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The Child with Attention Problems - The Inattentive Child

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GENERAL INTRODUCTION

All children may appear to be inattentive at times. This chapter describes children who appear to have more problems with paying attention than is typical for their age. The inattention is not because they are being oppositional or deliberately disobeying. There is no emotional problem or stressor occurring in their world. They are capable of understanding the task or instruction; that is, they do not have a language impairment. They have the materials available that they need to do what they were asked. Nonetheless, they cannot keep their mind on the task at hand. To you, they may appear to forget what they were supposed to do, or where they have put things. When reading or doing other tasks that require sustained concentration, they may lose track of where they are. Sometimes it may even appear that they have difficulty following what you say even when they comprehend the vocabulary. They may have difficulty following multi-step examples

It is important to note when these problems begin: before school entry; after age 7 years or older? It is also important to note where these problems occur: in daycare; at school, at play, in organized sports and activities; at home.



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A child's developmental task at this age is to acquire new skills and to show parents and caregivers the new competencies that he or she is acquiring. Children usually will want to comply with requests and demonstrate that they can do what is asked.

children age 3 to 5 usually remember to do things they are told to do, if:

  • the instructions are given one at a time, rather than in a series
  • the prompt is given close in time to when the child is required to do the action
  • the adult supervises and praises the child for doing the action
  • the child has the necessary skills to do what was asked
  • the child might playfully try to hide to get out of doing something they don't want to do
  • Some attention problems may be seen in most children from time to time but is not expected to be often. Normally they occur when the child is upset or preoccupied with something else; if they are not feeling well; have not had enough sleep; are hungry or tired.
  • With a prompt the child will usually follow through and comply with instructions
  • Once prompted on an activity that is part of a routine, the child will incorporate the activity into his or her repertoire, and usually perform it without forgetting. Prompting might be required more in the learning phase, and less once the skill has been mastered and the routine has been practiced several times.
  • the child might whine and initially argue that they don't want to do it (like going to bed now)
  • Inattention might be more likely to occur in situations where the child's routine is disrupted, or more exciting activities are going on around the child and distracting him or her from doing what was asked.

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Inattention enters the Yellow Light zone and becomes more of a problem when:

  • it occurs more frequently
  • the child often asks, "what was that again?" to elicit a further prompt to do what was asked
  • the child is easily distracted by external stimulation and does not appear to return to task at hand
  • the child fails to engage in task
  • the child drifts away from task at hand and appears to day dream
  • inattention begins to affect student's mastery of significant developmental skills, like self-care or learning routines of the Kindergarten classroom or developing appropriate social skills
  • the child continues to be "forgetful" even after being prompted and monitored by the teacher
  • the child's inattention begins to stand out as unusual among their peers in the same class
  • the child might show signs that he or she is embarrassed or sorry or upset that they forgot
  • More of these problems are evident, and the problems occur in play, chosen activities and in adult-directed activities.
  • It is helpful to consider whether these behaviours are longstanding, since early childhood, or whether they are new to this child
  • Children with even mild inattention difficulties are at risk for developing reading and math problems. In Kindergarten this appears as difficulty in distinguishing similar sounding words, poor sound,to-letter skills (sound-symbol associations), and trouble with number sense.

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Inattention and forgetting enters the red light zone and is cause for concern and intervention when:

  • The child often fails to pay close attention to details or makes careless mistakes
  • The child has difficulty keeping track of personal belongings and organizing work and activities
  • The child does not seem to be listening when spoken to directly
  • The child has problems following instructions and completing activities
  • The child has difficulty getting started on activities, particularly if they are effortful or challenging
  • The child is often forgetful , forgetting to write things down and forgetting routines
  • The child has not shown improvements in their ability to sustain attention, remember instructions and follow through on assigned tasks
  • The child struggles with basic reading and math skills. These include phonemic awareness (sound,to-letter skills) and number sense.

Behaviours associated with inattention, such as forgetfulness and difficulty attending to tasks at hand are cause for concern and may be indicative of a mental health problem. Behaviour in the yellow light zone should be considered to enter the red light zone when:

  • Several indicators of inattention are evident much of the time
  • They increase in intensity and frequency
  • The child has shown behaviours in the yellow light zone persisting for 6 months or more
  • The behaviours are pervasive (occur in more than one setting, like at home, in the classroom and in the playground or in free time play)
  • The inattention and forgetting are impairing to academic performance and / or peer relationships
  • The attention problems are not attributable to any personal events (i.e. family loss, trauma, health related problems)
  • If there has been no other physical or social explanation for these behaviours,
  • If this pattern is evident, the child should be referred to a paediatrician, psychologist, psychological associate or psychiatrist for assessment and to determine whether they have a diagnosable attention deficit.

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  • Once a child enters school, most learning requires being able to pay attention to teachers, attend to tasks independently for extended periods of time and to be able to work collaboratively with peers. As the student moves from the primary grades, learning tasks shift from being memory specific to demanding reasoning strategies. Activities such as problem solving, explaining, compare and contrast and answering multiple choice questions demand a greater cognitive load.
  • Students are also expected to develop extended reasoning processes. This involves the ability to identify goals, develop plans to achieve goals, organize processes, initiate processes, monitor for and correct errors, and evaluate the final outcome. Extended reasoning processes, such as research and essay writing help in the development of executive functions. But, they can also strain the demands of under developed executive functions.
  • As children develop, they develop social skills necessary to participate in a community. Successful social skills require the use of higher order language skills, known as pragmatic language skills. Essential for these skills is the ability to recognize different social registers, be able to apply the rules of conversation and infer implicit information from conversation. Successful conversational skills require an ability to attend to conversations, follow their direction and recognize appropriate cues for participation. Good attention and good regulation of internal thoughts are integral to the development of good social skills.

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Inattention enters the Yellow Light zone and becomes more of a problem when:

  • it occurs more frequently
  • the child often asks, "what was that?" to elicit a further prompt to do what was asked
  • the child is easily distracted by external stimulation and does not appear to return to task at hand
  • the child fails to engage in tasks or does not follow them through to completion
  • the child drifts away from task at hand and appears to daydream
  • inattention begins to affect student's academic performance or social relationships
  • the child continues to be "forgetful" and requires constant supervision by the teacher to complete schoolwork, or supervision at home to complete homework
  • the child's inattention begins to stand out as unusual among their peers in the same class
  • the problems interfere with the student's academic functioning and study skills
  • the child might show signs that he or she is embarrassed or sorry or upset that they forgot
  • more of these problems are evident, and the problems occur in school, organized sports and activities and in free play

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  • Makes careless errors and pays little attention to details
  • Often cannot sustain attention to task
  • May have difficulty beginning task or may appear to procrastinate
  • Has difficulty organizing or planning for assignment
  • Avoids tasks that require high levels of mental effort
  • Difficulty following through on instructions
  • Often does not appear to be listening
  • Loses things and or is often forgetful
  • Often is distracted by extraneous stimuli
  • Poor self- evaluation skills

Behaviours associated with inattention, such as forgetfulness and difficulty attending to tasks at hand are cause for concern and may be indicative of a mental health problem. Behaviour in the yellow light zone should be considered to enter the red light zone when:

  • Several indicators of inattention are evident much of the time
  • They increase in intensity and frequency
  • The child has shown behaviours in the yellow light zone persisting for 6 months or more
  • The behaviours are pervasive (occur in more than one setting, like at home, in the classroom and in the playground or in free time play)
  • the inattention and forgetting are impairing to academic performance and / or peer relationships
  • the attention problems are not attributable to any personal events (i.e. family loss, trauma, health related problems)
  • if there has been no other physical or social explanation for these behaviours,
  • If this pattern is evident, the child should be referred to a paediatrician, psychologist, psychological associate or psychiatrist for assessment and to determine whether they have a diagnosable attention deficit.

