Research shows that we can teach children HOW to attend better.

Many children have difficulty with attention. Yet, it’s not an all or nothing proposition. Our attention systems are on a continuum from hyper-alert/over-focused to inattentive. When we begin to have the “Cognitive Conversation” about what attention is, what part of the cycle our brain is in at any given point in time and how to employ strategies to move to another part in the cycle, our students are empowered to better manage their attention. Attention is a cognitive skill, one way to build it is to coach it.

My Attention Engine Classroom Activity Set

When we teach children the parts of “My Attention Cycle” they become empowered thinkers. No longer is their inattention a mystery, now they know what attention is and next they will know how to improve it.  

We teach attention skills in three ways. First, we teach the children the parts of their attention cycle. Then we talk with the children about strategies such as the flashlight technique to make conscious decisions about where they are directing their attention. Then we play attention games such as switch-task activities, write attention cueing stories/poems and help the children to learn to be their brain’s best coaches.

In our new “My Attention Engine” activity set, we take the children on the “road of my attention” helping them to recognize when they are attending and when they are drifting.

Here are 5 Simple Steps To Begin the Attention Coaching Process:

Step 1: Let the children know that ATTENTION is on a continuum, it is not one single event.

Step 2: Teach the children about the different parts of their Attention Cycle.

Alerting – Taking cognitive action with a presence of mind in which a child turns on his mental energy, much like a car engine. A child has to get his “Vroom” going before he can get his “Attention Engine” working.

Selecting – Once a child is “alert” or energized, his attention engine is on. Now he focuses his headlights on the target stimulus.  

Attending – Once the child has selected a salient target he needs to direct mental effort toward attending to the target, that means, “All systems on” “Mental Effort Running”. “Let’s focus, listen and make meaning” of what the target information says or delivers to us.

Sustaining – Now that the child’s “Attention Engine” is in full gear, his job is to reduce the noise of distractions and continue to direct his mental energy toward the target stimulus. This is what sustaining is. It’s a process of re-alerting attention as the horn beeps, the child next to him moves and the teacher sneezes. Sustaining is ignoring the distractions and dialing in on what matters.

Drift – When the competing noises, smells or visuals begin to win, the brain drifts and sustained attention wanes. This is actually a normal process. The brain would get too fatigued if it generated sustained attention with its full speed engine 100% of the time. So it drifts, it takes a breather. The challenge is not the drift, drift is like a breath, the challenge is being mindfully aware of the drift, and being able to re-alert, re-select and sustain once again. 

Step 3: Help the children recognize and talk about a time, like right now:) when they were in a specific part of the attention cycle so they can begin to move toward the ability to turn on their attention engine to move to another part in the cycle.

Step 4: Play a game of switching focus from one thing to another, right now, in the moment, so they can feel what re-alerting to a new target stimulus feels like.

Step 5: Talk about their experience exploring the attention cycle and discussing how and when they revved-up their attention engine to move to a new part in the attention cycle.

Managing one’s attention begins with awareness. Once a child is aware that attention comes in several forms and is made up of different components in the attention cycle, they begin to be more aware of when they are attending and when they are drifting. This increased awareness begins with a conversation about attention. Then it moves to practicing strategies to shift from one part of the cycle to another. Once a child has new strategies, he can create self-coaching sentences to help him stay on task, rev up his engine and even take a breather when needed.