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From: How to Teach

Attention is a function of consciousness. Wherever consciousness is,
attention must perforce be present. One cannot exist without the other.
According to most psychologists, the term attention is used to describe
the form consciousness takes, to refer to the fact that consciousness is
selective. t simply means that consciousness is always focal and
marginal--that some ideas, facts, or feelings stand out in greater
prominence than do others, and that the presence of this "perspective"
in consciousness is a matter of mechanical adjustment. James describes
consciousness by likening it to a series of waves, each having a crest
and sides which correspond to the focus and margin of attention. The
form of the wave changes from a high sharp crest with almost straight
sides in pointed, concentrated attention, to a series of mere
undulations, when crests are difficult to distinguish, in so-called
states of dispersed attention. The latter states are rare in normal
individuals, although they may be rather frequent in certain types of
low-grade mental defectives. This of course means that states of
"inattention" do not exist in normal people. So long as consciousness is
present one must be attending to something. The "day dream" is often
accompanied by concentrated attention. Only when we are truly thinking
of nothing, and that can only be as unconsciousness approaches, is
attention absent. What is true of attention is also true of interest,
for interest is coming more and more to be considered the "feeling side"
of attention, or the affective accompaniment of attention. The kind of
interest may vary, but some kind is always present. The place the
interest occupies may also vary: sometimes the affective state itself is
so strong that it forces itself into the focal point and becomes the
object of attention. The chief fact of importance, however, is that
attention and interest are inseparable and both are coexistent with

This selective action of consciousness is mechanical, due to the inborn
tendencies toward attention possessed by human beings. The situations
which by their very nature occupy the focal point in consciousness are
color and brightness, novelty, sudden changes and sharp contrasts,
rhythm and cadence, movement, and all other situations to which there
are other instinctive responses, such as hunting, collecting, curiosity,
manipulation, etc. n other words, children are born with tendencies to
attend to an enormous number of situations because of the number of
instinctive responses they possess. So great is this number that
psychologists used to talk about the omnivorousness of children's
attention, believing that they attended to everything. Such a general
attention seems not to be true. However, it is because so many
situations have the power to force consciousness to a crest that human
beings have developed the intellectual power that puts them so far above
other animals. That these situations do attract attention is shown by
the fact that individuals respond by movements which enable them to be
more deeply impressed or impressed for a longer time by the situations
in question. For example, a baby will focus his eyes upon a bright
object and then move eyes and head to follow it if it moves from his
field of vision. Just what the situations are, then, which will arouse
responses of attention in any given individual will depend in the first
place upon his age, sex, and maturity, and in the second place upon his
experience. The process of learning very quickly modifies the inborn
tendencies to attention by adding new situations which demand it. t is
the things we learn to attend to that make us human rather than merely

The fact of attention or selection must of necessity involve also
inhibition or neglect. The very fact of the selection of certain objects
and qualities means the neglect of others. This fact of neglect is at
first just as mechanical as that of attention, but experiences teach us
to neglect some situations which by original nature attracted attention.
From the standpoint of education what we neglect is quite as important
as what is selected for attention.

The breadth of a person's attention, _i.e.,_ the number of lines along
which attention is possible, must vary with age and experience. The
younger or the more immature an individual is, the greater the number of
different lines to which attention is given. t is the little child
whose attention seems omnivorous, and it is the old person for whom
situations worthy of attention have narrowed down to a few lines. This
must of necessity be so, due to the interrelation of attention and
neglect. The very fact of continuing to give attention along one line
means less and less ability and desire to attend along other lines.

The question as to how many things, whether objects or ideas, can be
attended to at the same time, has aroused considerable discussion. Most
people think that they are attending to several things, if not to many,
at the same second of consciousness. Experiments show that if four or
five unrelated objects, words, or letters be shown to adults for less
than one quarter of a second, they can be apprehended, but the
probability is that they are photographed, so to speak, on the eye and
counted afterwards. t is the general belief of psychologists at present
that the mind attends to only one thing at a time, that only one idea or
object can occupy the focal point in consciousness.