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  • Adolescents should be able to sustain their attention in a variety of settings for sustained periods. They should show mastery of organizational skills to keep their personal belongings in the right place most of the time. They should be able to organize their time and materials so they get to school and extracurricular activities on time, with the right equipment, most of the time. In school they should be able to sustain attention throughout lessons and while doing independent work. They should be able to handle the greater cognitive load involved in doing projects and essays that involve research as well as independent thought.
  • By adolescence, students should show well-established extended reasoning processes. They should be honing their skills in identifying goals, developing plans to achieve goals, organizing the processes to pursue their goals, initiating processes, monitoring the accuracy of their work, finding and correcting their errors, and evaluating their final outcomes. They should be well along in the development of research skills and skills to write essays.
  • Socially, they should be able to engage in sustained conversations, follow their direction, and recognize appropriate cues for participation. Good attention and good regulation of internal thoughts are integral to the development of good social skills.
  • It is not unusual for adolescents to show occasional forgetting or inattention. However, this would not be a usual occurrence, and there would be no significant impact on the adolescent's functioning academically, socially, or in extra-curricular activities.

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Inattention enters the Yellow Light zone and becomes more of a problem when:

  • it occurs more frequently
  • the adolescent is easily distracted by external stimulation, and will easily turn their attention to an action or activity that takes them away from the task at hand
  • the adolescent has significant difficulty initiating required tasks, or fails to engage in the task, or does not follow it through to completion
  • inattention begins to affect the adolescent's academic performance or social relationships
  • the student appears to be "disorganized" and requires considerable supervision from the teacher to complete schoolwork, or from a parent at home to complete homework and other assigned tasks
  • the inattention stands out as unusual among their peers
  • The student has difficulty with planning, following through on tasks and evaluating their own performance
  • The problems impact across academic skills
  • more of these problems are evident, and the problems occur in school, organized sports and activities and in free play
  • It is helpful to consider whether these behaviours are longstanding, since early childhood, or whether they are new to this adolescent

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  • Makes careless errors and pays little attention to details
  • Often cannot sustain attention to task
  • May have difficulty beginning task or may appear to procrastinate
  • Has difficulty organizing or planning for assignment
  • Avoids tasks that require high levels of mental effort
  • Difficulty following through on instructions
  • Often does not appear to be listening
  • Loses things and or is often forgetful
  • Poor self-monitoring
  • Often is distracted by extraneous stimuli

Behaviours associated with inattention, such as forgetfulness and difficulty attending to tasks at hand are cause for concern and may be indicative of a mental health problem. Behaviours listed above and in the yellow light zone should be considered to enter the red light zone when:

  • Several indicators of inattention are evident much of the time
  • They increase in intensity and frequency
  • The adolescent has shown behaviours in the yellow light zone persisting for 6 months or more. Note whether they were also evident in early childhood.
  • The behaviours are pervasive (occur in more than one setting, like at home, in the classroom, in extra-curricular activities and in leisure activities)
  • The inattention and forgetting are impairing to academic performance and / or peer relationships
  • The attention problems are not attributable to any personal events (i.e. family loss, trauma, health related problems)
  • If there has been no other physical or social explanation for these behaviours,
  • If this pattern is evident, the adolescent should be referred to a paediatrician, psychologist, psychological associate or psychiatrist for assessment and to determine whether they have a diagnosable attention deficit.

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Adolescence is a transitional time in life bridging major changes between childhood and adulthood. Adolescence is different from early adolescence. The former can be seen as transitioning away from childhood, whereas the latter is transitioning towards adulthood. Adolescence is a time of profound biological changes. Adolescent experience physical, cognitive and social changes. This is also a time when adolescents are looking to become independent from their family. As a result, the school becomes an important setting for expressing their newfound independence and, at the same time, a place for learning about the responsibilities that come with independence. Sometimes there can be a tension between an adolescent’s quest for independence and a classroom teacher’s expectations for conformity. Understanding and recognizing these changes can help teachers develop appropriate learning experiences for their students.

Both boys and girls go through major physical changes during adolescence. They begin to look less like children and more like adults. Their reproductive capacity and their physical sexual characteristics begin to rapidly mature. Cognitively, they are also changing. Sometimes grade 9 and 10 teachers feel that their students’ brains are changing for the worse but, in fact, what teachers are observing is the re-tooling of the human brain. During this change, there is a disjoint between emotional and cognitive control. Early in the process, the adolescent world is understood through an emotional lens, but by the end of high school, cognitive development should allow for emotional regulation. The other big change is social development. Teens begin to express their sense of individuality by separating from their family. Peer attachments become very strong. Friends and romantic interests take precedence over almost everything. The emotional drive away from family and towards peers is natural, but can also produce challenges to learning, safety and well-being, if not handled with firm expectations, setting boundaries and understanding.

During high school, both the classroom experience and learning expectations change from that of elementary school. Independent learning and homework take on more significant roles. Multiple teachers and classes tax students’ organizational skills. Large assignments with distant deadlines require skills in planning and time management. Seventy minutes classes, often on topics that do not interest students, require focused and sustained attention. Pressures to do well in each class, pressures from peers, and pressures from parents can all stretch a student’s ability to pay attention to the lesson at hand.

Teachers need to remember that their students are going through changes, which are new and not yet fully under their control. This is a time when adolescents are just beginning to learn to regulate their biological changes. The ability to self-regulate, to self-motivate and to focus on the task at hand may vary from student to student. Sustained attention and related organization skills, which are important for academic success, may be at different developmental stages for their students. Teachers should accommodate accordingly.

Adolescents should be able to further extend their sustained attention beyond that of early adolescents. They should be able to stay alert and on task from a minimum of 30 minutes and up to 90 minutes according to some researchers. This involves being able to stay focused to the task at hand while blocking out distractions within the environment or unrelated intrusive thoughts. If they are interrupted from their work, they should be able to return to the task with minimal mental effort.

