May 2, 2017 by Carrie Gajowski, MA

Paying attention 

Sounds easy to some of us. But is it really? Consider the various objects and applications vying for your attention right now. Email updates, texts, app notifications, voicemails -- each of these distractions in one pocket-sized device. Factor in your numerous daily tasks, social commitments, and family matters, and it's no wonder the average attention span continues to decline. And many of these distractions begin long before adulthood.

I recently read that humans have a shorter attention span than goldfish. Intriguing, right? Goldfish apparently have an attention span of 9 seconds; humans 8 seconds. In 2000, before the advent of the internet, humans had an attention span of 12 seconds. 

What is behind this change of attention in our lives? Of course, the advent of the internet and our smartphones. Who knew 20 years ago that we would all be carrying around our phones the way we do? They have become necessities. 

Children and Smartphones  

Smartphones are becoming part of childhood. 

Consider these statistics:

  • Children are now catching onto the smartphone revolution. Over half of children under the age of 12 have one. 
  • 21% of children under the age of 8 use smartphones — more than 1 in 5.
  • The average age for a child to get a smartphone is now 12. 
  • Smartphone/internet addiction could be surpassing drug addiction for young adults. More research is being done on this topic and I am certain we will see more in the years to come.

How do you think this impacts your students every day as they come to school, in a world that was very different from the one their parents grew up in 20, 30, or 40 years ago?  Imagine how they feel when they come to school and now have to turn off the phones and other electronic devices and pay attention for 40, 50, 60 minutes at a time. 

Here are some ways to increase your attention span (and your students' attention) in this age of technology, internet, and smartphones:

1. Practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness, aka asking your students to be aware of their breathing. Sounds simple, right? We have to breathe to live. But how many of us actually take the time to notice our breathing and how we actually feel in each moment? Getting grounded in our bodies can help with paying attention.

2. Power-up your brain.

Make sure your students are alert and ready to take in information. How do you know this? Do your student appear well-rested? If your students do not seem ready to pay attention, you can try a series of physical activities to try and get them more focused. Sometimes, physical activity will help the body “wake up” and be able to better focus.

3. Attention breaks.

What are these? Take frequent “attention breaks” during the day. These are breaks to help your students understand the concept of paying attention and what you are asking of them. So instead of taking a normal break where you might let the class pick their own activities, an attention break is one that allows for students to pay attention to a certain activity for a certain amount of time. Students will get used to these breaks and you can make them longer and longer throughout your day.

4. Break tasks down into smaller pieces.

Some children can't pay attention to multi-step directions and will have the first task done just as you are saying the last step of the instructions. These students might need tasks broken down into individual steps. For these students, you might want to say, “Go get your book.” Have them get their book. Then you might say, “Turn to page 8.” And wait for them to do that. This could help build their confidence while lowering your frustration.

5. Recess.

Give more recess time to students, especially your younger ones. One school in TX has been increasing the amount of time for recess and unstructured play and seeing an improvement in their students’ focus and achievement. While it might seem counter-productive to add more “play time” to the school day given everything that students are supposed to learn, it seems that students who get more recess time might have an easier time focusing in the classroom. This is definitely a trend to watch in the coming years!

Paying attention is essential to anything students need or want to accomplish in school - and life. 

What are some ways you help yourself and your students pay attention? Share in the comments section below!


How Kids Pay Attention (and Why Some Kids Struggle With It)
Humans have shorter attention span than goldfish, thanks to smartphones
Kids Wireless Use Facts
Are Teenagers Replacing Drugs with Smartphones
Texas School Triples Recess Time, Solving Attention Deficit Disorder
No Recess for Recess


Tags: attention


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