The Insider’s Guide to Improving Attention


Attention is a BIG problem in today’s classrooms when teaching kids to read, write and spell. Inattention shows up in children for many different reasons and is a complex problem. BUT there are ways to support these children. The Insider’s Guide to Improving Attention offers ways to support children bit by bit to help them manage this all-encompassing problem. Let’s begin with a story about a little boy called Ben whom I taught in Year Two. He is a delightful child who would be classed as having his nose in everybody’s business except his own, obviously, Ben is easily distracted. And, of course, in a normal classroom, he was always in trouble for not paying attention. He came into a small group where I was teaching kids to read.
 I set the gauntlet early. All children on exit from the group had to achieve a minimum of level 20 in reading. In order to get the brain ready for learning, I made certain that the children has a 3-5 minute run before the lesson and throughout the time, at least, one down time when their brain was resting. My support was to make sure that the lessons were engaging with plenty of movement and variety. A library book was read each day to expose the students to colourful, interesting vocabulary which we put on a wall chart.Our lessons were comprised of other components such as manipulating sounds (phonological awareness), phonics, high frequency words, blending sounds into words, breaking words up into syllables and comprehension. Quite a line up but a combination that from my own action research, I knew would work.

What I Noticed

I knew that this little boy was bright, impulsive and inattentive. I also noticed that he craved attention and most of the time he used a very low volume when he spoke in the group but talked loudly in the playground. I felt that Ben had poor self-esteem due to poor academic success. Also, I thought that his brash and loud behaviour was symptomatic of his poor perception of himself and his abilities.

What I Found Out

Through observations, I noticed that if I gave the Ben lots of attention, he would begin to settle and work consistently for a short period of time. I also observed that he wanted to please, even though his way of pleasing was annoying to most people because he was continuously interrupting and moving. I sat him on a gym ball and minimised his movement and his attention improved. He also had many breaks where he had planned heavy muscle work to improve focus. I was very aware that reading was improving BUT at a slow pace. So, in order to fast track the reading I decided I would give Ben individual reading each day. Teaching kids to read requires a lot of thought about why they are not reading. It could be a combination of many underlying problems.

What Happened

My goodness, I was astounded at what happened. To begin, we set a time each day for Ben’s reading. If it happened that some other appointment came into play Ben was really upset, so I made certain that I NEVER interrupted his lesson. He practised diligently, I timed his attention with a stop watch and during this time he wasn’t allowed to be distracted by ANYTHING. He told me that it hurt his brain but he did it. Everything improved, attention, relationships and within the given time he achieved level 20 in reading with 100% comprehension.

What is Next?

To continue to improve attention I am going to put him on the program, Lumosity, to strengthen and increase his neural pathways. This will be accessed at school for fifteen minutes each day and over a period of time will show improvement in attention. Together with the new level of engagement, improvement in self- esteem and results and access to Lumosity, Ben should be well on the road to future success. However, we must never assume that this child will always progress without monitoring and teacher input. At this stage, we are on the journey, a journey that will prepare Ben for a future that will be bright, satisfying, enjoyable and successful.
Teaching kids to read write and spell involves looking at a holistic approach to learning and making certain that access to the curriculum is not compromised by attention or other underlying problems. Expecting children to reach their goals is a powerful aspect of teaching kids to read. Take the time to observe children and cater for their needs while believing in your own abilities to problem solve. Teachers and parents impact on a child’s success in life, give it a real go!!! Most importantly, enjoy the journey; you could be the only person that takes a focused interest in this child’s future.
Ann Foster

  Ann Foster is a talented teacher who has been in education for over 30 years. She has been recognised as a teacher who can teach the most difficult children to learn successfully. Her passion for teaching and her love of children has made her an educational guru in teaching kids to read, write and spell.
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