Adolescents should be able to prioritize what is expected and important. This requires that they start to develop good independent organization skills, especially the ability to organize time and materials. They should also have the ability to adjust their priorities and activities according to circumstances.

Adolescents should be developing abilities to regulate their emotions. That is, They should be showing evidence that their thinking affects their emotions, rather than their emotions lead their thinking. They should be getting better at delaying gratification and using their thinking (judgement) to recognize long-term goals and plan accordingly.

Adolescents should be getting better at self-motivation. A big part of maturity is measured in how individuals take responsibility for a task. High school is a time for developing independent thinking and behaviour. This involves being able to plan and initiate and monitor an assignment. It also involves being able to recognize when tasks (classrooms assignments and tests) can make you feel either anxious or bored, and how to motivate yourself through these feeling-states. The ability to acknowledge these feeling states and not let them undermine attending to the task at hand is a developmental skill acquired through adolescence. It is essential for success in adult life.
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Attention is a complex cognitive phenomenon that affects almost all human behaviours. When teachers observe problematic actions in the classroom, it is often difficult to identify what role we can attribute specifically to inattention. Therefore, it is important to understand what constitutes attention and its relationship to actions, when trying to recognize problems with attention, especially in teenagers. Teachers may wish to look at the Beliefs section to further understand the underlying causes of inattention in their student.
Inattention can be seen as:
  • a problem with concentration (the ability to sustain attention for extended times),
  • problem with focus ( the ability to block out external distractions or unrelated thoughts)
  • a problem with being alert (the ability to pick up initial information, usually through spoken language).

Poor attention skills can also affect planning and organization abilities. Students with poor attention skills have difficulty planning extended tasks. They also have difficulty organizing time, materials and thoughts around both extended tasks and daily activities. Finally, they may appear to also be less motivated or engaged than students with good attention skills.

Inattention enters the yellow light zone and should be viewed as a problem when:
  • Student appears to have problems with concentration. They may have difficulty staying on task or finishing task. They are easily distracted by any noise and have a hard timing returning to work at hand. They may day dream throughout class. When they do produce work, they may lack attention to details and appear to make carless errors.
  • Student appears to produce very little work or have trouble starting a task.
  • Student may appear impulsive or impatient. They may overreact to events.
  • Student appears to be disorganized. This may include having poor time-management skills Student will frequently forget or bring the wrong materials to class.
  • Student appears to have hearing or language difficulties. They appear to have problems following verbal instructions, lose track of a conversation, have delayed recall of information (remember the answer a few minutes after the question), and have difficulty taking good notes during lectures.
  • Student has trouble with memory skills. They forget to bring books and materials to class. They leave assignments at home. They may forget things learned the day before. They may struggle learning procedural knowledge in math and science courses, recalling facts in history or geography courses or remembering narrative information from English classes.
  • Student has learning problems. These can include problems with reading comprehension and reading fluency (they can decode words, but either read slowly, mispronounce words or miss words altogether) and poor writing skills (they may have difficulty with hand writing or difficulty writing extended prose, like essays). They have poor study skills and work habits.
  • When reviewing a student’s school history, it appears that many of these problems have been evident since elementary school, but become more problematic as work becomes more demanding or the student is expected to take more responsibility for producing work. Make sure to assess student for weaknesses in core learning skills such as reading, oral language, writing or math to determine whether problems with attention can be attributed to gaps in core academic skills.



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Teachers need to be concerned when a high school student shows behaviours associated with attention, such as:
  • difficulty attending to tasks over an extended time,
  • appearing to be highly disorganized or absent-minded
  • lacking in any motivation to even try

It is important to note that these behaviours might also indicate a mental health problem. In fact, 2 out of 3 teenagers who have disabling attention problems also have other mental health concerns. ,including ADHD and other mental health problems.

Teachers should also understand that attention problems are on a continuum. The more of the action behaviours listed in the yellow light zone are observed in a student, the higher the risk of academic problems and possible mental health problems

Behaviours listed in the yellow light zone should be considered entering the red zone when:
  • Several indicators of inattention are evident for much of the time
  • The behaviours increase in intensity and frequency with cognitively demanding tasks. (high levels of concentration for processing information, introduction of new topics or information, tasks that are demanding & timed)
  • They are pervasive (occur in other subject areas, extra-curricular activities, at home)
  • They may have occurred in earlier grades, but this is not always the case. Very bright students can compensate for attention problems in elementary school, but then struggle in high school because of the higher academic demands.
  • They also appear to be immature (3-4 years younger) than their peer group.
  • They sometimes appear to have a hearing problem or difficulty with language, yet at other times are fluent or able to follow a conversation.
  • They arrive in your class having previously failed the course you are teaching and after a few weeks appear to be on track to fail again.
  • There is no physical or social explanation for this behaviour.
  • The attention problems cannot be attributed to personal events (family problems, trauma, grief or related health problems.)



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Attention is a complex behaviour. Problems with attention directly affect learning and behaviour. Students who have mental health problems almost always also have attention problems. Ecological factors (events outside of the person), developmental factors (rate of maturation) and cognitive factors (how the brain works) can affect a student’s ability to attend to learning.

Problems can be minimized and learning can occur when:
  • Learning tasks are age appropriate (developmental factors),
  • Lessons are presented in a positive, engaging and clear manner (ecological factors)
  • Accommodations for a student’s learning profile (cognitive factors) are considered.
The world around us is full of stimulation and information that is buzzing around us. Yet, only a limited amount of information enters our conscious mind. At the same time we may choose to think about specific ideas over a stretch of time, while blocking out other thoughts or distractions. "Paying attention" means to consciously select specific input from competing inputs, and to store the selected input into memory, or examine it over a stretch of time. The competing inputs can be either from the outside environment or internal thoughts. Paying attention involves:
  • Selecting desired input
  • Resisting distraction
  • Self-monitoring and evaluating thoughts and actions

The behaviour of attention is dependent on a variety of cognitive systems. These include:

  • Executive functions: These are higher-cognitive functions that enable intentional goal-directed behaviour and self-regulation. Examples of executive functions are planning, organizing, decision-making, inhibitory-control and monitoring actions.

  • Working memory: This is a dynamic, on-line mental workspace in which information is stored and manipulated for brief periods of time (up to 2 seconds) to perform another activity. It is important for a range of activities such as controlling attention, problem-solving, and listening and reading comprehension.

  • Processing speed: This is the rate at which an individual processes incoming and outgoing information. Individuals with slower processing speed can have difficulty following instructions and tend to complete work slowly.

  • In a normally developing child the behaviour of attention is essential in learning both in terms of social skills to function as a social being and in terms of the acquisition of information and its application in the development of knowledge.

Difficulty in attending to tasks can occur for a variety of reasons. These include:

  • The tasks are developmentally inappropriate. That is, the cognitive demands of the task exceed the cognitive capacity of "working memory"

  • Feelings of anxiety or depression will reduce the cognitive capacity of working memory to inhibit extraneous thoughts or to regulate emotions.