The apparent contradiction between ordinary experience and psychological
experience along this line is due to three facts which are often
overlooked. n the first place, the complexity of the idea or thing that
can be attended to as a unit varies tremendously. Differences in people
account for part of this variation, but training and experience account
for still more. Our ideas become more and more complex as experience and
familiarity build them up. Qualities which to a little child demand
separate acts of attention are with the adult merged into his perception
of the object. Just as simple words, although composed of separate
letters, are perceived as units, so with training, more complex units
may be found which can be attended to as wholes. So (to the ignorant or
the uninstructed) what is apparently attending to more than one thing at
a time may be explained by the complexity of the unit which is receiving
the attention.

n the second place _doing_ more than one thing at a time does not imply
attending to more than one thing at a time. An activity which is
habitual or mechanical does not need attention, but can be carried on by
the control exercised by the fringe of consciousness. Attention may be
needed to start the activity or if a difficulty of any kind should
arise, but that is all. For the rest of the time it can be devoted to
anything else. The great speed with which attention can flash from one
thing to another and back again must be taken into consideration in all
this discussion. So far as attention goes, one can _do_ as many things
at a time as he can make mechanical plus one unfamiliar one. Thus a
woman can rock the baby's cradle, croon a lullaby, knit, and at the same
time be thinking of illustrations for her paper at the Woman's Club,
because only one of these activities needs attention. When no one of the
activities is automatic and the individual must depend on the rapid
change of attention from one to the other to keep them going, the
results obtained are likely to be poor and the fatigue is great. The
attempt to take notes while listening to a lecture is of this order, and
hence the unsatisfactoriness of the results.

The third fact which helps to explain the apparent contradiction under
discussion is closely related to this one. t is possible when engaged
with one object to have several questions or topics close by in the
fringe of consciousness so that one or the other may flash to the focal
point as the development of the train of thought demands. The individual
is apparently considering many questions at the same time, when in
reality it is the readiness of these associations plus the oscillations
of attention that account for the activity. The ability to do this sort
of thing depends partly on the individual,--some people will always be
"people of one idea,"--but training and experience increase the power.
The child who in the primary can be given only one thing to look for
when he goes on his excursion may grow into the youth who can carry half
a dozen different questions in his mind to which he is looking for

By concentration of attention is meant the depth of the attention, and
this is measured by the ease with which a person's attention can be
called off the topic with which he is concerned. The concentration may
be so great that the individual is oblivious to all that goes on about
him. He may forget engagements and meals because of his absorption.
Sometimes even physical pain is not strong enough to distract attention.
On the other hand, the concentration may be so slight that every passing
sense impression, every irrelevant association called up by the topic,
takes the attention away from the subject. The depth of concentration
depends upon four factors. Certain mental and physical conditions have a
great deal to do with the concentration of attention, and these will be
discussed later. ndividual differences also account for the presence or
absence of power of concentration--some people concentrate naturally,
others never get very deeply into any topic. Maturity is another factor
that is influential. A little child cannot have great concentration,
simply because he has not had experience enough to give him many
associations with which to work. His attention is easily distracted.
Although apparently absorbed in play, he hears what goes on about him
and notices many things which adults suppose he does not see. This same
lack of power shows itself in any one's attention when a new subject is
taken up if he has few associations with it. Of course this means that
other things being equal the older one is, up to maturity at least, the
greater one's power of concentration. Little children have very little
power, adolescents a great deal, but it is the adult who excels in
concentration. Although this is true, the fourth factor, that of
training in concentration, does much toward increasing the power before
full maturity is reached. One can learn to concentrate just as he can
learn to do anything else. Habits of concentration, of ignoring
distinctions and interruptions, of putting all one's power into the work
in hand, are just as possible as habits of neatness. The laws of habit
formation apply in the field of attention just as truly as in every
other field of mental life. Laboratory experiments prove the large
influence which training has on concentration and the great improvement
that can be made. t is true that few people do show much concentration
of attention when they wish. This is true of adults as well as of
children. They have formed habits of working at half speed, with little
concentration and no real absorption in the topic. This method of work
is both wasteful of time and energy and injurious to the mental
stability and development of the individual. Half-speed work due to lack
of concentration often means that a student will stay with a topic and
fuss over it for hours instead of working hard and then dropping it.
Teachers often do this sort of thing with their school work. Not only
are the results less satisfactory, because the individual never gets
deeply enough into the topic to really get what is there, but the effect
on him is bad. t is like "constant dripping wears away the stone."
Children must be taught to "work when they work and play when they
play," if they are to have habits of concentration as adults.

