On paying attention

Pay attention!

We hear it all the time and it certainly is important!  But how does one do it? And does everyone do it the same way?

I can’t answer the first question, but see How Kids Pay Attention and Why some Kids Struggle with it for some good ideas. But for the second question, see below.Most kids (and adults) pay attention by looking at you. Indeed, many people will use this as a test of whether you are paying attention to them.  If you  are looking out the window, doodling, staring off into space or whatever, then you will be thought not to be paying attention.  But this may not be the case.

For some of us, including me, it’s much easier to pay attention if we are not looking at your face. Faces are overwhelming!  So, maybe that kid who is gazing out the window really is paying attention.  And if you’ve got a kid who seems to be looking at you but not paying attention, maybe they need to start doodling!


  1. Mary Lynne Foster says

    I’m a second grade teacher, or was – I just retired. It is very difficult to be in front of a class whether you are teaching a lesson, reading a book aloud, or having a discussion and watch children as they stare blankly, examine the bottom of their shoes, or pick staples off the carpet. It is hard to believe they are listening, When I’m in a group of adults I don’t expect everyone to sit with their eyes glued to my face to show they are listening to me. I think the difference is that first of all, they are more accomplished listeners. That still doesn’t mean they hear every thing but the stakes for me are lower because I’m usually not trying to get complicated ideas important new skills across and I’m certainly not responsible for their understanding it. Second, they usually respond in some way to what I’m saying, by a comment, a look, a smile, etc. When I’m talking with or to my young learners, I’m aware that they do not have a lot of practice at listening actively, that I am delivering new skills and important information, and that I am responsible for their understanding of it. And many of them give me no feedback of any kind. There are a some that are actively engaged and they show my by their body language or oral responses. Most of the time when I call on the shoe-starers it is obvious that they have not been paying the least bit of attention. As I pull them into the discussion they become more interested and engaged. If I did not ask for them to show their attention they would miss the material and their own engagement in it. However. There are always a few students that give the impression that they haven’t heard a thing but will be able to respond appropriately, even brilliantly, when asked to. As worrying as it is for me, once I’ve identified such a child, I will have to be careful not to demand ask that they show their attention in typical ways. Because they frequently do not show their engagement in other ways (volunteering answers, body language, facial expressions, etc.) I also have to continue to engage them and help them share their learning.
    One way a child who finds it uncomfortable to look at faces or who needs to doodle in order to understand can take some pressure of themselves is to show they are listening in other ways, especially by sharing answers or responding in a discussion, or even writing a response to share later.
    I am not learning disabled, but I do have a mild attention deficit. It is often easier for me to pay attention while doodling and/or responding to what I’m hearing through making little notes, writing questions, etc. In college, and even now at staff meetings and professional development work, I always bring my knitting because otherwise I find it difficult to pay continuous attention. However I am always careful to show the presenter I am paying attention by asking questions and contributing to the discussion.

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