Behavioral Interventions for Student Inattention

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

Inattentive behavior in the classroom can disrupt the learning process. This article will define problematic inattention, discuss some causes, and focus on providing behavioral interventions that can be used to address student inattention.

Jack Please Pay Attention!

Mrs. Lawson is a fourth grade teacher who has her hands full with one particular student named Jack. Since the beginning of the school year, Mrs. Lawson has had difficulty getting and keeping Jack's attention on what's being presented in classroom lessons. She constantly needs to redirect Jack's attention, and it takes time away from the rest of the class. Mrs. Lawson has spoken to Jack and Jack's parents about the issue, but things continue to get worse. In order to get through the material she needs to cover, she often sends Jack out of the room to the office. Mrs. Lawson is exasperated and doesn't know what else to do.

What Is Student Inattention?

In order for Mrs. Lawson to understand Jack's behavior, she needs to understand what student inattention is and when it becomes a problem. Student inattention is marked by the following:

  • Frequent redirection is needed
  • Easily distracted
  • Difficulty staying on task
  • Unable to follow directions
  • Unable to complete assignments on time
  • Appears disorganized
  • Thoughts are scattered and jump around
  • Asks a lot of questions
  • Appears confused

While all children, especially younger ones, are inattentive at times, inattention in the classroom becomes problematic when it persists over a significant period of time and doesn't seem to improve. When children are inattentive, teachers like Mrs. Lawson often have to stop what they are doing to address the inattentive child. This becomes disruptive in and of itself since instruction to the other children has to be put temporarily on hold so the problem behavior can be addressed.

Causes of Student Inattention

There are many reasons why children are inattentive in the classroom. Some are easily identified and explained, while others may require further evaluation by professionals. Some of the causes of student inattention include:

  • Lack of motivation: Motivation drives our behavior. When it's not there, it fosters disinterest.
  • Physical causes: Some inattentive behavior has an underlying physical or medical cause. If a child is sleep deprived on a regular basis, for example, they will have trouble staying awake to focus on material.
  • Emotional causes: Traumatic events and experiences at home can significantly impact children and young adults.
  • Social causes: Relationships with friends or on social media are extremely important to children and young adults - more important, even, than paying attention in class.
  • Self-efficacy: Some students may not believe they are capable of doing something, so they tune difficult things out rather than tune in.
  • Overstimulation: When too much is happening in the classroom, some students may become overwhelmed and lose the ability to focus.
  • Boredom: Maybe they're just not interested. The way in which material is chosen and presented to students can have an impact on their interest, and therefore attention, level.

It's easy to become frustrated with inattentive behavior in the classroom like Mrs. Lawson did. However, by identifying the underlying cause of the inattentive behavior, strategies can be put into place that will help the child focus their attention in the classroom and eliminate constant interruption.

Interventions for Students Who Are Inattentive

Once the root cause behind inattentive behavior has been identified, appropriate behavioral interventions for student inattention can be implemented. Some effective strategies that teachers like Mrs. Lawson could consider include:

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