Attention refers to the ability to effectively isolate one sensory stimulus from among the chaos of competing stimuli and to place those competing stimuli in the background. Attention is the bridge between perception and learning. Therefore, assessing and monitoring the influences on a student’s attention across the day is an essential part of creating meaningful teaching contexts. At The Bridge School, we think of attention in terms of five levels:
- Arousal: student is alert, physiological senses are engaged.
- Orienting: student can focus on the stimulus and respond in a basic way (e. g., automatically looks towards the light source or sound).
- Selective Attention Allocation: student can maintain focus on a single stimulus in the presence of background stimuli, for a brief length of time. Student can shift attention from one stimulus flow to another (e.g., gaze follows the direction the teacher is pointing).
- Goal-oriented Sustained Attention: student has self-determined goals and focuses on a stimulus in order to achieve goals (e.g., sees an interesting object and tries to move in a coordinated way to touch the object). Student uses short-term memory of immediate events and interprets a stimulus.
- Social Attention Related to Other’s or Joint Goals: student interprets partners emotion and intention and interacts towards joint goals (e.g., recognizes that a teacher’s expectant pause and anticipatory gesture is a cue/request to participate and initiates participation accordingly).
We recognize that a student’s attention across the day is fluid and fluctuates between these levels. Attention is influenced by many factors, including those inherent to the student (health, medications, mood, etc.), the teacher (familiarity, proximity, interaction style, etc.), the environment (noise levels, temperature, instructional group size, etc.) and the demands of the AAC/AT tools (familiarity, customization, ease-of-use, etc.). Below are two handouts that our inter-professional teams use to document attention levels across today and plan interventions accordingly.