The length of time which it is possible to attend to the same object or
idea may be reckoned in seconds. t is impossible to hold the attention
on an object for any appreciable length of time. n order to hold the
attention the object must change. The simple experiment of trying to pay
attention to a blot of ink or the idea of bravery proves that change is
necessary if the attention is not to wander. What happens is that either
the attention goes to something else, or that you begin thinking about
the thing in question. Of course, the minute you begin thinking, new
associations, images, memories, come flocking in, and the attention
occupies itself with each in turn. All may concern the idea with which
you started out, but the very fact that these have been added to the
mental content of the instant makes the percept of ink blot or the
concept of bravery different from the bare thing with which the
attention began. f this change and fluctuation of the mental state does
not take place, the attention flits to something else. The length of
time that the attention may be engaged with a topic will depend, then,
upon the number of associations connected with it. The more one knows
about a topic, the longer he can attend to it. f it is a new topic, the
more suggestive it is in calling up past experience or in offering
incentive for experiment or application, the longer can attention stay
with it. Such a topic is usually called "interesting," but upon analysis
it seems that this means that for one of the above reasons it develops
or changes and therefore holds the attention. This duration of attention
will vary in length from a few seconds to hours. The child who is given
a problem which means almost nothing, which presents a blank wall when
he tries to attend to it, which offers no suggestions for solution, is
an illustration of the first. Attention to such a problem is impossible;
his attention must wander. The genius who, working with his favorite
subject, finds a multitude of trains of thought called up by each idea,
and who therefore spends hours on one topic with no vacillation of
attention, is an illustration of the second.

Attention has been classified according to the kind of feeling which
accompanies the activity. Sometimes attention comes spontaneously,
freely, and the emotional tone is that accompanying successful activity.
On the other hand, sometimes it has to be forced and is accompanied by
feelings of strain and annoyance. The first type is called Free[2]
attention; the second is Forced attention.

Free attention is given when the object of attention satisfies a need;
when the situation attended to provides the necessary material for some
self-activity. The activity of the individual at that second needs
something that the situation in question gives, and hence free,
spontaneous attention results. Forced attention is given when there is a
lack of just such feeling of need in connection with the object of
attention. t does not satisfy the individual--it is distinct from his
desires at the time. He attends only because of fear of the results if
he does not, and hence the condition is one of strain. All play takes
free attention. Work which holds the worker because it is satisfying
also takes free attention. Work which has in it the element of drudgery
needs forced attention. The girl making clothes for her doll, the boy
building his shack in the woods, the inventor working over his machine,
the student absorbed in his history lesson,--all these are freely
attending to the thing in hand. The girl running her seam and hating it,
the, boy building the chicken coop while wishing to be at the ball game,
the inventor working over his machine when his thoughts and desires are
with his sick wife, the student trying to study his history when the
debate in the civics club is filling his mind,--these are cases when
forced attention would probably be necessary.

t is very evident that there is no one situation which will necessarily
take either free or forced attention because the determining factor is
not in the situation _per se_, but in the relation it bears to the mind
engaged with it. Sometimes the same object will call forth forced
attention from one person and free from another. Further, the same
object may at one time demand free attention and at another time forced
attention from the same person, depending on the operation of other
factors. t is also true that attention which was at first forced may
change into free as the activity is persevered in.

Although these two types of attention are discussed as if they were
entirely separated from each other, as if one occurred in this situation
and the other in that, still as a matter of fact the actual conditions
involve an interplay between the two. t is seldom true that free
attention is given for any great length of time without flashes of
forced attention being scattered through it. Often the forced attention
may be needed for certain parts of the work, although as a whole it may
take free attention. The same thing is true of occasions when forced
attention is used. There are periods in the activity when free attention
will carry the worker on. Every activity, then, is likely to be complex
so far as the kind of attention used, but it is also characterized by
the predominance of one or the other type.

