Paying attention sounds easy. But is it really? How many times have we reprimanded students for not paying attention?

Attention is the ability to focus on information and tasks while ignoring distractions. We know that fluent reading requires sustained and focused attention, yet attention spans are declining. A 2015 study by Microsoft reported that, since the year 2000, the average attention span dropped from 12 seconds to eight seconds. Researchers theorize that a weaker attention span may be a side effect of the mobile revolution and an increasingly digitized lifestyle. Many of these distractions begin long before adulthood. Consider these statistics about smartphones:

  • The average age for a child to get a smartphone is 12.
  • More than half of children under the age of 12 have a smartphone.
  • 21 percent of children under the age of eight use smartphones.

How does this impact students as they come to school? How do they feel when they have to turn off their phones and other electronic devices and pay attention for 40, 50, or 60 minutes at a time?

It’s virtually impossible to imagine a classroom where paying attention to the teacher for sustained periods of time is not critical to academic success. According to the International Listening Association, 45 percent of a student’s day is spent listening, and students are expected to acquire 85 percent of their knowledge through listening.

5 ways to improve your students' attention spans

Fortunately, attentional skills are amenable to training. Here are a few different ways to increase your students’ attention spans in the classroom.

1. Practice mindfulness.
Ask students to be aware of their breathing. Sounds simple, right? But how many of us actually take the time to notice our breathing and how we feel in each moment? Helping students get grounded in their bodies can help with paying attention. Using an expanding sphere ring to help students pace their breathing is a great way to calm everyone after a strenuous activity or at the beginning of a class period.

About the Author:

Cory Armes is a national education consultant with Scientific Learning Corp. She has 18 years of experience in K-12 education as a general and special education teacher and educational diagnostician, specializing in working with students with learning disabilities and behavioral issues.


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