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Enhancing focused attention

If there is one skill both parents and teachers would like their children to develop, it would be the ability to focus effectively and pay attention to the task in hand.

As an experienced teacher and trainer, I am still surprised when I see a student begin to talk to or distract their classmate exactly at the time when crucial instructions are being given by the teacher.  I have also noticed on numerous occasions that a child who is not attentive or ‘on task’ may actually be in a state of deep concentration (chiseling their name into the desk). This has led me to conduct my own research into the question: Can focus and attention be enhanced and if so, how can we develop them?


What is focused attention?

Focus, attention and concentration are skills possessed by everyone in varying degrees. Focus is the ability to pay attention to one thing. Concentration is the ability to sustain focus. For the purposes of this article, I will define ‘focused attention’ as the ability to concentrate on completing the educational task in hand (be it learning in class or studying at home).

When considering how the brain focuses attention, it’s useful to refer to a ‘dual processing’ model of attention; attention can be either automatic or controlled.  In automatic processing, thinking occurs with little effort. Controlled processing is intensive thinking and is responsible for self-control.  Whilst automatic processing is primarily triggered by environmental stimuli, controlled processing is dependent on information in memory, expectations of what might occur and strategies for conscious thinking (meta-cognition). One could say that controlled attention is ‘active’ and automatic attention is ‘passive’.


What are the implications?

A lack of focused attention can lead to behavioural issues, class disruption, poor academic results and a reduction in self-esteem. Developing focused attention on the other hand, can lead to increased productivity, improved grades and an increase in self-esteem. Recent research conducted by Michael Mrazek at UC Santa Barbara in the USA showed a 16 percentile point increase in test scores, within students who had undergone training in focusing strategies.

See here for full research.


How can we develop these skills for use in the classroom?

If there’s one skill all children envy, it’s the Sherlock Holmes-like ability to quickly analyse a situation and come up with a theory that explains it (like the feather on a cat’s whisker). Luckily, anyone can hone these same cognitive skills, and we at MADE have developed the CSI:MADE workshop to help your students do just that. Developed with assistance from a Detective Sergeant within the London Metropolitan Police Force, our enlightening workshop will enable your students to:

  • Question their current studying habits and propensity for being distracted
  • Raise their conscious awareness and enhance their self-control
  • Increase their powers of observation
  • Take effective notes
  • Ask probing questions
  • Form connections between what they see and what they know
  • Rapidly increase their knowledge base
  • Know how to listen carefully and when to follow instructions
  • Be passionate about learning and motivated to complete tasks


This workshop is ideal for developing the focused attention of students in both years 8 and 9. We are sure that your students will enjoy the session and benefit greatly from it.

To book a workshop for your students, call us on 0800 2707660

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