Elementary School Students & Their Attention Spans
Over the past 25 years, I have seen attention spans drastically decrease. These changes are both physical, social, and academic. In short, it is hard for young learners to sit and listen for long periods of time. However, elementary students have always had short attention spans. There are some great strategies that educators use to help increase student learning and time on task. As a stakeholder, you can promote “good teaching will always be good teaching.” If lessons are intentional, it will help students increase their stamina for more extended periods of time.
Routines and Structure
Students have always thrived in a structured environment. By having expectations and procedures, students know what to expect and when to expect it. Students with high anxiety may be more prone to a shorter attention span. By giving clear directions and providing consistency it will help ease these frustrations. This creates a safe learning environment, helps to build confidence, and increases attention span when accompanied by the following ideas.
First, utilize planned brain breaks
At the beginning of the year, students have always had shorter attention spans. By understanding this concept, educators will want to use short bursts of instructional time and increase that over time. As the year progresses, planned brain breaks will then become shorter, and students will spend more time on tasks. Young learners need physical movement. Planning breaks to help utilize core muscle strength has been shown to improve attention span. Online programs help students focus by teaching students breathing techniques and movements like Go Noodle. Be cautious because some students may have a more challenging time transitioning back to learning than expected.
Next, find engaging activities
There is a big difference between entertaining students and engaging them. For example, many students can’t sit through a story, especially if it requires them to listen. Asking questions prior to instruction provides them with a framework for listening. “Front-loading” the lesson offers great returns on students focusing on specific questions. Make sure to include in a lesson plan framework these three parts:
This model not only provides scaffold instructions but helps learners stay focused. Guided practice and chunking instruction are excellent techniques that support increasing student learning and time on task.
Lastly, try gamifying the classroom
This goes hand in hand with finding engaging activities. When learning is fun and game-like, it can hold a student’s attention longer. When learning is challenging, sometimes students become frustrated and quit. Turning learning into a game, students are more likely to stay focused and continue through the point of frustration. Subscription services to online games often have a reporting option. This is great because it gives teachers a snapshot of a student’s progress throughout the year.
Over time, students will learn to increase time on task. As you focus your attention on young learners, you will find an audience that needs your expertise. As a stakeholder, you have an opportunity to provide resources that will not only help engage students, provide structure, and promote lifelong learning but will help to increase student attention spans.
Written by: Teresa Marchant
School Librarian at LOCKWOOD SCHOOL DISTRICT 26
Teresa has been an educator for over 25 years. She holds a Master’s in Educational Technology with an emphasis in Online Instruction from Montana State University as well as a certificate in School Library Media from the University of Washington. Over the years she has served in many capacities at the state and local level. Highlights include being the Vice Chair of the Certification Standards and Practices Advisory Council to the Montana Board of Public Education, a member of the School Leadership Team and Chair of the Professional Development Committee for her school district, and a member of the Montana Library Association board. She loves learning and enjoys helping others!
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