Attention and Listening

Children who:

  • are easily distractible in the classroom
  • have difficulties focusing on a task
  • have difficulties understanding what is asked of them
  • rarely participate in class discussions

MAY be experiencing problems with attention and listening.

Attention Levels

A child’s ability to attend follows a recognised developmental sequence.

Level 1 (0 to 1 Year):

This is characterised by extreme distractibility, when the child’s attention flits from one object, person or event to another. Any new event, such as someone walking by, will immediately distract him/her.

Level 2 (1 to 1 Years):

The child can concentrate on a concrete task of his own choosing but will not tolerate any intervention by an adult, whether verbal or visual. S/he may appear obstinate or ‘wilful’ but in fact his/her attention is single-channelled and s/he must ignore all extraneous stimuli in order to concentrate upon what s/he is doing.

Level 3 (2 to 3 Years):

Attention is still single- channelled in that the child cannot attend to auditory and visual stimuli from different sources. S/he cannot therefore listen to an adult’s directions while s/he is playing but s/he can shift his/her whole attention to the speaker and back to the game, with the adult’s help.

Level 4 (3 to 4 Years):

The child must still alternate his/her full attention, visual and auditory, between the speaker and the task but s/he now does this spontaneously without the adult needing to focus the child’s attention.

Level 5 (4 to 5 Years):

The child’s attention is now two-channelled i.e. s/he understands verbal instructions related to the task without interrupting his/her activity to look at the speaker. His/her concentration span may still be short but the child can be taught in a group.

Level 6 (5 to 6 Years):

Auditory, visual and manipulatory channels are fully integrated and attention is well established and sustained.
Reference: J Cook and D Williams (1985) Working with Children’s Language Winslow Press

The demands placed upon children when they start school require them to attend at Level 5. Some children will need teaching strategies to help them develop their attention to this level. This may need to continue through Key Stage 2, 3 and even 4.

In order to establish the child’s attention skills within the normal classroom environment, you will need to record the influence of the following:

  • time of day
  • adults involved
  • activities
  • classroom environment
  • classroom management
  • peers

Once you have established what level the child is at, you can try some strategies and activities and these could be included in the child’s Individual Education Plan.

There are a number of reasons why a child might be having difficulty with attention and listening 


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Last updated: 21 October 2015

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