Intervention Strategies for Inattention

Instructor: Abigail Cook
Most teachers understand the frustrations of working with students with attention problems. Through effective interventions, teachers can support these students and set them up to be more successful in the classroom.

Inattention in the Classroom

Jeremy is a third grade student in Ms. Law's class. He enjoys being with his friends at recess and likes talking to his teacher whenever he gets the chance.

However, Jeremy has problems paying attention in class. Although he understands the content, he makes careless mistakes on his work and has trouble following instructions. He rarely finishes an assignment on time because he gets off task often. Jeremy struggles to keep his desk and backpack neat and can't seem to find anything he needs like a pencil or his homework. His issues with attention are starting to affect his performance in class, and he is falling behind. Ms. Law is concerned about Jeremy and his behavior and ready to implement some effective strategies to help him stay organized and on task.

Common Symptoms of Inattention

Jeremy's situation is not uncommon. Statistics show that over six million children in the United States have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Most children with ADHD have issues with inattention, and many other students without a diagnosis also have problems in this area. Let's review some of the common symptoms of poor attention seen in the classroom.

  • Trouble keeping track of assignments and materials
  • Forgetfulness
  • Trouble following directions
  • Difficulty getting started on an activity and completing a task
  • Frequently going off task or daydreaming

A typical school day requires students to sit and work for extended periods of time, listen carefully to detailed instructions, follow through on assignments and tasks, and be quiet for much of the day. When we look at the behaviors of students with attention problems, it becomes obvious why they struggle in class and start to fall behind. Teachers can make effective changes through interventional strategies that help these students be successful in school.

Interventional Strategies

Some of these strategies are simple changes that teachers can implement easily. Others may take a little more preparation and practice. All of the ideas on this list will not work for every student. It is up to the teacher to determine what will work in his or her classroom.

Following Instructions

  • After giving the class instructions, repeat them to the individual student directly.
  • Keep instructions simple, and give one step at a time.
  • Provide visuals to help students get through multi-step directions or routines.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is a positive response given by a teacher that increases the likelihood of students repeating a desirable behavior. After a student completes a step, finishes an assignment, sits quietly, or turns in homework, teachers can deliver positive reinforcement to let the student know he or she did something right. Positive reinforcement can include verbal praise, a tangible reward like class cash or a sticker, or the chance to take a break. These rewards only work if they are motivating to a student, so a classroom teacher may need to try different things before seeing any results.

Students with attention problems are off task so often that they frequently get in trouble throughout the day. Studies have proven that children's behavior changes faster as a result of positive reinforcement rather than punishment. If teachers change their responses and try to identify those instances when students are paying attention, rather than always punishing inappropriate behaviors, they may see positive results sooner.

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