The question as to the conditions which call out each type of attention
is an important one. As has already been said, free attention is given
when the situation attended to satisfies a need. Physiologically stated,
free attention is given when a neurone series which is ready to act is
called into activity. The situations which do this, other things being
equal, will be those which appeal to some instinctive tendency or
capacity, or to the self-activity or the personal experience of the
individual and which therefore are in accord with his stage of
development and his experience. Forced attention is necessary when the
neurone tracts used by the attention are for some reason unready to act.
Situations to which attention is given through fear of punishment, or
when the activity involves a choice of ideal ends as opposed to personal
desires, or when some instinctive tendency must be inhibited or its free
activity is blocked or interfered with, or when the laws of growth and
experience are violated, take forced attention. Of course fatigue,
disease, and monotony are frequent breeders of forced attention.

From the above discussion it must be evident that one of the chief
characteristics of free attention is its unity. The mental activity of
the person is all directed along one line, that which leads to the
satisfying of the need. t is unified by the appeal the situation makes.
As a result of such a state the attention is likely to be concentrated,
and can be sustained over a long period. Of course this means that the
work accomplished under such conditions will be greater in amount, more
thorough, and more accurate than could be true were there less unity in
the process. The opposite in all respects is true of forced attention.
t is present when there is divided interest. The topic does not appeal
to the need of the individual. He attends to it because he must. Part of
his full power of attention is given to keeping himself to the work,
leaving only a part to be given to the work itself. f there is any
other object in the field of attention which is particularly attractive,
as there usually is, that claims its share, and the attention is still
further divided. Divided attention cannot be concentrated; it cannot
last long. The very strain and effort involved makes it extremely
fatiguing. The results of work done under such conditions must be poor.
There can be but little thoroughness, for the worker will do just as
much as he must to pass muster, and no more. naccuracy and
superficiality will characterize such work. Just as training in giving
concentrated attention results in power along that line, so frequent
necessity for forced attention develops habits of divided attention
which in time will hinder the development of any concentration.

From a psychological viewpoint there can be no question but what free
attention is the end to be sought by workers of all kinds. t is an
absolutely false notion that things are easy when free attention is
present. t is only when free attention is present that results worth
mentioning are accomplished. t is only under such conditions that the
worker is willing to try and try again, and put up with disappointment
and failure, to use his ingenuity and skill to the utmost, to go out of
his way for material or suggestions; in other words, to put himself into
his work in such a way that it is truly educational. On the other hand,
forced attention has its own value and could not be dispensed with in
the development of a human being. ts value is that of means to end--not
that of an end in itself. t is only as it leads into free attention
that forced attention is truly valuable. n that place the part it plays
is tremendous because things are as they are. There will always be
materials which will not appeal to a need in some individual because of
lack of capacity or experience; there will always be parts of various
activities and processes which seem unnecessary and a waste of time to
some worker; there will always be choices to be made between instinctive
desires and ideal needs, and in each case forced attention is the only
means, perhaps, by which the necessary conditions can be acquired that
make possible free attention. t is evident, therefore, that forced
attention should be called into play only when needed. When needed, it
should be demanded rigorously, but the sooner the individual in question
can pass from it to the other type, the better. This is true in all
fields whether intellectual or moral.

A second classification of attention has been suggested according to the
answer to the question as to why attention is given. Sometimes attention
is given simply because the material itself demands it; sometimes for
some ulterior reason. The former type is called immediate or intrinsic
attention; the latter is called derived, mediate, or extrinsic
attention. The former is given to the situation for its own sake; the
latter because of something attached to it. Forced attention is always
derived; free attention may be either immediate or derived. t is
immediate and derived free attention that needs further discussion.

t should be borne in mind that there is no sharp line of division
between immediate and derived attention. Sometimes it is perfectly
evident that the attention is given for the sake of the material--at
other times there can be no doubt but that it is the something beyond
the material that holds the attention. But in big, complex situations it
is not so evident. For instance, the musician composing just for the
love of it is an example of immediate attention, while the small boy
working his arithmetic examples with great care in order to beat his
seatmate is surely giving derived attention. But under some conditions
the motives are mixed and the attention may fluctuate from the value of
the material itself to the values to be derived from it. However this
may be, at the two extremes there is a clear-cut difference between
these two types of attention. The value of rewards and incentives
depends on the psychology of derived free attention, while that of
punishment and deterrents is wrapped up with derived forced attention.