  • Cognitive weaknesses in the areas of executive function, working memory and processing speed make attending to many learning tasks challenging

What is ADHD?

This resource is not about diagnosing children's problems. Nor do teachers want to make diagnoses, since they do not have the training or mandate to do so. Nonetheless, there is a lot of information in the popular press about attention problems, and teachers may wonder whether a student has Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder. Therefore, a description of this disorder may be useful in understanding why some children have significant difficulties in sustaining attention or curbing their impulses and their activity level.

More information about ADHD is available at http://research.aboutkidshealth.ca/teachadhd

  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurobiological disorder. That means, it is a disorder in brain functioning. It can have serious consequences, including school failure, poor relationships, driving-related accidents, substance abuse, and other negative life outcomes. Hence, early identification and treatment is critical.

  • ADHD affects 5 to 12% of the population or approximately 1 or 2 students in every classroom. Boys are identified at 3 times the rate of girls.

  • ADHD interferes with an individual's capacity to

  • Self-regulate activity level (hyperactivity)

  • Inhibit behaviour (impulsivity)

  • Attend to the task at hand (inattention) in developmentally appropriate ways.

  • ADHD is generally first noticeable during preschool years and is likely to persist into adolescence and adulthood. The symptoms of ADHD can be clustered into two groupings; those behaviours associated with hyperactivity & impulsivity and those behaviours associated with inattention. The two clusters of behaviours produce three subtypes of ADHD. These subtypes are listed to display the variable nature of this disorder:

    • 1.predominantly hyperactive subtype
    • 2.predominantly inattentive subtype (previously called ADD)
    • 3.combined subtype (children who are both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive)
  • Research has shown that it is the inattentive and combined subtypes, both of which share the behavioural dimension of inattention, who struggle academically in school.

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Poor attention skills can often be attributed to problems with “executive functions”. Executive functions are responsible for cognitive control. As students progress in their schooling, the role of executive functions becomes critical for success.
Researchers often talk about “hot” executive functions and “cold” executive functions:
  • Hot executive functions regulate emotions to help delay gratification, and to motivate oneself, despite undesired situations (i.e. doing homework, instead of playing computer games.)
  • Cold executive functions allow for planning, organizing, monitoring progress, reviewing production and evaluating outcome against an initial goal. (i.e., essential skills for researching and essay writing).

Working memory is a cognitive process essential for successful executive functions. It has been described as the “translator between sensory input and long term memory” and the “workplace of thinking”] It is where students connect the dots between what they already know and what you are teaching. Working Memory allows them to properly store new knowledge and therefore also makes it easier for them to recall what they have learned. Working memory also functions as a buffer, keeping out unwanted sensory data (intrusive thoughts and external sensory stimuli). Working memory is a limited capacity process. That means it is both time limited (up to 10 seconds) and content limited (up to 4 chunks of information). Capacity also varies between humans. Some of us have more capacity and some have less. Students with less working memory have poor executive functions, which in turn appears behaviourally as attention problems.

Slow processing speed can also affect attention ability, especially when coupled with poor working memory.

Dr. Howard Gardner and his student Seana Moran developed a useful phrase to summarize executive functions. They talk about the “Hill-Skill-Will” of executive functions.
  • The “Hill” is the establishing of a clear goal
  • The “Skill” is the abilities and strategies used to achieve the goal
  • The “Will” is the ability to initiate and persevere to achieve the goal

When someone has severe attention problems, which can be attributed to biological factors, they may be diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). See the Beliefs section for definition and symptoms.


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Attention problems may be genetic. They may run in families.
Attention problems are also related to family based stress. Situations at home that create anxiety and fear can reduce working memory capacity and affect attention. As well, for students, who already struggle with attention problems, distractions can further impair attention.

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Students with severe attention problems can appear to present much like students with learning disabilities. There are subtle differences that may have implications for interventions. In terms of core skills. For instance, students with attention problems often have difficulty with reading comprehension. Specifically, they have problems with reading fluency (speed of reading) and remembering content. They do not have problems with decoding words as they read.

Students with mild to severe attention problems often struggle with writing. In some cases this can be attributed to a history of poor handwriting. But, often it is the result of poor executive functions. This is seen in terms of limited ability to plan, organize and monitor extended writing tasks, like essays. Writing is an academic task that requires considerable working memory. In particular, a student must simultaneously think about what they want to say, the order of words to make a grammatically correct sentence, the choice of words to express ideas, and the mechanics of writing such as punctuation and spelling.

Students with attention problems lack good study skills and strategies. Again, this is because they do not have the organizational skills necessary to be successful independent learners in high school. In elementary school, they have often relied on their teachers and parents to organize their learning. Once they reach high school, those supports are not as available.

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Much like physical development, cognitive development can vary from student to student. Recent research has shown that students with severe attention problems (ADHD) also show delayed maturation in parts of the brain. Although there is not a diagnostic tool to directly measure and quantify brain functions, understanding student behaviour in this context helps teachers to empathize with what appears to be age inappropriate behaviour in their classroom.

Students who lag in terms of their maturity should not be punished, since they will eventually catch up. But if they experience gaps in their learning, even when their brains mature their learning may have been delayed or thwarted.
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Different cultures set different limits on independence for teenagers, which applies to both social and learning behaviour. They also may define different responsibilities within the family structure. This, in turn, may produce tensions between what traditional Canadian society allows as independent behaviour. This conflict can have a bearing on the level of attention directed towards classroom learning. Teachers should be sensitive to this possibility. Back to top

Students who have experienced trauma or loss or may be in the midst of a crisis will have problems focusing and sustaining their attention in your class. In conjunction with the guidance department, teachers should devise appropriate accommodations and supports. As events return to normal, the student’s ability to concentrate should return. Back to top

Students who have experienced trauma or loss or may be in the midst of a crisis will have problems focusing and sustaining their attention in your class. In conjunction with the guidance department, teachers should devise appropriate accommodations and supports. As events return to normal, the student’s ability to concentrate should return.



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Strategies to gain the child's attention and ensure comprehension

  • Gain child's attention by being in the child's immediate vicinity
  • Gain and hold eye contact
  • Keep instructions simple, in language that the child understands
  • Give one instruction at a time
  • Prompt the child to verbally repeat instructions (OK, so, tell me what you must do)
  • Gradually, build up the number of steps for instruction
  • Always remember to praise/acknowledge each completed step
  • Provide visual prompts in the classroom for tasks that children must do regularly, like hanging up coats, putting toys back into the bin after using them, tidying up activity centre at clean up time
  • Teach child mnemonics or rhymes to remember sequenced steps

Use behaviour management principles of reinforcement to shape and sustain the behaviour that the child needs to develop:

  • Reward those behaviours that are appropriate;
  • ignore behaviours that are off-task;
  • redirect the child to on-task behaviours.

