CDS Publications

The Growing Mind Fall 2013

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THE GROWING MIND BY DR. KAREN SUMNER ATTENTION THE HEADQUARTERS OF LEARNING Attention is one of the major players in the world of educational and neuroscience research. As one researcher puts it, "attention is the administrative bureau of the brain, the headquarters for mental regulators that control learning and behaviour." WHY DO WE NEED TO ATTEND? hat is it, exactly, that puts attention at the forefront of successful learning and self-control? There are three broad features of the attention system: it directs mental energy, it offers resistance to distractions, and it allows for the planning and completion of tasks. In the language of attention specialists, it allows a W 8 | FALL 2013 THE LINK child to alert to some form of interaction (notice a signal in the world), orient toward it (concentrate the mind on it), and execute a task (maintain a sufficient duration of focus). This final part of the system is often called executive attention. Taken all together, this is a potent mixture of capabilities. A child who has difficulty attending – in any given moment, for any reason, with or without a diagnosed deficit – has difficulty learning. In addition to supporting learning, we exercise our attention system in our personal lives. Being aware of a person close to us (alerting), turning toward them (orienting), and having the patience to listen and really focus on what they are saying (executing) makes understanding, warmth, and empathy possible. Paying attention is an intimate act: it requires us to make space for another person inside our consciousness. This is the (continued on page 10)

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