention is the first step in the learning process. The ability of students to focus and orient attention impacts what is information is gained and retained to memory. Research has also found that the ability to students to ignore distractions and focus on learning has strong associations to academic performance. As educators, it is important that we help students to think about focusing to encourage selective attention and limit distractions in the classroom.
Can I Direct My Focus?
Take a second and look at your surroundings, notice all of the possible distractions that are around you. Have they affected your ability to pay attention and stay focused? Everyday students are constantly surrounded by multiple forms of distractions that challenge their ability to focus and to learn. Student’s ability to focus is constantly being challenged and tested. As students find themselves surrounded by conversation, technology, and various other distractions, students are challenged to focus and successfully ignore all other distractions that are present. For many, this concept is easier said than done. For students it can be difficult to simply focus on one activity rather than attempting to multitask. It is important that as educators, we are able to help direct student thinking and help students demonstrate selective attention in order to ignore all of the distractions that are present. By helping students to utilize selective attention, educators can better gear students to learn, gain information, and retain this information to memory. Educators can demonstrate for students different methods to improve focus and attention in the classroom. The next step, is to determine how educators can help students to increase the use of selective attention in the classroom.
Think About How You Focus:
While in the classroom, educators want students to be hard at work, engaged in the lesson, and focused on the material that is being presented. During class instruction, educators might find that students are distracted or focused on something either than the instruction. These distractions can come in multiple forms in the classroom. Educators can try to limit this distraction by explicitly instruction students on how to regulate attention. Educators can provide students with cognitive strategies that can guide students to understand how they can consciously direct and maintain their attention on learning tasks. Through regular practices, these cognitive strategies can improve students’ ability to manage their individual learning. By providing students with this instruction, educators can encourage and self-directed learning in the classroom.
1. Shine the Spotlight On Attention
In this activity, educators introduce the subject of attention by asking students to share examples of being extremely focused on an activity that the student was able to block out distractions around them. These examples can include reading a book, watching a movie, practicing an instrument, or practicing a sport. In the way that students provide this attention in the examples that they have given, students can purposefully focus their attention to learning in the classroom. Based on this information, work with students to brainstorm ways that regulating attention can improve learning. For example brainstormed ideas might include:
- Paying attention to a lesson instead of being distracted by distractions in the hallway or playground.
- Switching from learning one subject to another or one class to another.
- Leaving personal disagreements or problems outside of the classroom to limit distractions during instruction.
- Completing a homework assignment before turning on TV, using cellphone, or playing a video game.
- Limiting or “turning off” worries about not doing well on an assignment or test in order to stay focused and remember material.
- Identifying what is most important and focusing solely on what is most important.
2. Focusing attention is a skill that can be improved
At any stage, students can develop their attention for learning through regular practice and training. Educators should provide students with good reasons for training their attention. Educators should remind students that people who can take charge of their attention are better at remembering things and figuring out what new information means and how they can use it. Students who are able to develop this knowledge, are better at metacognition and higher-order thinking processes. In the classroom, educators must guide and encourage students as they work to improve and strengthen their ability to focus attention.
3. Be Responsive and Pace Your Teaching
Within the classroom, the attention span of individual students is going to vary drastically. Educators should vary the instructional times that are provided in the classroom based on the needs of students. Especially when teaching younger students, educators should provide instruction is shorter amounts of time during lessons and learning activities. In the classroom, teachers can utilize the acronym CRAVE as a way to remember five other strategies for keeping students’ attention focused on learning:
- Build curiosity for learning with “teasers” that get students interested in the lesson. Educators should incorporate anticipatory sets into the classroom that peak student interest and curiosity.
- Look for ways to make lessons relevant to students’ lives. Educators need to incorporate authentic text, discussion, instruction, and activities into the classroom. By providing meaningful and authentic text and instructions students are better able to become engaged and interested in the material.
- Ask questions to engage students in learning and inquiry. By asking students questions, educators are ensuring that the students are involved in the lesson and are able to be active learners during instruction.
- Remember to include variety in the lesson. Educations should use a mix of learning activities. These variety helps to keep students engaged and interested in the material.
- Evoke emotions. Emotions can be distracting, they can also be used to enhance attention by making a lesson or learning activity more interesting.
- Educators can incorporate and utilize each of these instructional practiced into the classroom. The integration of these instructional methods can help students to become aware of their own thinking and their ability to focus during instruction. Each of these instructional methods and activities, can help to increase student attention and focus while in the classroom. As students are able to strengthen their attention skills, students will be better able to learn information and to retain the information that they have learned.
Wilson, D. (2015, January 5). Strategies for getting and keeping the brain’s attention.
Retrieved 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/strategies-getting-keeping-