Attention is an important ingredient in learning, but we often misunderstand or oversimplify it. In fact, attention is far more than just the ability or will to “pay attention.” It’s more helpful to think about attention as a system of controls that help you do three main things:

  • First, attention supplies fuel for thinking, working, and learning.
  • Second, it directs the huge amount of input that arrives through our senses.
  • Third, it oversees the brain’s various outputs, such as completing work or learning tasks and making decisions about how to behave.

It is possible to have both strengths and challenges in attention at the same time. For example, some people find it easy to concentrate on information that isn’t very exciting, but have a hard time staying awake while sitting still. And we’re all likely to get fidgety during a long lecture with no visual aids or interaction.

Having problems with concentration or other parts of attention does not mean that a person is not intelligent. Some of the smartest people in the world struggle with attention issues. Furthermore, people with attention issues don’t have problems with attention all the time.

Click on any of the following links to learn more about the different parts of attention:

Mental Energy: Brain Fuel

Processing Controls: Directing the Input

Production Controls: Overseeing Output

Learn more

The All Kinds of Minds Parent Toolkit offers a deeper look at attention and attention-related issues that students may experience, along with suggested strategies. Short embedded videos in the “Attention: Basics” section give viewers the experience of feeling of what it’s like to have attention challenges.



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