“Attention” in education falls into many categories, all of which are quite basic to the formation of an excellent student. Without the ability to be attentive, the student is not able to learn. I continue to think about attention and want to list a few of the categories I believe this idea affects in education:
A. The student
1. The “in-the-moment” attention of the student is central to any success in teaching him. He must be “there” in the moment of communication. This seems to place onus upon both himself and the teacher.
2. Gender comes into play in this issue. I have taught long enough to know that the attention gaining patterns, the attention holding patterns, and the distractions of each gender are very different from each other. Boys and girls don’t pay attention in the same way or to the same things. I think this is a huge player in the whole ADD/ADHD malaise in current educational theory. Far too many elementary teachers (who are mostly female) have defined attention in purely feminine ways. That is not fair, as the young men might say.
3. Attention is not a talent but a skill. By this I mean that it must be formed in the student, not simply either found or not found within him. Attention is a habit either taught or missed in the very young. I think this is a major factor in why parents, and especially Dad’s, should be reading to their kids a lot at a young age.
4. The TV does not build attention, but destroys it.
5. The imagination, and thus creativity, is dependent in a large way on a well developed attention. Thus in part is explained our loss of true creativity in recent decades.
B. The teacher
1. See A.3. above and note that a major skill that the early elementary teacher must focus on would be the acquisition and refinement of attention skills.
2. Note A.2. above and realize that an excellent teacher will be careful how he or she deals with the gender differences in their classroom. Corollaries to this would be the need to perhaps in wholesale fashion ditch the modern gender propaganda that seems to finds its greatest adherents in Teacher’s colleges. Also, it would behoove us to consider again the wisdom of single gender classrooms for our schools.
3. To the extent that the modern teacher succumbs to the “MTV” mantra that we must have multiple activities in short bursts all throughout the day with no extended activity at all, other than maybe playtime, we are fueling the problem of attention deficit, not addressing it. Plan your lessons to build an extended and strong attention, not the opposite.
4. The older habits of learning build attention: dictation, memory work, imitative writing, reading aloud – interestingly many of the things now taboo are exactly what prevented attention deficit in the past.
5. Hopefully a word of encouragement, or at least one point that takes much of the burden off the teacher: a student enters Kindergarten with much of their propensity toward or away from attention already formed by their home (or day care, as the case may be).
C. The parent
1. Working off B.5., parents and the early care providers for children must form an attentive child. This means the opposite of using media and technology to keep children occupied while we as parents “do other things.” See A.4. for more on this point.
2. Turn off the TV, open a book, and form your child’s ability to pay attention.
3. Consider carefully what formal means you have at your disposal to aid you in forming an attention. I list just a few thoughts on this key topic below:
a. If you attend church, be very careful not to allow others to form poor attention in your child in “children’s church” programs. Some of these do aid prolonged attention in worship, but many fall prey to all the modern propaganda and destroy much of your hard work at home. Perhaps your child will gain the ability to pay close attention to the worship of God in the “regular” service more so than in a modified one that caves into modern notions of children’s attention span.
b. The family that does attentive things together becomes better attenders together. Nature walks are a great way to easily build the powers of attention and observation into your children. Family Bible Time can do the same, along with reading times. One of the great lost arts in families is story-telling. This is a marvelous cure for the poorly attentive.
4. I am not suggesting that you can either, a) force attention through draconian actions, or b) just “let it happen” in regard to attention. It is a culturally practiced skill, not something addressed as information to be passed along.
D. The curriculum
1. Schools and home schools must make curricular choices with attentive needs in mind. By this I don’t mean lowest common attention denominator thinking, but rather purposefully choosing those things that demand longer and closer attention than what is common in today’s textbook laden world.
2. A recovery of a full orbed view of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom will necessitate moving away from “fact dumping” and its curricular tools. Students will benefit, especially in the early years, but no less in the later years, from real experience, being “in” the thing being studied, and the full use of all the senses. This will raise the student’s (especially the male ones) ability to pay attention.
3. I deeply value the writings and practices of Charlotte Mason on this point. I would also highly recommend James Taylor’s Poetic Knowledge for help in this regard.
E. The culture
1. I do believe that building the skill of attention is a cultural act, not something that a specialist can help us with or a seminar/course can remedy.
2. We must teach others to be who we are. If we are unable to attend so shall our students be also.
Our choices in the home and school for activities, forms of worship, demeanor in the classrooms and between them, lunch, recess, etc. all work together toward or away from a well attended student body. We must be very purposeful in how we develop the skill of attention.