What is it?
Sustained Attention is the basic ability to look at, listen to and think about classroom tasks over a period of time. All teaching and learning depends on it. Without attention, new learning simply does not happen, and issues of understanding and memory are of no relevance.
Attention in the classroom results from a combination of the child’s internal ability to sustain attention and the “attention getting” power of the lesson material. Teaching cannot be successful without both; a teacher cannot be so interesting all the time to make up for a child’s lack of internal ability to sustain attention. In children with attention problems, the brain systems that sustain attention seem to be slow and incomplete in their development. Popular over-stimulating attention-getting devices like video games or television may exacerbate the situation by weakening the child’s own internal ability to sustain attention. ACTIVATE™ exercises are designed to be fun and interesting enough to meet the child half-way, but they require the child to use and develop his or her own internal abilities to sustain attention on tasks that grow increasingly lengthy and complex.
When it’s a problem:
In children with attention problems, the brain systems that sustain attention seem to be slow and incomplete in their development. Popular over-stimulating attention-getting devices like video games or television may exacerbate the situation by weakening the child’s own internal ability to sustain attention. Teachers need to strike just the right balance between keeping students engaged, and continuing to give tasks that challenge and strengthen students’ attention span.
1) Employ teaching strategies that play to student strengths and learning preferences. A student who has difficulty maintaining attention will struggle in a traditional teacher-led classroom that relies heavily on lecture or independent study. These students may have more success learning with technology, or working in more social settings, through group work and discussion. While it’s important to make some demands on student’s need to exercise their attention span, the overriding concern is that students are capable of remaining engaged in the content or materials at hand.
2) Provide a learning environment that provides consistency and structure. Students who struggle with sustaining attention may have more difficulty transitioning between different kinds of learning environments and tasks. Be ready to explicitly introduce and continuously repeat lesson instructions to keep students on task.
3) Limit exposure to television and video games. A child with attention problems may be able to spend prolonged amounts of time “paying attention” to TV or video games, but because these types of media over-stimulate the brain with constantly changing visual and audio feedback, they actually demand little of the brain, and may make attention problems worse.
4) Continue providing opportunities to interact with ACTIVATE. ACTIVATE exercises are designed to be fun and interesting enough to meet the child half-way, but they require the child to use and develop his or her own internal abilities to sustain attention on tasks that grow increasingly lengthy and complex.
When it’s a strength:
Children who exhibit a high degree of ability to sustain attention are likely to do well in traditional schooling models. They may be more able to follow teacher lecture – but are also likely to enjoy and excel at working independently. A strong ability to sustain attention is likely to serve students well in a wide range of vocational and academic areas that reward tenacious independent study, like Science and Literature. They may find more dynamic classroom environments – in groups, or pairs – that take them off-task to be especially challenging or annoying.
1) Enrich students with opportunities to work independently in subjects that are especially interesting and allow the student to continue strengthen their ability to focus and sustain attention. As much as possible, allow these students to work within their interests, selecting learning materials and designing their own tasks.
2) Assign more complex, in-depth student projects. Students who are highly self-motivated and have the ability to stay on task should be given the opportunity to engage in doing research and working on enrichment projects.
The 8 Core Cognitive Capacities
- Sustained Attention
- Response Inhibition
- Speed of Information Processing
- Cognitive Flexibility
- Multiple Simultaneous Attention
- Working Memory
- Category Formation
- Pattern Recognition
“Attention Spans Increased in the Classroom” – ADDitude Magazine
“Misunderstood Minds” – from PBS Parents
“Teaching Children with ADHD” (PDF) – from the US Department of Education
“New Understandings of ADHD” – from CHADD