Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Assessment - Boost Attention Span to Ensure Lifelong Success: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Assessment - Boost Attention Span to Ensure Lifelong Success: News

Article excerpt

Ability to focus is a better predictor than test scores, psychologist says Adi Bloom.

Measuring children's ability to focus their attention on one activity or subject is a much more effective way of predicting success in later life than exam performance, according to a leading psychologist and science writer.

Daniel Goleman, the international best-selling US writer who popularised the notion of "emotional intelligence" as a counterbalance to IQ, insisted that schools could teach children to focus effectively, ensuring academic, employment and financial success.

"Exam scores are terrible predictors of how well a child will do in life," Dr Goleman told TES. "Cognitive control - which is essentially the ability to keep your mind on one chosen thing and resist other temptations - is a much better predictor."

Dr Goleman argued that such focus could be taught effectively in schools. "What the science shows is that attention is a mental muscle," he said. "And that it can be strengthened with the proper exercise, just like any muscle.

"So I would advocate a supplementary training - supplementary to the standard academics - which strengthens the skills that children need, both to do well at school and to do well in life."

In his new book, Focus: the hidden driver of excellence, which explores the science of attention, Dr Goleman refers to the famous 1960s study in which US psychologist Walter Mischel, then at Stanford University, left children alone in a room with a marshmallow. If they were able to resist the marshmallow for 15 minutes, they were rewarded with two when the researcher re-entered the room.

A series of follow-up studies revealed that those children who were able to delay gratification for 15 minutes were far more likely to be successful in later life than those who succumbed to temptation and ate the marshmallow.

The book also cites another academic study, conducted in New Zealand over several decades. This found that children who demonstrated strong cognitive control in childhood were more successful in adult life than their peers who had shorter attention spans.

"That was astounding to me," said Dr Goleman, who co-founded the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, now at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "Cognitive control - which is sometimes called 'grit' or 'conscientiousness' - predicted how they were doing, better than IQ and better than the wealth of the family they grew up in. …

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