Psychologists have identified differing types of attention that help us to process information. They are generally known as Alternating Attention, Divided Attention, Selected Attention and Focused Attention. Understanding the types of attention we use for cognition is important so we can better control it, thus improving our wellbeing and outlook, reducing our stress levels and having more headspace.
Alternating Attention is switching between tasks that require different cognitive processing.
Divided Attention is having the ability to process more than two responses or tasks at the same time; multitasking, if you will.
Selected Attention is the ability to filter out other distractions by selecting only the information or stimuli required for the task or cognitive process.
Focused Attention is having the ability to focus on one task for an unlimited amount of time without distraction.
In this technical age, the distractions for learners are varied and many. With social media, television, internet, smart phones, and so much more to choose from, it seems nigh impossible to manage Focused Attention for any length of time. But the benefits of developing focused attention skills are plenty and can assist in wellbeing as well as success in other areas.
Examples of focused attention are listening to a lecture, reading a book, watching a film or making something without distraction. This level of focus allows the brain to take in the whole task without it being littered with a number of other thoughts and processes.
People with conditions like ADHD are unable to filter out distractions, which will detract from their wellbeing. This is a factor teachers and caregivers will need to take into account when dealing with students who are living with an attention disorder.
Focussed attention leads to quicker and more directed completion of a task, thereby leading to a sense of success, thus improving wellbeing. The person will enjoy the task more, and will take ownership of the process they undertook to complete it. Concentrating fully on something requires effort, though, particularly with so many disruptions in our society. So how can we improve our focused attention?
AS A TEACHER:
- Allow your students consistency. Don’t move the desks around too much, and ensure students are comfortable where they sit and who they are sitting with.
- A colourful classroom is great for students, but make sure there’s not too much dangling from ceilings and walls. Decorations are excellent stimuli for creativity, so they are crucial, but they are also an excellent disruption, so a balance is important.
- Give clear and precise instructions so students are able to understand the task and get to work.
- Encourage the class to ask questions and talk about the task before it begins, so they can understand it from a number of perspectives.
- Use assessment to encourage focus. Regular tests and supervised tasks will not only improve their ability to focus their attention, but it will also prepare students for senior secondary and tertiary learning, as well as improving their skills in the workplace.
- Encourage exercise and physical activity as it is well documented that exercise improves wellbeing and concentration.
AS A STUDENT:
- Have a dedicated homework area which is away from distractions and that you know is the place where study happens. Sitting on the bed or couch to study will not improve focused attention as the brain knows these areas are for resting. Tasks will take longer and this can be frustrating, thus having a negative impact on wellbeing.
- Do one thing at a time. Complete one homework task before moving on to another. It can be very stressful completing a number of tasks at once and you will feel overloaded. Take it one step at a time and tick tasks off on a list when you’ve completed them.
- Get some exercise. It will improve your attention span and wellbeing. If you’re finding it hard to focus, go for a walk, think about the task you need to do, and then start it straight away on your return.
- Use a timetable or diary and fill it in regularly. Tick things off as you’ve done them, but remember to do one thing at a time. See it through, tick it off and move on to the next task.
Focused Attention can have a substantial impact on wellbeing and personal success. The ability to devote attention to any one task at a time is an attribute that can be learned, practised and improved with time and dedication.