mmediate free attention is the more valuable of the two types because
it is the most highly unified and most strongly dynamic of all the
attention types. The big accomplishments of human lives have been
brought to pass through this kind of attention. t is the kind the
little child gives to his play--the activity itself is worth while. So
with the artist, the inventor, the poet, the teacher, the physician, the
architect, the banker--to be engaged in that particular activity
satisfies. But this is not true of all artists, bankers, etc., nor with
the others all the time. Even for the child at play, sometimes
conditions arise when the particular part of the activity does not seem
worth while in itself; then if it is to be continued, another kind of
attention must be brought in--derived attention. This illustration shows
the place of derived attention as a means to an end--the same part
played by forced attention in its relation to free. Derived attention
must needs be characteristic of much of the activity of human beings.
People have few well-developed capacities, and there are many kinds of
things they are required to do. f these are to be done with free
attention, heartily, it will only be because of some value that is worth
while that is attached to the necessary activity. As activities grow
complex and as the results of activities grow remote, the need for
something to carry over the attention to the parts of the activity that
are seen to be worth while in the first place, or to the results in the
second, grows imperative. This need is filled by derived attention, and
here it shows its value as means to an end, but it is only when the need
for this carrier disappears, and the activity as a whole for itself
seems worth while, that the best results are obtained.

There is a very great difference between the kinds of motives or values
chosen for derived attention, and their value varies in accordance with
the following principles. ncentives should be closely connected
naturally with the subject to which they are attached. They should be
suited to the development of the child and be natural rather than
artificial. Their appeal should be permanent, _i.e._, should persist in
the same situation outside of school. They should really stimulate those
to whom they are offered. They should not be too attractive in
themselves. Applying these principles it would seem that derived
interests that have their source in instincts, in special capacities, or
in correlation of subjects are of the best type, while such extremely
artificial incentives as prizes, half holidays, etc., are among the

The value of derived attention is that it gets the work done or the
habit formed. Of course the hope is always there that it will pass over
into the immediate type, but if it does not, at least results are
obtained. t has already been shown that results may also be obtained by
the use of forced attention, which is also derived. Both derived free
attention and forced attention are means to an end. The question as to
the comparative value of the two must be answered in favor of the
derived free attention. The chief reasons for this conclusion are as
follows. First, derived free attention is likely to be more unified than
forced attention. Second, it arouses greater self-activity on the part
of the worker. Third, the emotional tone is that of being satisfied
instead of strain. Fourth, it is more likely to lead to the immediate
attention which is its end. Despite these advantages of derived free
attention over forced attention, it still has some of the same
disadvantages that forced attention has. The chief of these is that it
also may result in division of energy. f the means for gaining the
attention is nothing but sugar coating, if it results in the mere
entertainment of the worker, there is every likelihood that the
attention will be divided between the two. The other disadvantage is
that because of the attractiveness of the means used to gain attention
it may be given just so long as the incentive remains, and no longer.
These difficulties may be largely overcome, however, by the application
of the principles governing good incentives. This must mean that the
choice of types of attention and therefore the provision of situations
calling them out should be in this order: immediate free attention,
derived free attention, forced attention. All three are necessary in the
education of any child, but each should be used in its proper place.

The conditions which insure the best attention of whatever type have to
do with both physical and mental adjustments. On the physical side there
is need for the adaptation of the sense organ and the body to the
situation. For this adaptation to be effective the environmental
conditions must be controlled by the laws of hygiene. A certain amount
of bodily freedom yields better results than rigidity because the latter
draws energy from the task in hand for purposes of inhibition. On the
mental side there is need for preparation in terms of readiness of the
nerve tracts to be used. James calls this "ideational" preparation. This
simply means that one can attend better if he knows something of what he
is to attend to. Experimental evidence proves without doubt that if the
subject knows that he is to see a color, instead of a word, his
perception of it is much more rapid and accurate than if he does not
have this preparation. This same result is obtained in much more complex
sensory situations, and it also holds when the situation is
intellectual. Contrary to expectation, great quietness is not the best
condition for the maximum of attention; a certain amount of distraction
is beneficial.

