Pay attention! 5 ways to improve your students’ attention spans

45 percent of a student’s day is spent listening; shouldn't we do everything we can to improve their skills?

2. Power-up the brain.
Make sure students are alert and ready to take in information. If students don’t seem ready to pay attention, try a series of quick physical activities to help the body “wake up” so the brain better is able to focus. Even a quick game of Simon Says can help build focus and attention without creating chaos.

3. Break tasks into smaller chunks.
Some children can’t pay attention to multi-step directions and may need tasks broken down into individual steps. For example, instead of providing a set of several instructions at once. Instead of “Pull out your workbook, turn to page 8, and read the passage. Then answer the questions on this worksheet and turn it in to me for grading,” pause after each individual step and give students time to complete that step. This helps build students’ confidence while lowering their frustration.

4. Build underlying cognitive skills.
Attention is a major cognitive skill necessary to become a successful learner. Many children who have trouble with focus and attention don’t process information efficiently, which is an impediment to accurate listening and reading. Neuroscience-based interventions such as the Fast ForWord program target cognitive skills such as memory, attention, and processing speed, as well as language and reading skills. By working from the bottom up, using the principles of neuroplasticity, this type of intervention can remediate the underlying difficulties that keep children from paying attention and making progress.

5. Make time for recess.
Give more recess time to students, especially younger ones. Several schools have found that increasing the amount of time for recess and unstructured play results in an increase in students’ focus, decreases in distractions and behavioral interruptions, and improvements in test scores. While it might seem counterproductive to add more play time to the school day given everything that students are expected to learn, students who get more recess time have been shown to have an easier time focusing in the classroom.

Learning of any kind requires good attention skills. When students can attend carefully to a task and stick with it, they understand more. They ignore distractions. They don’t become frustrated or lose interest. They don’t disrupt others’ learning. When students pay attention, teachers can focus on teaching and students can focus on learning. That’s a win-win in anyone’s book!

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