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  • Gain child's attention by being in the child's immediate vicinity
  • Gain and hold eye contact
  • Keep instructions simple, in language that the child understands
  • Give one instruction at a time
  • Prompt the child to verbally repeat instructions (OK, so, tell me what you must do)
  • Gradually, build up the number of steps for instruction
  • Always remember to praise/acknowledge each completed step
  • Provide visual prompts in the classroom for tasks that children must do regularly, like hanging up coats, putting toys back into the bin after using them, tidying up activity centre at clean up time
  • Teach child mnemonics or rhyme to remember sequenced steps
  • Give the child tasks and helping roles which allow for movement in class

Strategies to shape and sustain the behaviour that the child needs to develop:

  • Use behaviour management principles of reinforcement
  • Reward those behaviours that are appropriate
  • ignore behaviours that are off-task
  • redirect the child to on-task behaviours.
  • Chart or graph the child's behaviour so that he or she can see the targets for improvement and the rate of improvement. Count appropriate behaviours, or the amount of time that the child spends on the activity that was assigned. The count represents points earned.
  • Provide tangible rewards when a number of points have been earned. The best rewards are those that the child chooses, and involve time with a favourite adult or at a favourite activity. They need not be expensive.

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  • Gain child's attention by being in the child's immediate vicinity
  • Gain and hold eye contact
  • Keep instructions simple
  • Give one instruction at a time
  • Prompt the child to verbally repeat instructions (OK, so, tell me what you must do)
  • Gradually, build up the number of steps for instruction
  • Always remember to praise/acknowledge each completed step
  • Provide visual prompts in the classroom for tasks that children must do regularly, like hanging up coats, putting toys back into the bin after using them, tidying up activity centre at clean up time
  • Teach child mnemonic/rhyme to remember sequenced steps

Strategies to shape and sustain the behaviour that the child needs to develop:

  • Use behaviour management principles of reinforcement:
  • Reward those behaviours that are appropriate;
  • Ignore behaviours that are off-task
  • Redirect the child to on-task behaviours.
  • Chart or graph the child's behaviour so that he or she can see the targets for improvement and the rate of improvement. Count appropriate behaviours, or the amount of time that the child spends on the activity that was assigned. The count represents points earned.
  • Provide tangible rewards when a number of points have been earned. The best rewards are those that the child chooses, and involve time with a favourite adult or at a favourite activity. They need not be expensive.

Medical intervention:

  • Studies have shown that many children with attention problems in the red light zone respond well to medication. The prescribing physician or paediatrician should be well-acquainted with children's attention problems, and should provide regular follow-up to ensure that the treatment is working well and that any side-effects are minimal. Physicians often ask parents and teachers to complete checklists to evaluate the child's behaviour prior to taking the medication, and after a course on medication. These evaluations inform the physician as to the impact of the medication on the target behaviours.
  • Combinations of medication along with behaviour management techniques have been found to be even more effective than medication alone.

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Strategies to gain the child's attention and ensure comprehension:

  • Gain child's attention by being in his or her immediate vicinity
  • Gain and hold eye contact
  • Keep instructions simple, in language that the child understands
  • Give one instruction at a time
  • Prompt the child to verbally repeat instructions (OK, so, tell me what you must do)
  • Gradually, build up the number of steps for instruction
  • Always remember to praise/acknowledge each completed step
  • Provide visual prompts in the classroom for tasks that children must do regularly, like hanging up coats, putting toys back into the bin after using them, tidying up activity centre at clean up time
  • Teach child mnemonics or rhymes to remember sequenced steps
  • Use behaviour management principles of reinforcement to shape and sustain the behaviour that the child needs to develop:

Reward those behaviours that are appropriate

  • Ignore behaviours that are off-task
  • Redirect the child to on-task behaviours.

Teach skills in attending and organization:

  • Teach the student how to use an agenda book to plan and organize their time. Show the student how to write in their agenda their due dates for tests and assignments. Ask them to write in their extra-curricular activities, such as soccer games, and any social commitments they know.
  • Teach the student to make lists and check items off as they are completed. Lists provide a prompt for tasks to be done, and provide the satisfaction of checking things off, once they are completed.
  • Expand the use of lists to organize equipment and personal belongings. Make a list of the equipment needed in the student's gym bag for each extracurricular activity: hockey, football, soccer, ballet, swimming, etc. The list could be made of pictures for younger children. Magazines and catalogues provide good sources of pictures of sporting and dance equipment.
  • Provide short tasks that represent a reasonable chunk or piece of the assignment. Breaking it into parts will provide more opportunities for the student to experience the satisfaction of completing a task. [Remember that what may be a reasonable chunk for a child without attention problems may seem too long or too complex to a child with attention problems.]
  • Then teach the student how to time himself or herself on the completion of the task. This skill will enable the student to recognize when inattention and off-task activities are interfering with task completion.
  • If a student does not sustain attention to the task, prompt him or her once to return to the task. If he or she does not immediately resume the task, provide a short break of about 5 minutes, and then re-direct the student to the task.
  • Provide only one task at a time.
  • Teach the student how to monitor, check and evaluate their own work. This will ensure accuracy, identify errors, and provide opportunities to correct errors.
  • Provide incentives for timely task completion, like free time or a chosen activity.

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These strategies are useful for all school age-children. They may be adapted easily for the age of child you teach.

When students consistently make careless errors or pay little attention to detail, teachers should:

  • First do an error analysis to identify if the errors are recurrent.
  • If so, the student may not grasp the concept which in turn is responsible for the error. In that case, re-teach the material.
  • Or the student may not like the task and may be trying to avoid it. In that case make it more interesting.
  • Otherwise, use peer or buddy system to help the student to use checklists and self-monitoring strategies
  • Provide one-on-one support when student needs to review work to consolidate skills. Gradually fade support.
  • Provide students with finished examples of assignments. Tell them exactly what their finished product should look like.
  • Provide student with concrete visual reminder of key steps, such as sequence chart listing important actions
  • Teach the student goal-setting and self-monitoring strategies

When a student cannot sustain attention to a task, teachers should:

  • increase student engagement by increasing opportunities to respond through:
  • peer tutoring,
  • using response cards,
  • using choral response
  • giving different short lesson activities targeting the same concept
  • drawings, skits, songs and other creative  forms of expression
  • encourage active learning through discussions, group activities, drawing on special talents or skills of the student and giving him or her an opportunity to express these or teach others, etc., rather than just passively listening to the teacher
  • reduce complexity using concise and clear language and giving explicit instruction in core concepts
  • chunk output tasks into smaller sections with feedback after each section
  • teach student how to use self-monitoring forms to set goals, monitor productivity, graph progress and provide positive reinforcement for improvements

When a student has difficulty starting a project or appears to be procrastinating, the teacher could:

  • Discuss the student's plan for the work to make sure he or she knows what the steps are
  • Verbally cue the student to get started
  • Walk the student through the first portion of the task to get him or her started
  • Write down the time when the student starts and the time that the student will stop the work.
  • Teach the student to estimate how much time the task will take, and then monitor how long it actually takes.
  • Teach the student to notice when he or she is not on task. Teach him or her to take a break for 10 minutes and then return to the task.

