How important is attention to the learning process?
Of course attention is an important part of the learning process. Incidentally, last year, I surveyed my students on what they thought the benefits of reading literature were. One student remarked that her ability to concentrate improved. Paying attention to a lecture in class, to the pages of a novel, or the scenes of a movie are all important because these are ways for us to obtain new information.
How hard is it to keep students' attention engaged in what is happening in the classroom?
It can be difficult to keep students’ attention in the class. Even if the teacher does his/her best to keep learners engaged, they may still not pay attention because students have full lives and they can get distracted by personal problems, lack of sleep, or other matters that are outside the realm of the classroom.
What can we do to help our students pay attention?
Although I haven’t tried it extensively, we could encourage students to lead healthy lives (get enough sleep, exercise, manage stress, eat healthful foods, use time management strategies, etc.). As previously mentioned, although we cannot control what happens to students outside the classroom, we could give students some tips to help them. I once listened to a talk by an expert in ESP (English for Specific Purposes) who mentioned that he uses life skills information as content for his grammar lessons. I wrote several sample sentences below that could be included in a lesson about sentence structure and variety.
- Simple Sentence: Sleep is important.
- Compound Sentence: Sleep is important, for people who don’t get enough sleep will have difficulty paying attention in class.
- An adequate amount of sleep is necessary for paying attention and consolidating memories; therefore, sufficient rest aids learning.
- Complex Sentence: When a students are sleep-deprived, they may become irritable or forgetful.
- Compound-Complex Sentence: Although getting a good night’s sleep is important, many people do not sleep enough, so they have difficulty paying attention and learning new information.
In this way, while learning about sentence structure and variety, students are also exposed to some information that may help them to become more successful learners. Before writing the above sentences, I read Sleep, Learning, and Memory. Please consult the article for more information.
What effective strategies do you use with your groups to help the students to pay attention?
I try to choose interesting, engaging, and useful materials and activities for the classroom. Also, I try to vary the types of activities students perform during the class period, for example, silent reading followed by discussion or desk work followed by movement.