The problem of interest and of attention, from the point of view of
teaching, is not simply to secure attention, but rather to have the
attention fixed upon those activities which are most desirable from the
standpoint of realizing the aim or purpose of education. As has already
been suggested, children are constantly attending to something. They
instinctively respond to the very great variety of stimuli with which
they come in contact. Our schools seek to provide experiences which are
valuable. n school work when we are successful children attend to those
stimuli which promise most for the formation of habits, or the growth in
understanding and appreciation which will fit them for participation in
our social life. We seek constantly in our work as teachers to secure
either free or forced attention to the particular part of our courses of
study or to the particular experiences which are allotted to the grade
or class which we teach. One of the very greatest difficulties in
securing attention upon the part of a class is found in the variety of
experiences which they have already enjoyed, and the differences in the
strength of the appeal which the particular situation may make upon the
several members of the group. n class teaching we have constantly to
vary our appeal and to differentiate our work to suit the individual
differences represented in the class, if we would succeed in holding the
attention of even the majority of the children.

Boys and girls do their best work only when they concentrate their
attention upon the work to be done. One of the greatest fallacies that
has ever crept into our educational thought is that which suggests that
there is great value in having people work in fields in which they are
not interested, and in which they do not freely give their attention.
Any one who is familiar with children, or with grown-ups, must know that
it is only when interest is at a maximum that the effort put forth
approaches the limit of capacity set by the individual's ability. Boys
concentrate their attention upon baseball or upon fishing to a degree
which demands of them a maximum of effort. A boy may spend hours at a
time seeking to perfect himself in pitching, batting, or fielding. He
may be uncomfortable a large part of the time, he may suffer
considerable pain, and yet continue in his practice by virtue of his
great enthusiasm for perfecting himself in the game. nterest of a not
dissimilar sort leads a man who desires position, or power, or wealth,
to concentrate his attention upon the particular field of his endeavor
to the exclusion of almost everything else. ndeed, men almost literally
kill themselves in the effort which they make to achieve these social
distinctions or rewards. We may not hope always to secure so high a
degree of concentration of attention or of effort, but it is only as we
approach a situation in which children are interested, and in which they
freely give their attention to the subject in hand, that we can claim to
be most successful in our teaching.

The teacher who is able in beginning reading to discover to children the
tool which will enable them to get the familiar story or rhyme from the
book may hope to get a quality of attention which could never be brought
about by forcing them to attend to formal phonetic drill. The teacher of
biology who has been able to awaken enthusiasm for the investigation of
plant and animal life, and who has allowed children to conduct their own
investigations and to carry out their own experiments, may hope for a
type of attention which is never present in the carrying out of the
directions of the laboratory manual or in naming or classifying plants
or animals merely as a matter of memory. Children who are at work
producing a school play will accomplish more in the study of the history
in which they seek to discover a dramatic situation, by virtue of the
concentration of attention given, than they would in reciting many
lessons in which they seek to remember the paragraphs or pages which
they have read. The boy who gives his attention to the production of a
story for his school paper will work harder than one who is asked to
write a composition covering two pages. Children who are allowed to
prepare for the entertainment of the members of their class a story with
which they alone are familiar will give a quality of attention to the
work in hand which is never secured when all of the members of the class
are asked to reproduce a story which the teacher has read.

t is necessary at times to have children give forced attention. There
are some things to be accomplished that must be done, regardless of our
success in securing free attention. t is entirely conceivable that some
boy or girl may not want to learn his multiplication tables, or his
words in spelling, or his conjugation or declension in French, and that
all that the teacher has done may fail to arouse any great amount of
interest or enthusiasm for the work in question. n these cases, and in
many others which might be cited, the necessity for the particular habit
may be so great as to demand that every pupil do the work or form the
habit in question. n these cases we may not infrequently hope that
after having given forced attention to the work of the school, children
may in time come to understand the importance of the experiences which
they are having, or even become interested in the work for its own sake.
t is not infrequently true that after a period of forced attention
there follows a time during which, on account of the value which
children are able to understand as attached to or belonging to the
particular exercise, they give free derived attention. Many boys and
girls have worked through their courses in science or in modern
languages because they believed that these subjects would prove valuable
not only in preparing them for college, but in giving them a wider
outlook on life. Their attention was of the free derived type. Later on
some of these same pupils have become tremendously enthusiastic in their
work in the fields in question, and have found such great satisfaction
in the work itself, that their attention might properly be characterized
as free immediate attention.

