Processing Language: Impact of Attention

Achievement in school depends greatly upon being able to keep up with the rapid presentation of information. Students may have difficulty processing material fast enough while they listen, read or observe. Spoken language requires very rapid processing and the capacity to listen selectively is essential for language processing. Students must also process language at a rapid pace when reading in order to read fluently, and gain understanding as they read.

A great deal of verbal attention is needed for the sustained periods of listening required in the classroom, as well as for the increasing reading demands students encounter as they progress in school.

Here are some strategies to help students develop their ability to attend to verbal information.

Helpful Hints

  • Enhance students' ability to learn by adjusting the rate at which material is presented, as well as the complexity and volume (or amount) of the information. For example,
    • Give oral directions slowly, repeat, and provide printed backups.
    • Provide visual representation of information that is delivered verbally (whether through lecture or through reading). For example, draw diagrams, show time lines and flow charts on the board, or give them out as handouts to be referred to during class, and provide picture representations of instructions.
    • Break down big chunks of information into more manageable pieces. For example, give multi-step directions one step at a time; split reading passages into sections.  
  • Provide students with opportunities to summarize or paraphrase ideas after reading a section of text, or listening to a certain amount of an oral lesson.  
  • Teach students how to break down their own materials to enhance their understanding and learning. For example, guide students in meaningful underlining and highlighting, and in good notetaking techniques.  
  • Help students strengthen their ability to take notes from live lessons by having them practice listening to a comfortable chunk of recorded information without pause while taking notes, e.g. 5 minutes. Then, gradually increase the length of the individual chunks, e.g. 7 minutes-10 minutes-12 minutes, etc. until a goal time is reached that the student can attend to.  
  • Help students improve their rate of reading and learning from text. For example, set a realistic time limit on reading a chapter, etc. then slowly decrease the time limit towards a goal.  
  • Be sure to facilitate the development of confidence in students to ask you to slow down or to repeat sections of presentations that they did not follow or completely understand.  
  • Teach students to use a self-monitoring technique to improve their active listening, such as FACT (Focus attention-Ask yourself questions-Connect ideas-Try to picture important ideas) (Houghton Mifflin, 1986).  
  • Teach students to engage in post-listening strategies. For example:
    • Review notes from a lesson as soon as possible after class
    • Connect what was heard today with what is already in notes
    • Question themselves if there's anything they don't understand so they can get immediate clarification
    • Draw up a summary statement from the lesson
    • Read the summary statement as a pre-listening tool at the beginning of the next class session
    • Have students keep an assignment pad where they record what they are to do for an assignment, quiz, etc. Check the pad as needed to make sure students are clear about what is expected in the assignment.