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Home > News > Help Students Maintain Focus and Stay on Task

Help Students Maintain Focus and Stay on Task

Date: Monday, January 16, 2006Author: By Rachel Kaspar

Help Students Maintain Focus and Stay on Task
Every classroom has at least one child, whether diagnosed with ADD or ADHD or not, who has difficulty staying on task. This can be distracting and frustrating for both teachers and classmates. The following are some tried-and-true suggestions for helping all students focus and stay on task.

1. Ask students to repeat directions. If students know that they will be asked to repeat instructions, they will be more likely to pay attention. In addition, repeating directions allows students to clarify and check their understanding.

2. Use positive reminders and visual cues. Students with attention difficulties often suffer from low self-esteem because of frequent negative comments and criticism from others. Avoid bringing negative attention to a student who is off task. Instead, ask applicable questions and provide visual reminders of appropriate behaviors at a student’s desk or in a daily planner. For example, a simple drawing of a raised hand affixed to a work surface can help a student remember to raise his or her hand before blurting out an answer.

3. Teach organizational skills. Students who have a hard time maintaining attention are often disorganized. Teach simple organizational skills such as storing similar items together. Remind students to put items back where they belong when they are finished using them. Instill the age-old idea that there is a place for everything, and that everything should be in its place. Provide a short period of time each day to allow students to become and/or remain organized.

4. Encourage the use of a daily planner. Have students write assignments in a daily planner, agenda, or calendar. Keep parents and guardians informed and involved by requiring a daily signature.

5. Break large assignments and instructions into smaller, simpler tasks. Have students complete one problem on a worksheet and ask for feedback before continuing. Give written as well as oral instructions. Offer to check assignments for simple mistakes, such as uncompleted problems or missing headings, before students turn them in.

6. Encourage students to create lists and write notes to themselves. Teach students to work through lists in a logical sequence and check off items upon completion. Encourage them to place personal notes wherever they might be needed—on the bathroom mirror at home, pinned to a backpack, or on the cover of a textbook.

7. Encourage “self-talk.” Teach students to talk to themselves, setting personal deadlines for maintaining focus. For example, a student might say, “I will work on my math assignment until 1:30. Then, I will stand up and sharpen my pencil.” Help students learn to set realistic goals, and then reward their efforts with a short break.

8. Create focus charts. Have each student attach a small piece of paper to the top of his or her work surface with two columns, headed “YES” and “NO.” Throughout the day, frequently ask students to assess whether their minds and bodies are on-task. Each student evaluates his or her own level of focus, and places a tally mark in the appropriate column. At the end of the day, take a few moments to discuss these visual records. Eventually, students will internalize the habit of questioning their focus and returning to task without teacher intervention.

9. Allow short, frequent breaks for physical activity. Make it possible for students to stand or move around when necessary. If possible, provide an area of the classroom where physical movement is acceptable. Allow more active students to collect papers or pass out needed materials. Some students are able to release tension by rubbing a smooth stone or manipulating a stress-relieving ball at their desks.

10. Provide social skills training. Involve all students. Talk about interrupting, taking turns, sharing supplies, and asking for help politely. Teach and role-play appropriate responses to teasing and negative comments from peers.

11. Establish a quiet area for work with minimal distractions. If possible, move students who have a difficult time paying attention to the front of the classroom to reduce distractions. It may be helpful to place these students near a fan or an air conditioning vent. The constant noise helps to minimize the impact of noisy distractions.

12. Encourage all students to be involved in physical activity and to get plenty of sleep.

“Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them—every day begin the task anew.”
--Saint Francis de Sales, bishop of Geneva (1567-1622)


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For more ideas on helping students focus and stay on task, check out PCI’s Real-World Social Skills Game & Curriculum[/URL].