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Teachers often despair that students don't pay attention in class. Easily distracted, all too often students chat with friends, listen to iPods®, and text on their phones during times when we expect them to be paying attention to the lesson and whatever else is going on in class. When we encounter this kind of behavior, often our first reaction is to assume the thermometer is broken, that it's the child who has a "behavior problem" and that it's the child's fault that he or she isn't paying attention in class. But just as people vary in how well they are able to see and hear, abilities for attention are tied to neurology, and it is perfectly natural for such abilities to vary among children. Therefore, it is the teacher's job to provide students with a variety of options to help them attend to the material, regardless of how their brains may be wired. (top)
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Any classroom will have a few students who have exceptional abilities for attention, as well as a few who are challenged in this area. As professional educators, we don't want to choose which of our students will or will not learn from us. We want all of our students to learn. So it's our commitment as professionals to understand how differences in attention interact with our teaching, and then adjust our approach so that we reach all of our students, not just a few.
We may assume that students who are best at paying attention are the ones who will learn best. However, it may be surprising to discover that, in some circumstances, the students who are least able to pay attention may be the ones who are able to learn best. Let's begin to look at how understanding the neurology of attention can help us to be more effective teachers, who are able to reach and affect an entire class.
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