We are bombarded by so much information in the course of our daily lives that it is easy to get distracted from what we should or would like to accomplish. One of the most valuable “cognitive assets,” in our Thinking for Results approach (Wilson & Conyers, 2011) is what we call Selective Attention.
Selective Attention is defined as "the skill of identifying what is important to any situation and attending to what is necessary with appropriate focus." Effective teachers guide their students to identify what is most important in learning situations so that they can attend to necessary tasks with appropriate focus.
While attending the Cognitive Neuroscience of Learning symposium a few years ago, Marcus and I had the opportunity to see Professor Amishi Jha from the University of Miami report on her research with "mindfulness practice" as a way to improve attentional control.
Dr. Jha worked with adults participating in daily half-hour sessions of purposeful selection of a focus of attention, with the aim of drawing the mind back to that singular subject whenever it wanders. She used the metaphor of shining a flashlight on what is most important at the time. Dr. Jha reported that her study subjects were able to improve their attention, and she suggested that these techniques may also be useful in enhancing students' executive function and attention control.
Our research into neuropsychological understanding of learning indicates that being able to selectively attend to learning tasks is invaluable to academic success. To help students develop their Selective Attention, the following exercise is one of many in our texts:
- Ask your students to do an Internet search on a particular topic.
- Afterwards, ask them if they had any trouble staying on the topic of the search.
- Ask your students to tell the group what strategies they use to stay on task when they search. In other words, how do they use Selective Attention when they do an Internet search?
- Amplify the strategies that work.
- Ask your students when they need to use Selection Attention to accomplish other tasks at school or home.