The importance of making children conscious of their power of
concentrating their attention needs to be kept constantly in mind.
Exercises in which children are asked to do as much as they can in a
period of five or ten minutes may be used to teach children what
concentration of attention is and of the economy involved in work done
under these conditions. The trouble with a great many adults, as well as
with children, is that they have never learned what it is to work up to
the maximum of their capacity. All too frequently in our attempts to
teach children in classes we neglect to provide even a sufficient amount
of work to demand of the more able members of the group any considerable
amount of continued, concentrated attention.

We seek in our work as teachers not only to secure a maximum of
attention to the fields of work in which children are engaged, but also
to arouse interests and enthusiasms which will last after school days
are over. We think of interest often, and properly too, as the means
employed to secure a maximum of attention, and, in consequence, a
maximum of accomplishment. t is worth while to think often in our work
in terms of interest as the end to be secured. Children should become
sufficiently interested in some of the subjects that we teach to care to
be students in these fields, or to find enjoyment in further work or
activity along these lines, either as a matter of recreation or, not
infrequently, as a means of discovering their true vocation in life.
That teacher who has aroused sufficient interest in music to enable the
student of musical ability to venture all of the hard work which may be
necessary in order to become a skillful musician, has made possibly his
greatest contribution by arousing interest or creating enthusiasm. The
teacher whose enthusiasm in science has led a boy to desire to continue
in this field, even to the extent of influencing him to undertake work
in an engineering school, may be satisfied, not so much in the
accomplishment of his pupil in the field of science, as in the
enthusiasm which has carried him forward to more significant work. Even
for children who go no farther than the elementary school, interest in
history, or geography, in nature study, or in literature, may mean
throughout the life of the individuals taught a better use of leisure
time and an enjoyment of the nobler pleasures.

Successful teaching in any part of our school system demands an
adjustment in the amount of work to be done, to the abilities, and even
to the interest of individual children. Much may be accomplished by the
organization of special classes or groups in large school systems, but
even under the most favorable conditions children cannot be expected to
work up to the maximum of their capacity except as teachers recognize
these differences in interest and in ability, and make assignments and
conduct exercises which take account of these differences.


1. Why do all children attend when the teacher raps on the desk, when
she writes on the board, when some one opens the door and comes into the

2. Some teachers are constantly rapping with their pencils and raising
their voices in order to attract attention. What possible weakness is
indicated by this procedure?

3. Why do adults attend to fewer things than do children?

4. n what sense is it possible to attend to two things at the same

5. Why are children less able to concentrate their attention than are
most adults?

6. Will a boy or girl in your class be more or less easily distracted as
he gives free attention or forced attention to the work in hand?

7. What educational value is attached to an exercise which requires that
a boy sit at his desk and work, even upon something in which he is not
very much interested, for twenty minutes?

8. n what sense is it true that we form the habit of concentrating our

9. Why is it wrong to extend a lesson beyond the period during which
children are able to concentrate their attention upon the work in hand,
or beyond the period during which they do concentrate their attention?

10. How is it possible to extend the period devoted to a lesson in
reading, or in geography, or in Latin, beyond the time required to read
a story or draw a map, or translate a paragraph?

11. Why is it possible to have longer recitation periods in the upper
grades and in the high school than in the primary school?

12. Give examples from your class work of free attention; of forced
attention; of free derived attention.

13. n what sense is it true that we work hardest when we give free

14. n what sense is it true that we work hardest when we give forced

15. Can you give any example of superficiality or inaccuracy which has
resulted from divided attention, upon the part of any member of one of
your classes?

16. Does free attention imply lack of effort?

17. Name incidents which you think might properly be offered boys and
girls in order to secure free derived attention.

18. Can you cite any example in your teaching in which children have
progressed from forced to free attention?

19. What interests have been developed in your classes which you think
may make possible the giving of free attention in the field in question,
even after school days are over?

20. How can you teach children what it is to concentrate their attention
and the value of concentrated attention?

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