The first of the executive constructs that we’d like to explore is attention. Attention is often under the microscope because of how much talk there is around ADHD and lack of focus in the classroom. If you don’t pay attention, it’s pretty hard to learn or retain what has been taught. Attention is not just focusing but it’s the management of mental energy, and the ability to designate the right amount of focus needed for a task. Determining how much time you’ll need to attend to a task is crucial to productivity in a classroom. If one does not focus on learning it's unreasonable to expect that they will learn, but what about hyper focus? Being so focused on one small aspect of a lesson or putting forth so much focus that there’s “no focus left” for the duration of the learning. For children working to regulate their executive function and their attention, focusing an inappropriate amount (whether too little or too much) is difficult to control. If you think of it as a percentage, if a child uses 80% of their focus stamina for the day on one 30 minute lesson they will only have 20% of their focus left for the rest of the day. Oppositely you might find a child that focuses deeply on playing with their eraser or on tracing a book, it can appear that they focus on this better than learning. It could be because they’ve used no focus during learning because of the number of distractions in the room so they have 90% of their focus left to dedicate to this. Focus can be supported and increased through practice, here are some examples:
-Using a timer while working (starting at increments as low as 2 or 3 minutes and increasing in increments of 2 minutes) and working with intense focus before breaking and resetting the timer.
-Movement breaks, small exercises like jumping jacks or wall push ups before starting work. Exercise is key in having a sound mind!
-Encouraging your child to ask questions while learning (jotting down questions on sticky notes or in the margins of work)
-Memorizing information (or poems/songs). Memorizing information exercises your brain which allows you to focus better.
The ways in which information is processed falls under the umbrella of attention. Like any muscle, the brain can be exercised so that processing speed can be increased. Here are some strategies for strengthening processing speed. -Matching games are a great way to build processing speed-Other games like Spot It or games that require you to rely on speed are a great way to increase your speed -Putting on a metronome on a fast beat has been proven to increase processing speed
-Watching TV or videos on advanced speed settings can improve your processing speed (but can be hard to adjust to!)