When a student has difficulty organizing or planning for a task, the teacher could:

  • provide the student with tips and cues to use organizational strategies
  • Teach important vocabulary related to time management (for example telling time, before, after, in a week etc.)
  • post daily agenda and activities on the blackboard to support a consistent structured environment
  • Supply student with concrete planning aids. Teach the student how to use these aids. Then gradually fade support so that the student can use them independently
  • Teach strategies for organization such as checklists, day planners and routines for materials.

When a student avoids tasks that require high levels of mental effort, the teacher could:

  • provide students with more guided practice and modeling of more complex and challenging tasks
  • Scaffold tasks by breaking them into chunks, intersperse more difficult tasks with less challenging tasks and provide cues and visual reminders of key steps (for example, think sheets)
  • teach the student specific strategies to use within various domains that provide the student with specific action plan to accomplish the task (for example, self regulated writing strategies, reading comprehension strategies)

When a student has difficulty following through on instructions, the teacher could:

  • use small group instruction or peer-assisted learning strategies to provide the student with more guided proactive instruction
  • reduce the complexity of directions, provide steps one-at-a-time, and provide concrete examples
  • teach the student how to use a calendar and an assignment planner
  • provide visual reminders of instruction, coach the student with guided practice and provide visual cues for steps to complete assignments (for example help the student break the assignment into manageable chunks)

When a student does not appear to be listening, the teacher could:

  • provide visual cues of instruction, provide prompts or non-verbal cues to reorient the student's attention, and provide finished samples of work to be done to guide the student's actions
  • simplify instructions and provide concrete supports for complex and novel vocabulary
  • In large groups, use strategies that increase interest and opportunities to respond. Use more peer-assisted learning strategies with specific and frequent feedback.

When student appears to be forgetful or loses things, the teacher could:

  • provide the student with visual reminders of key actions or materials

When the student is distracted by extraneous materials, the teacher could:

  • provide the student with a visual checklist to use to guide academic work
  • Increase opportunities to respond and get feedback through response cards, small group work or peer-assisted learning strategies, and computer-assisted learning activities.

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All of the strategies provided in the Course of Action for the Yellow Light Zone are applicable in the Red Light Zone. In addition:

  • Notify the student's parents or guardians of your concerns. Ask them to think about whether they are seeing the same kinds of problems at home or when the child is in free play.
  • Consult with the School Team to seek assistance in making a referral for the student to have an assessment by a psychologist or psychiatrist. The assessment will determine the causes of the behaviours and provide further advice on more intensive interventions that could include behaviour management or medical management techniques.

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To foster the continuing development of skills in attending and organization:

  • Encourage the student to use an agenda book to plan and organize their time. By this age they should be adept at writing in their appointments, their due dates for tests and assignments and their social commitments. Expand the use of the agenda book to block off times to do homework and assignments.
  • Teach the student the value of making lists and checking them off. Lists provide a prompt for tasks to be done, and provide the satisfaction of checking things off, once they are completed.
  • Expand the use of lists to organize equipment and personal belongings. Make a list of the equipment needed in the student's gym bag for each extracurricular activity: hockey, football, soccer, ballet, swimming, etc. Making the list and checking it to pack the bag engenders automatic recall of the list and less likelihood to forget.
  • Teach the student how to estimate the time it will take to complete a task. Then teach the student how to time himself or herself on the actual completion of the task. This skill will enable the student to recognize when inattention and off-task activities are interfering with task completion.
  • Teach the student the value of taking a short break from a task when his or her attention is drifting and little progress is being made. Get up and move away from the task for 5 to 10 minutes. Then upon return, monitor how quickly he or she can restart the task and get productive with it. Most adolescents should be able to resume an activity quickly, after a short break.
  • Teach the student the value of doing one task at a time. Multi-tasking is the enemy! It creates a heavy demand on the memory load by splitting attention, and it often results in poor or incomplete results. Completing one thing at a time or one portion of a task at a time engenders better attention than does multi-tasking.
  • Teach the student how to monitor, check and evaluate their own work. This will ensure accuracy, identify errors, and provide opportunities to correct errors.

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When students consistently make careless errors or pay little attention to detail, teachers should:

  • First do an error analysis to identify if the errors are recurrent.
  • If so, the student may not grasp the concept which in turn is responsible for the error. In that case, re-teach the material.
  • Or the student may not like the task and may be trying to avoid it. In that case make it more interesting.
  • Otherwise, use peer or buddy system to help the student to use checklists and self-monitoring strategies
  • Provide one-on-one support when student needs to review work to consolidate skills. Gradually fade the support.
  • Provide students with finished examples of assignments so they know what their work should look like.
  • Provide student with concrete visual reminder of key steps, such as sequence chart listing important actions
  • Teach the student goal-setting and self-monitoring strategies

When a student cannot sustain attention to a task, teachers should:

  • increase student engagement by increasing opportunities to respond, through
  • peer tutoring,
  • response cards,
  • choral response
  • drawings, skits, songs and other creative  forms of expression
  • giving different short lesson activities targeting the same concept
  • encourage active learning through discussions, group activities, drawing on special talents or skills of the student and giving them an opportunity to express these or teach others, encourage student to follow up on their own interests and discover the information for themselves, etc., rather than just passively listening to the teacher
  • reduce complexity using concise and clear language and giving explicit instruction in core concepts
  • chunk output tasks into smaller sections with feedback after each section
  • teach student how to use self-monitoring forms to set goals, monitor productivity, graph progress and provide positive reinforcement for improvements

When a student has difficulty starting a project or appears to be procrastinating, the teacher could:

  • Discuss the student's plan for the work to make sure he or she knows what the steps are
  • Verbally cue the student to get started
  • Walk the student through the first portion of the task to get him or her started
  • Write down the time when the student starts and the time that the student will stop the work.
  • Teach the student to estimate how much time the task will take, and then monitor how long they it actually takes.
  • Teach the student to notice when he or she is not on task. Teach him or her to take a break for 10 minutes and then return to the task.

When a student has difficulty organizing or planning for a task, the teacher could:

  • Provide tips and cues to use organizational strategies
  • Post the daily agenda and homework assignments to support consistent structured environment
  • Provide planning aids. Teach the student the use of these aids. Then gradually fade support so that the student can use them independently
  • Teach strategies for organization such as checklists, day planners and routines for materials.

