I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve said that to my students over the years. I’d bet many of you can say the same. We often think that our students come to school ready to learn and have all the necessary skills to be good learners. The reality is they don’t.
In today’s world, we are all inundated with stimuli. Although many of us as adults have the capacity to decipher what it is we want to pay attention to and how to redirect our attention when it drifts, we need to teach our students the skill of paying attention. We need to teach them how to learn.
So, how do we teach students to pay attention?
Paying Attention in Action:
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I love a good read aloud book! I hope you check out one or both of the great books highlighted and/or try the activities described below:
Puppy Mind by Andrew Jordan Nance is a picture book that tells a story of a young boy learning how to pay attention by becoming friends with, and subsequently training his active, wandering mind. Nance correlates the training of our minds to the process of training a puppy – with gentle, consistent effort.
In Breathe Like a Bear, author Kira Wiley uses animals, story and imagination to offer readers ways to explore different mindfulness skills including paying attention. In the “Focus” section of her book different animals describe activities that could be used at school or at home to increase breath and present moment awareness, an easily accessible and widely utilized method of learning to pay attention.
Using natural and created sounds teachers can strengthen students’ listening skills. Listen For One Minute is a low risk activity I use often and also doesn’t take a lot of preparation or planning. In this activity, students simply sit still for one minute and listen to the sounds they hear. They are encouraged to only note the sounds they hear such as “creaking door” or “coughing” and to avoid labeling the sounds as pleasant or unpleasant; and not to generate a story about the sound. Following the activity, we discuss the sounds we each heard. Listen For One Minute is very repeatable, as sounds around us constantly change. It is a gentle way of introducing and strengthening the skill of paying attention through mindful listening. You could try it too; Simply listen to the sounds around you for one minute wherever you are reading this.
Another simple activity to cultivate mindful awareness is called Change Five. Change Five requires one or two students to leave the classroom for two minutes and change five things about their appearance. Students love the challenge of being the trickster by taking off a sweater; trading shoes with another trickster; tucking in a t-shirt or taking off earrings. When the tricker(s) return to class the other students have an opportunity to hone their observation skills by trying to identify the changes made.
Paying attention is a skill that can be learned; And as such, it must be explicitly taught and practiced in order for it to be strengthened. These short, simple practices and books I’ve shared here today can be utilized throughout the school year and can help your students to