Shifting Focus Strengthens Student Success

Educators regularly engage in research in the classroom whether knowingly or not. Lessons are designed, implemented, and reviewed. Then, based on student performance, new and different strategies are developed and judged again based on student performance toward the target goal. Though this type of research is not systematic and carefully tested, it still informs teaching.

Likewise, taking the time to read high quality research has an impact on teaching strategies, style, and pedagogy. My most recent research on focus of attention in singing instruction has guided my decisions about the effects of even small changes, like word choice, in my classroom. I discovered that changing one word that refocuses students’ attention on the effect of their movement makes a big difference in their overall success.

Focus of attention research in the kinesiology field consistently shows that focusing the learner’s attention on the effect of the movement (external focus of attention) is more advantageous than focusing the learner’s attention on the movement itself (internal focus of attention).  For example, when learning to putt a golf ball, novice learners are more accurate when they focus on the movement of the putter head (external), rather than the movement of their hands (internal).  Experienced golfers are more accurate when they focus on the trajectory of the ball (external), rather than when they focus on the movement of their hands (internal). For a review on various skills, read “Attentional Focus and Motor Learning: A review of 15 years by Gabrielle Wulf,” 2013.  Research in music tasks is finding similar results for piano playing, (Duke, Cash, & Allen, 2011), and singing (Atkins, 2013, 2017; Atkins & Duke, 2013).

Atkins’ research paper can be found in the Journal of Research in Music Education 64 (4) or

Atkins also teaches in the online Master's of Music Education program at UGA, Hugh Hodgson School of Music.