Concentration in Preschool Settings: Relation with Behavioral Measures, Physiological Response, and Teacher and Parent Report

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Becker, Ian, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Lillard, Angeline, AS-Psychology, University of Virginia

The ability to concentrate on schoolwork is critical for school readiness. Despite this, concentration is not a commonly used term in psychology, instead being captured by terms such as attention, cognitive load, and self-regulation. I argue these terms are components of concentration and that previous psychological research has not captured the essence of what we mean when we say a student is concentrated in a classroom. This is a descriptive and associative study investigating children’s demonstrated concentration in and out of the classroom. We observed 24 preschool children (M = 4.51 years, SD = 0.69 years, range = 3-6 years, 13 female, 11 male) in two classrooms. All observations were completed in Montessori classrooms during periods of time when children were free to choose their own activities, allowing for an assessment of concentration based on children’s self-directed, rather than teacher-directed, work. During observation, information on children’s demonstrated concentration was collected using a recently developed scale for capture how deeply children are concentrating. What activities and how long children did each activity were also noted. Children’s demonstrated concentration was assessed using more traditional measures of the components of concentration, using the statue task from the Developmental Neuropsychological Assessment (NEPSY) to measure self-regulation, a go/no-go task to measure selective attention, and physiological response measured by heart rate variability to measure cognitive load. Results showed that older concentration in a more stable manner when working on an activity, although they did not necessarily show deeper or longer concentration than their younger peers. Associations with out of classroom measures suggest the importance of considering concentration within context, including factors such as whether an activity is individually- or adult-directed.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
concentration, attention, cognitive-load, self-regulation, Montessori preschool
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