“Everyone knows what attention is,” wrote William James in his Principles of Psychology (1890). “It is the taking possession by the mind in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought… It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others, and is a condition which has a real opposite in the confused, dazed, scatterbrained state.”
Attention or concentration (the words attention and concentration are used synonymously) is important to learning. Poor attention can be a key sign of behaviour and learning disorders such as hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder (ADD).
When it comes to attention, there are three important aspects to keep in mind:
Attention is a skill
The first is that attention is a skill, and just like all other skills (riding a bicycle, driving a car) must be learnt. There are three types of attention: When a child is easily distracted by a pencil falling off their desk or sounds outside the classroom window, they lack focused attention. Sustained attention is required to focus for long periods of time. Then there is divided attention, which is a higher-level skill where you have to perform two or more tasks at the same time. If the task is to write a story, a learner must be able to think about their characters and plot, as well as spelling and punctuation rules that apply.
Attention is linked to memory
Lack of attention is often linked to poor memory. Parents may think their child has an attention problem, but the root cause is often a memory problem. Working memory is the cognitive system responsible for the temporary storage and manipulation of information. If a child has difficulty copying from the board into their workbook, they struggle with visual memory. If they find it challenging to remember a number of verbal instructions, their auditory memory may be weak.
Attention is an act of will
Last but not least, attention is an act of will. A child must be willing to learn and be taught. If the child is unmotivated and unwilling to learn, no learning or very little learning will take place. The quote by motivational speaker Zig Ziglar is apt:
If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you,
If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.