The Dendrites' Response

What are some ways in which participation in the arts can improve attention?

Participation in the arts can improve attention if the participant is, first of all, deeply engaged in the particular art form, and sticks with it. This involves a deep commitment to the art form, and much time spent practicing, in a deeply focused way. One reason the arts are such a good choice for improving attention, is that the arts can be highly motivating and rewarding, and involve intense periods of sustained focus of attention, which presumably strengthens connections. It is not the particular art form that matters so much as the passion with which it is pursued.
Arts education may also contribute to the efficiency of the executive attention network, due to the sustained attention involved in passionately pursuing an art form, and also, the decisions or resolution of conflicts involved when making choices in producing an art product.
Posner, Michael I., and Brenda Patoine. (2009). How arts training improves attention and cognition.
By emphasizing early literacy and numeracy and with the pressure of high-stakes testing, have we unknowingly undermined the development of attentional networks?

Kindergarten today is vastly different then it was 20 years ago. The testing culture in schools has pushed content and curriculum to younger ages and according to a recent report by the Gessell Institute for Human Development, this emphasis on academic skills kindergarten is a waste of time as well as detrimental to the young students (Pappano, 2010.) By asking children to participate in developmental tasks that are not appropriate, educators may be undermining the confidence and attitude of students.

Daniel, a psychology professor, questions the use of serious academics in kindergarten and asks the poignant question “they can be teaching it, but the question is: IS the child learning it.” (Pappano, 2010) The added emphasis on literacy and numeracy does cause, in many schools, parents and teachers to expect children to be able to sit and pay attention when in reality they are not developmentally ready for this. Some people then blame the attentional networks of the children, when in reality this may be kids being kids. Training on the attentional networks is possible, but as educators we must ask if the problem with sustaining attention really belongs to the child or to unrealistic expectations of the modern education system.

Pappano, L. (2010) Kids Haven’t Changed; Kindergarten Has. Harvard Education Letter. 26. Retrieved from

What teaching practices might parallel some of the methods described in this chapter and the training exercises the authors used for their research?

Teaching practices to develop executive function ( i.e attending, switching attention, multitasking, and evaluating each situation for appropriate responses) could include those related to the training exercises noted, including: Opportunity to give feedback and to reflect on experiences (analogous to the self analysis conducted after therapy to improve attention), practice that transfers to other tasks, training in metacognitive strategies (analogous to positive attitudinal changes after learning about the brain in therapy), using cues to help young children attend, triangulating data to draw conclusions (analogous to gathering IQ and temperment data to correlate with attentional training results),using video game technology to desensitize students to distractions, and honoring the sensitive periods of early childhood to develop these capacities.

Methods used to develop attention in schools include: Developing eye-contact through classroom expectations that link this with teacher fulfillment of student requests, using specific auditory signals for classroom routines (bell tones), memory games that involve all the senses (play “Remember the Sound” using multiple instruments), using props and cumulative games to foster remembering in math (playing cards can be used for math fact practice in large or small groups), using music to aid memory through the memorization of song lyrics and tunes (think “Schoolhouse Rock”, and engaging interest through noticing attractive, changing materials (Display art as in a gallery and change frequently so students attend to the environment; ask students what changed after moving or removing art).