When a student avoids tasks that require high levels of mental effort, the teacher could:

  • Provide more guided practice and modeling of more complex and challenging tasks
  • Scaffold tasks by breaking them into chunks, intersperse more difficult tasks with less challenging tasks and provide cues and visual reminders of key steps (for example, think sheets)
  • Teach the student specific strategies to use within various domains that provide the student with specific action plan to accomplish the task (for example, self regulated writing strategies, reading comprehension strategies)

When a student has difficulty following through on instructions, the teacher could:

  • use small group instruction or peer-assisted learning strategies to provide the student with more guided proactive instruction
  • Reduce the complexity of directions. Provide steps one-at-a-time. Provide concrete examples and scoring rubrics so the student will know what a good completed assignment looks like
  • prompt the student to use a calendar and an assignment planner
  • provide visual reminders of instruction, coach the student with guided practice and provide visual cues for steps to complete assignments (for example help the student break the assignment into manageable chunks)

When a student does not appear to be listening, the teacher could:

  • provide visual cues of instruction,
  • provide prompts or non-verbal cues to reorient the student's attention
  • provide finished samples of work to be done to guide the student's actions
  • simplify instructions and provide concrete supports for complex and novel vocabulary
  • In large groups use strategies that increase interest and opportunities to respond. Use more peer-assisted learning strategies with specific and frequent feedback.

When student appears to be forgetful or loses things, the teacher could:

  • provide the student with visual reminders of key actions or materials
  • prompt the student to use their agenda planner book to write down what they need to do, and to check it regularly
  • Make a page in the agenda book that lists equipment needed for each activity. Check the list prior to going to the activity.

When the student is distracted by extraneous materials, the teacher could:

  • provide the student with a visual checklist to use to guide academic work
  • Increase opportunities to respond and get feedback through response cards, small group work or peer-assisted learning strategies, and computer-assisted learning activities.

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All of the strategies provided in the Course of Action for the Yellow Light Zone are applicable in the Red Light Zone. In addition:

  • Notify the student's parents or guardians of your concerns. Ask them to think about whether they are seeing the same kinds of problems at home or when he or she is doing self-chosen leisure activities.
  • Consult with the School Team to seek assistance in making a referral for the student to have an assessment by a psychologist or psychiatrist. The assessment will determine the causes of the behaviours and provide further advice on more intensive interventions that could include behaviour management or medical management techniques.

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The following recommendations will improve skills in attending and organizing for all students. These are study skills that are essential for success in postsecondary education and in the workplace. Subject based teachers can integrate the following recommendations in their curriculum as part of their introduction to their course.

Encourage students to use an agenda book to organize their course and time. The agenda book should be aligned with a course outline, which sets out dates for completing units of study, reading expectations, assignments and tests. Utilize the agenda book at the end of each class to sum up what was covered in class, to set out homework expectations, and upcoming dates for assignments and tests.

Teach students effective organizational memory strategies. These can include making checklists for tasks and assignments to be done. This not only helps with long term planning, but also teaches students to break down tasks into manageable units.

Teach students to use mnemonic strategies for storing and retrieving information.

Teach students the importance of categorizing information to reduce cognitive load and to promote better retrieval of information. Teach students how knowledge is organized in your specific subject area. Does your subject rely on narrative, taxonomies, or procedural knowledge?

Teach students important study skills for your subject area. This can include how to sum up key points at the end of each unit, how to develop unit themes and build lists of important vocabulary.

Have students use their agenda book to learn time management.

Teach students about note taking. If teachers are unsure about good methods, they may want to look at the “Cornell Method” or they can contact Student Services at any postsecondary institution and request materials on note taking. See following URL for more information; http://lsc.sas.cornell.edu/Sidebars/Study_Skills_Resources/cornellsystem.pdf

Teach students to think about how they think and learn. Explain executive functions. Explain the importance of monitoring tasks for errors and clarity in setting goals and plans. Focus on the role of attention to task. Have students time their ability to sustain attention to task before they become unfocused. Have students think about the connection between motivation and attention by having them compare time on task when motivated versus when not motivated. Have students identify the best time and place for good attention to task. Have students look at the role of fatigue in attention to task.

Teach students about the value of doing one task at a time. Explain the myth of multi-tasking. Shifting attention from one task to another puts demand on recall memory and reduces motivation for sustained attention.

All students, but especially students with attention problems, benefit from effective academic instruction. Teachers may wish to practice the following when introducing a lesson:
  • Use an advance organizer. This will prepare students for the day’s lesson by summarizing topics to be covered in the lesson. It will also help students organize subject content for studying.
  • Review key points from previous lessons and link this to the current lesson. It is always easier to remember new information when it is linked to prior knowledge.
  • Set learning expectations for each lesson.

Establish a predictable routine for your class. Students will know what to expect and it will make it easier for them to recall information from your lessons

Keep instructions for assignments and tests simple.

While conducting your lesson, make sure to periodically question students with suspected poor attention to find out if they understand the materials.

Support all students’ participation in class. Avoid bringing notice to students who are struggling in your class. Provide private, discrete cues to help keep struggling students on task.
Perform ongoing formative evaluations with students who may be struggling in your class.


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Some students will still struggle with attention to task, as well as show related organization, memory and motivation problems. Teachers can make instructional adjustments or accommodations for learning based on specific challenges.

When a student cannot sustain attention to task, teachers can:
Reduce cognitive load:
  • By chunking units of learning into 10-15 minute blocks, followed by rapid review to consolidate learning
  • By activating student’s prior knowledge about the lesson’s topic or personal knowledge that can be linked to the lesson
  • By using clear language, defining new terms, verbally emphasizing key points in order to reduce complexity of topics
  • By remembering that prior knowledge or context may be lacking when a new topic is introduced, so be sure to present this new topic in very small chunks and, when possible, relate through analogy to something familiar
  • By increasing students’ active engagement (participation) in lesson
  • By encouraging students to connect the topic to a related area of interest or knowledge (e.g., European history to family history or physics to skateboard, cars etc.)
  • by increasing the opportunity to respond by asking questions a student already knows the answer to
  • By seating student close to teacher
  • By developing a signal system when student appears to be disengaging or day dreaming
  • By having a peer as a study buddy
  • By reviewing student agenda/planner at end of class; this allows teacher to monitor student progress
  • By asking student to submit exit ticket from class in which he or she identifies 3 things learned and 3 things not understood.

Increase student motivation:
  • By teaching student how to self-monitor, set goals, monitor productivity and provide positive reinforcement for improvements
  • By allowing student to participate in developing assignments and essays that can be related to student’s interests.
  • By assigning marks for the maintenance of daily agenda planner, when possible.

When student makes careless errors or pays little attention to detail, teacher can:
  • Do error analysis to identify if the error is recurrent and if it reflects a gap in core skills or a gap in knowledge
  • Provide one-on-one support to teach student a process for reviewing work
  • Teach strategies for reviewing work (i.e., for writing assignments teach the practice of plan-write-revise in chunks)
  • Promote reciprocal peer editing of assignments
  • Have student read material aloud (initially to teacher, then to study-buddy and finally to self. Never have a student with attention problems read to the full class. This would diminish motivation to participate in class)
  • Use a colour coding system to highlight different types of errors

When student has difficulty getting started or procrastinates, the teacher can:
  • Discuss the student’s plan for the assignment to make sure they have set out reasonable steps and expectations
  • Verbally cue student to begin
  • Walk student through the first portion of assignment to get them started
  • Encourage student to write down start time and when they disengage from assignment.
  • Have student estimate how long an assignment will take, and then monitor how long it actually takes
  • Teach student to notice when they are actually off task. Teach student to take a 10 minute break when they go off task and then return to work.

