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Focused: How Students Construct Attentiveness in First-Grade Classrooms

The Well-Being, Peer Cultures and Rights of Children

ISBN: 978-1-78052-074-2, eISBN: 978-1-78052-075-9

Publication date: 5 August 2011


Purpose – Studies suggest that children's experiences during first grade help establish educational trajectories that eventually shape their life chances. Research also indicates that student attentiveness in the classroom is integral to learning and later academic achievement, with low-income students of color running a greater risk of “attentional difficulties.”

Methodology – Joining these two bodies of work, I map the social conditions that shape attentiveness in the first-grade classrooms of “at-risk” students. Using ethnographic data collected over three school years, I examine how children actively construct attentiveness during their everyday interactions at school.

Findings – First graders sustain attention but often onto their own auto-involvements and mutual engagements, focal concerns teachers consider “distractions.” By learning the moment-by-moment variations of what to pay attention to and how “attentiveness” looks, children navigate the social ropes of schooling. Young students apply these lessons to self and peers, regulating attentiveness and socializing one another to the norms of their classroom. They are also resourceful actors who skillfully use their understandings of attentiveness to maneuver around the strict order of the day. Schoolchildren multitask, conceal other focal concerns, and give the impression of attentiveness, all of which influence what behaviors get detected as “(in)attentive.”



Milman, N. (2011), "Focused: How Students Construct Attentiveness in First-Grade Classrooms", Bass, L.E. and Kinney, D.A. (Ed.) The Well-Being, Peer Cultures and Rights of Children (Sociological Studies of Children and Youth, Vol. 14), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 77-107.



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