Executive Functioning and Attention

Attention is a psychological concept that describes an individual’s ability to select specific information for further processing. This definition demonstrates that there is no universally accepted definition for attention. There are four different types of attention, just like there are different types of memory.
Arousal and Alertness
This level of responsiveness is the most basic, and without it, an individual will be unable to gather the necessary information from their surroundings, as well as select a precise response. Both alertness and arousal reduce considerably during periods of tiredness and sleep, making it hard to grasp important information or perform the required actions in such times. In the case of a coma, alertness, and arousal become distorted to the extent of unresponsiveness (Banich & Compton, 2010).


This category is also known as sustained attention. It encompasses the ability of a person to maintain the element of alertness for an extended period. As such, a person who cannot maintain vigilance can be said to have a short attention span. Sustained attention is crucial when performing activities that are prolonged. An example is the ability to exhibit sustained attention when trying to listen to each word during a long lecture (Banich & Compton, 2010).

Selective Attention

This type of attention involves the capacity to select specific information to be utilized for a particular task or activity. Experts conceptualize selective attention as a filtering process which allows people to direct efforts towards the most important information in a broad range of ideas. Simply put, it is the cognitive mechanism that ensures the selection of crucial elements from the existing possibilities presented (Banich & Compton, 2010).

Divided Attention

This kind of attention is illustrated by the capability to split one’s attention between two or more tasks. Dividing attention is not an easy task due to the brain having limited resources that become used up when performing various multifaceted tasks. It is therefore much easier to divide attention between an auditory and visual task than performing two visual activities simultaneously (Banich & Compton, 2010).

Executive Functioning

Executive functions refer to a set of abilities that are necessary to guide as well as control behaviors aligned with particular goals. These skills are heavily reliant on the functionality of the frontal lobe (Banich & Compton, 2010). In other words, executive functions involve a set of processes that an individual requires to undertake to manage one’s resources for the realization of his or her goals. It involves neurological-oriented skills that include mental control and self-regulation. In general, executive functioning is what allows a person to initiate behaviors that facilitate goal achievement while inhibiting the actions that limit the realization of those aims. Furthermore, it encompasses the ability to be flexible in the revision of plans and strategic problem-solving during difficult situations and failures (Folino & Orprecio, 2016).

Helping Students

According to CanLearn Society (2013), students with such problems can be assisted by breaking down tasks and activities into small chunks and performed one at a time. Likewise reducing the amount of material expected to complete is a possible option. By keeping the information brief and to the point coupled with concise repetition, the students can grasp more content. Additionally, the examples used should be those that the students can relate to easily. When it comes to the working memory resources, development of routines and procedures which are repeatedly practiced develop an automatic response and hence an efficient tool in helping students with attention and executive difficulties.

Also, the teacher can reinforce the learning preferences by encouraging self-reflection and also using software that entertainingly offer rehearsals. When it comes to testing students, additional extra time is vital and so is the reduction of the number of questions. Those students with difficulties in sustained memory can be provided with short breaks as well. The use of physical illustrations, for example, using games, active participation and actual visualization and hands-on learning is equally important. Experts also encourage the use of memory aids including visual posters, written instructions, graphic organizers, key word outlines and so on. Last but not least, summarizing, repetition and reviewing of the information is vital for encouraging task repetition and also increases the amount of information grasped (Folino & Orprecio, 2016).


Banich, M. T., & Compton, R. J. (2010). Cognitive Neuroscience. Wadsworth: Cengage Learning.

CanLearn Society. (2013). Supporting Students with Working Memory Difficulties. Calgary: Alberta Government.

Folino, T., & Orprecio, J. (2016). Helping students reach their individual potential. Toronto: Toronto Catholic District School Board Psychology Newsletter .

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