When student has difficulty following instructions, teacher can:
  • Keep instructions brief and simple
  • Use cues to get attention
  • Use small group and peer assisted learning to provide the student with more guided instruction
  • Provide student with visual reminders of instructions
  • Prompt student to use daily planner/agenda book

When student does not appear to be listening, teacher can:
  • Provide prompts or nonverbal cues to reorient student
  • Provide partially finished samples to guide student’s attention
  • Use large group activities and peer assisted learning strategies to keep student focused

When student is distracted by external stimulation, teacher can:
  • Provide student with daily planner that outlines topic and key points of lesson, which student can use to reorient themselves to lesson
  • Provide student access to lesson through a class lesson binder

When student appears disorganized and forgetful or has difficulty planning, teacher can:
  • Provide tips and cues to use organizational strategies
  • Post the daily agenda and homework assignments to support a consistent structured environment
  • Provide planning aids. Teach the student to use these aids. Initially check to make sure he or she is using the aids and then gradually withdraw support to allow for independent use
  • Teach strategies for organization such as checklists, daily planners and routines
  • Set up a peer or buddy to help remind student of materials, time-management and class expectations

When student appears, impulsive, impatient or bored, teacher can:
  • Solicit from student after class whether materials were too easy or too hard
  • Solicit from student after class if they can identify triggers for impulsive or impatient behaviour
  • Solicit from student after class suggestions for reducing above mentioned feelings and related behaviours
  • Solicit from student after class suggestions for possible accommodations to reduce above mentioned feelings and behaviours
  • After agreeing on plan of action, suggest monitoring frequency and time with a checklist kept by teacher and student. This activity allows student to develop self-monitoring skills and to measure their self-evaluation against teacher’s perceptions.


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If the student is 16 years or older discuss with student your concerns and ask if their guidance counsellor can notify parents or guardians. The guidance counsellor should find out if the same problems occur at home or when the student is participating in self-chosen leisure activities.
Consult with school support team to seek assistance in making a referral for the student to have an assessment by a psychologist or psychiatrist. The assessment will determine the causes of behaviours, whether the student has a diagnosable attention deficit. A psychologist also can determine whether the student has specific learning difficulties that may contribute to inattention. These assessments will indicate whether further advice on more intensive interventions that could include behaviour management or medical management techniques.

Some students still struggle with attention to task, as well as related organization, memory and motivation problems. Teachers can make instructional adjustments or accommodations for learning based on specific challenges. Teachers can use the following strategies in the classroom to enhance learning and reduce the cognitive load to help the student sustain attention:
  • By chunking units of learning 10-15 minute blocks, followed by rapid review to consolidate learning
  • By activating student’s prior knowledge about the lesson topic or personal knowledge that can be linked to lesson
  • By using clear language, defining new terms, verbally emphasizing key points in order to reduce complexity of topics
  • By remembering that the student may not have prior knowledge or context when a new topic is introduced, so should be presented in very small chunks and when possible
  • By increasing students’ active engagement in lesson by encouraging students to connect the topic to a related area of interest or knowledge (i.e. European history to family history or physics to skateboard, cars etc.)
  • By increasing the opportunity to respond by asking questions a student already knows
  • By seating student close to teacher
  • By developing a signal system when student appears to be disengaging or day dreaming
  • By having a peer as study buddy
  • By reviewing student agenda/planner at end of class –this allows teacher to monitor student progress
  • By asking student to submit exit ticket from class in which he or she he identifies 3 things learned and 3 things not understood

Increase student motivation:
  • By teaching student how to self-monitor, set goals, monitor productivity and provide positive reinforcement for improvements
  • By allowing student to participate in developing assignments and essays that can be related to student’s interests
  • By assigning marks for the maintenance of daily agenda planner, when possible.

When student makes careless errors or pays little attention to detail, teacher can:
  • Do an error analysis to identify if the error is recurrent and if it reflects a gap in core skills or a gap in knowledge
  • Provide one-on-one support to teach student a process for reviewing work
  • Teach strategies for reviewing work (i.e.; for writing assignments teach the practice of lan-write-revise in chunks)
  • Promote reciprocal peer editing of assignments
  • Have student read material aloud (initially to teacher, then to study-buddy and finally to self. Never have student with attention problems read to the full class. This would diminish motivation to participate in class)
  • Use colour coding system to highlight different types of errors

When student has difficulty getting started or procrastinates, teacher can:
  • Discuss the student’s plan for assignment to make sure they have set out reasonable steps and expectations
  • Verbally cue student to begin
  • Walk student through the first portion of assignment to get them started
  • Encourage student to write down start time and when they disengage from assignment.
  • Have student estimate how long assignment will take, and then monitor how long it actually takes
  • Teach student to notice when they are actually off task. Teach student to take a 10 minute break when they go off task and then return to work.

When student has difficulty following instructions, teacher can:
  • Keep instructions brief and simple
  • Use cues to get attention
  • Use small group and peer assisted learning to provide the student with more guided instruction
  • Provide student with visual reminders of instructions
  • Prompt student to use daily planner/agenda book

When student does not appear to be listening, teacher can:
  • Provide prompts or nonverbal cues to reorient student
  • Provide partially finished samples to guide student’s attention
  • Use large group activities and peer assisted learning strategies to keep student focused

When student is distracted by external stimulation, teacher can:
  • Provide student with daily planner that outlines topic and key points of lesson, which student can use to reorient themselves to lesson
  • Provide student access to lesson through a class lesson binder

When student appears disorganized and forgetful or has difficulty planning, teacher can:
  • Provide tips and cues to use organizational strategies
  • Post the daily agenda and homework assignments to support a consistent structured environment
  • Provide planning aids. Teach the student to use these aids. Initially check to make sure he or she is using the aids and then gradually withdraw support to allow for independent use
  • Teach strategies for organization such as checklists, daily planners and routines
  • Set up a peer or buddy to help remind student of materials, time-management and class expectations

When student appears, impulsive, impatient or bored, teacher can:
  • Solicit from student after class whether materials were too easy or too hard
  • Solicit from student after class if they can identify triggers for impulsive or impatient behaviour
  • Solicit from student suggestions for reducing above mentioned feelings and related behaviours
  • Solicit from student suggestions for possible accommodations to reduce above mentioned feelings and behaviours
  • After agreeing on a plan of action, suggest monitoring frequency and time with a checklist kept by teacher and student. This activity allows student to develop self-monitoring skills and to measure their self-evaluation against teacher’s perceptions.



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