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Attention as it Occurs Naturally in the Classroom

Without prior announcement or warning, drop a large textbook (or anything that will make a loud sound) on the floor in the middle of a lecture. Ask students to write down what they were thinking about just prior to dropping the book. Take a poll of what students were thinking about. Chances are that only a minority will have been listening to the lecture actively. Discuss why this might be so. Here are some points to discuss:
  1. There is a lot competing for priority in most people's attentional "space." What might those distractions be for your students?
  2. An instructor (including you!) may sometimes not focus on an idea or topic of high immediate interest. When is this problem the responsibility of the instructor, and when is it the responsibility of the student?
  3. Could students (including even young ones in elementary school) train themselves to pay attention better? Here is a website with study-skill suggestions for paying better attention, but there are other such pages as well.

(Tip: Since students might be self-conscious about admitting that they were NOT paying attention, try polling them with a secret, written ballot which is tallied by fellow students, who then report to the class.)

- Seifert Seifert Nov 8, 2010