Selection Control

Today is the first day of classes in New York City. While I await my second period class, I’ll take a moment to post something interesting I gleaned while reading my first professional development book of the year, Dr. Mel Levine’s excellent and humane One Mind at a Time (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002). If you work with special education students, and particularly students with limited attention spans, your will recognize the cognitive phenomena Dr. Levine describes.

Selection control, in Mel Levine’s words, is a cognitive process in which “…attention rapidly inspects candidates for admission to the thinking brain, filters out and discards what it deems irrelevant, welcomes a chosen few stimuli into consciousness, and then invites the most timely and informative of these selections to penetrate deeply enough to be understood and/or remembered or else used right away.” In the following paragraph, Dr. Levine spells out the challenges that teachers working with students with attentional difficulties face: “Selection control disposes of worthless stimuli, such as the quiet hum of a fluorescent bulb or the mauve hue of your teacher’s panty hose or totally irrelevant memories that may be competing for attention. Selection control does not actually interpret or put to use what we hear or see; it just picks out the very best items, the most important and currently relevant data. Selection control that works well is especially valuable in view of the fact that a mind has very little capacity from moment to moment for brand-new information. The entryway that leads to conscious awareness is narrow; space is limited. So selection control is obliged to be highly refined.” 

Dr Levine continues, with this idea for a lesson plan: “To tighten selection control among his entire class, one teacher I work with, John Reilly, gave students an article to read and asked them to summarize it in one hundred words or less. After they submitted their summaries, he returned these and asked the kids to write a fifty-word summary of their summary. The following week they were asked to write a twenty-five-word summary of their fifty-word summary. All the while he emphasized the critical importance of determining relative degrees of importance in globs of information, a great academic lesson.”

At some point this year, I’ll develop a lesson plan for this form of writing assignment, which looks like a good way to assist students in developing their own methods and habits of selection control.

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