Multiple Simultaneous Attention
What is it?
Multiple Simultaneous Attention is the ability to multitask with success. It is the ability to move attention and effort back and forth between two or more activities when engaged in them at the same time. It makes demands on sustained attention, response inhibition and speed of information processing, and also requires planning and strategy.
ACTIVATE exercises multiple simultaneous attention as the tasks presented for students grow more complex. For example, multiple tasks must be performed simultaneously through levels of a computer exercise, and through simultaneous searching for two categories of objects at once in another computer exercise.
When it’s a problem:
Even simple tasks often require multitasking. Examples include listening to a lecture while writing notes, keeping an eye on remaining time while solving math problems, or reading a selected passage while thinking about a related question. Students who are unable to process multiple tasks at once have to work hard to transition from one task to the next, and can easily get derailed. These students tend to process instructions and work through problems more slowly than their peers. If they fall behind, and the class begins to move on without them, their problems only get exacerbated as they struggle to keep up and simultaneously complete previous tasks.
1) Go easy with tech toys. Young people can easily become encumbered with media – trying to conduct a conversation via text message while listening to music and doing homework, for example. Some young brains can handle the cognitive demands this multi-tasking requires – but not every brain (young or old) can do this kind of multitasking with success. If multiple simultaneous attention isn’t a young student’s strength, you can help them focus by limiting their access to distracting media.
2) Give them the chance to do one thing at a time in the classroom. Set parameters for working on specific tasks or topics, and hold to them.
3) Continue using ACTIVATE. ACTIVATE exercises multiple simultaneous attention as the tasks presented for students grow more complex. For example, multiple tasks must be performed simultaneously through the two- and three-lens levels of The Magic Lens, and through simultaneous searching for two categories of objects at once in the Pirate Pete’s Packing Panic. The physical exercises ACTIVATE recommends include literally juggling multiple objects at once, and a variety of games that required sustained concentration on a number of simultaneous streams of information.
When it’s a strength:
It’s not difficult to imagine a student trying to do several things at once, and not doing any of them well – but some students really can juggle a number of tasks all at once. This doesn’t mean you should let them break out the mp3 player and chew gum all during the school day – but these students may benefit from the opportunity to multitask to certain extent.
1) Give some latitude. You may find them doodling a picture while also following a lecture, or flipping through a textbook while also chiming in on a group discussion – and you should allow them the flexibility to do so (as long as they continue to succeed). In a media-saturated future, many employment opportunities will require professionals to be able to monitor various streams of information – so students should have the opportunity to exercise their mental juggling.
The 8 Core Cognitive Capacities
- Sustained Attention
- Response Inhibition
- Speed of Information Processing
- Cognitive Flexibility
- Multiple Simultaneous Attention
- Working Memory
- Category Formation
- Pattern Recognition
Human Multitasking – Wikipedia Article
“Switching Costs” – American Psychological Association
Peer-reviewed studies on Multitasking – the US National Library of Medicine