Educators educating Educators

Jan 19

Selective Attention

Be aware of Selective Attention in the classroom.

To illustare this point, watch the following video and follow the directions precisely.


The video deals with a phenomenon called selective attention. The issue of why people pay attention, how much they do and to what is often more referred to as selective attention. In any busy scene, be it a classroom or a freeway, it’s virtually impossible to note everything at once. What a person pays attention to in these circumstances is what they select to pay attention to, though it may be noted that selection is not necessarily conscious. Selected attention can then be viewed as the process by which people find something upon which to concentrate, and the level of concentration they can continue to exert as distractions arise.


“We’re really facing the limit of human ability to cope with stimuli in our environment,” says Maggie Jackson, author of Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming of the Dark Age. And the stimuli keep multiplying. Researchers at the University of California-San Diego recently found that, on average, Americans hear, see, or read 34 gigabytes of information a day-about 100,000 words-from TV, the Internet, books, radio, newspapers, and other sources. That figure has grown more than 5 percent annually since 1980. What's worse, our coping mechanisms may increase our stress levels.


According to former Microsoft vice president Linda Stone, People are paying continual partial attention to events, situations, and people in our everyday lives.  We must live with the persuasive force of distraction confirmed by the fact that it is almost impossible to get anyone’s full attention at any one time throughout our chaotic and hectic lives."


Attention was even noted as far back as 1890 by William James remarked in his textbook Principles of Psychology:


“Everyone knows what attention is. 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. Focalization, concentration, of consciousness are of its essence. 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 which in French is called distraction, and Zerstreutheit in German.”


The dictionary describes attention as notice taken of someone or something or the regarding of someone or something as interesting or important. It is a cognitive process of selectively concentrating on one aspect of the environment while ignoring other things. Examples include paying close attention to a classroom lecture, listening carefully to what someone is saying while ignoring other conversations in a room (the cocktail party effect) or listening to a cell pone while driving a car.


Take-away: Start all lessons with a clear and explicitly goal stated at the beginning of the activity.


Naturally, a grade could be negatively influenced if the student is confused about the directions and expectations of an activity. When giving assignment directions to students, be as precise as possible so students know exactly what is expected of them. Do not assume that all students understand the expected outcome of an assignment because you told the class once the directions to an assignment or they were written on a handout or on the board. The percentages of people noticing the Gorilla, seeing the person disappear, or noting the changing color of the curtain would certainly increase if explicitly told to do so at the start of the video.


Take away point: Whodunnit?


To illustrate precise directions at the start of a classroom activity can alter the outcome of an experience and improve selective attention, I’m going to modify how you view the following video. From the start of the video, be extremely observant of any changes that occur. The purpose of this activity is to test your awareness to detail and illustrate the importance of clear goals and specific direction before commencing on a new student lesson.


Notice by expressly stating and clarifying the directions at the beginning of the exercise, you were able to focusing your attention to seemingly unimportant details of the video. To fully illustrate the value of detailed and specific directions prior to the start of an classroom activity, show the video to another person without providing any prior instructions.


“If we can control the attention of the child, we solve the problems of education.” Maria Montessori

This month Ed Tip will examine how to improve students' learning by activating their attention.