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Expert Answers: Focused Attention Practices and Brain Intervals by Lori Desautels

Headshot of Dr. Lori Desautels

Audience members from the first webinar in the “Eureka! Big Ideas for Big Changes in SPED” series with scholar, author, and speaker Dr. Lori Desautels had so many questions during “Big Ideas in Neuroscience: Brains, Behavior and Engagement for Students and SPED Leaders,” that Dr. Desautels graciously agreed to answer more on our blog. This is the first in several more to come!

  • Are these exercises to calm the brain best done first thing each morning, as well as at times throughout the day?
  • As you go along with these wonderful strategies, could you give suggestions for older students as well (like high school age)?

Focused Attention Practices are so important to do first thing in the morning and throughout a period or the day when students need to quiet their minds and refocus! In the elementary grades, I would recommend beginning twice a day and starting with no more than 90 seconds. Students always have a choice to opt out as this new quiet can feel uncomfortable and unsettling. 

Before we ever begin this practice, we must teach our students about their brain neuro-anatomy, the stress response, the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex, and their relationship to learning, behavior, and attention. When we begin a focused attention practice, we often have soft instrumental music playing in the background and we might use a peppermint along with our breathing to provide more of a specific focus on a stimulus. High school students really need the buy in before staring these practices. When we understand that the language of the amygdala is feelings and we only quiet that amygdala through breathing and movement, the focused attention practice feels relevant and makes sense.

Brain Breaks are different than focused attention practices. Brain breaks can be implemented throughout the day when the brain needs to wake up and stay alert or to refocus after a lengthy learning period. Routine lulls the brain to sleep, so we need to integrate novelty and some high interest activities to wake up the brain.

Both practices are explained in the articles linked below:

Here’s a video for older students to share in the brain interval practices:

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