Portrait of a Learner 9-12

Systems Change

Factor Connections

Hover to see how factors connect to Attention. Then click connected factors to explore strategies related to multiple factors.

Attention is the ability to focus on a specific task without being distracted. Strong Attention skills support academic success, as students learn better when attending to materials or activities relevant to their goals. Importantly, attentional control often varies based on the context, including interest in the topic, task difficulty, and task duration. Attentional control continues to develop through middle childhood and adolescence, and can be supported by practice.

Main Ideas

There are several different types of Attention:

  • Sustained Attention is the ability to maintain focus on a specific task for a continuous period of time without getting distracted. Sustained Attention helps students learn new information, and strong sustained Attention is associated with increased academic performance.
  • Selective Attention is the ability to select relevant information to focus on, while filtering out irrelevant information. Selective Attention is closely related to Inhibition and resistance to interference. As Attentional control is an act of attending to sensory information, selective Attention is often broken down into two different sensory types:
    • Visual Selective Attention is the ability to focus on relevant information in a cluttered scene.
    • Auditory Selective Attention is the ability to focus on a specific source of sound in a noisy environment.
  • Alternating Attention is the ability to switch focus between tasks, and is the foundation for Cognitive Flexibility.
  • Divided Attention, also known as multitasking, is the ability to attend to multiple tasks at once. Attending to two or more media activities at once, or media multitasking, is becoming more common with the increase in technology, especially in adolescents. Though research is limited, findings suggest that adolescents who report having difficulty with Attention may multitask more often. In addition, more frequent media multitasking in early adolescence, including multitasking in the classroom, may lead to increased Attention problems both within and beyond the classroom.

ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is multi-faceted and often presents with differential patterns of attentional control. These behaviors can manifest differently for different individuals and can shift over time, including restlessness (hyperactivity or overactivity) or inattentiveness r as well as impairments in inhibitory control or Working Memory. Adolescents with ADHD often have difficulty with academic (e.g., keeping track of assignments, managing complex tasks, etc.), social (taking turns, reading social cues, etc.), and adaptive (e.g., managing time) behaviors. They are often at a higher risk of dropping out of school, having low attendance rates, and may demonstrate an increase in risky behaviors. Some research shows that increased risk-taking is related to delayed maturation of certain regions of the brain, making teens with ADHD more susceptible to peer influence.

Importantly, a sense of Safety can play an influential role in Attention. Students who do not feel safe in their school, neighborhood, or home, or are victims of bullying tend to experience stress and anxiety, which can negatively affect their ability to pay Attention in school. Teachers can support their students' Attention in a number of ways, including supporting engagement through meaningful and motivational content, creating breaks for movement, incorporating checks for understanding, and creating a safe and positive classroom climate by building strong, trust-based relationships.

Learn More

  • Attention: A microcredential to support students' Attention
  • ADHD in high school: An EdWeek article that discusses the prevalence of ADHD in high school and how to support it.

View Measures and References