Attention Difficulites


Ilona Bruveris, Senior Adviser, Student Behaviour Support, NSW Department of Education and Training

Rudolf Dreikurs wrote about the need for teachers to have “withit-ness”. By this he meant having a feel for the many layers of interaction in a classroom, understanding how students were progressing with set tasks and ensuring that issues were addressed quickly so that they could not escalate into a crisis situation.

In order to develop a sense of “withit-ness” teachers need to have information on a wide range of issues surrounding student behaviour. This includes:

  • Academic strengths and weaknesses of students
  • How the students respond to universal classroom strategies and structures such as the class rules and specific targeted programs
  • Difficulties with social skills in terms of knowledge of the skills, performance of the skills or
    fluency of social skill use
  • Individual needs such as the student’s sense of belonging, self-concept and external factors that may impact on interactions in the classroom such as any specific medical needs, safety or wellbeing needs
  • What functions his/her current behaviour fulfils and what are alternative behaviours, which could help the students to meet his/her needs.

As an example a student who has difficulties with attention may have a specific diagnosis of ADHD, be in a fluent home environment, see himself/herself as a poor performer academically and worthless, have difficulties with literacy and may not have yet developed skills in self-management, problem-solving etc.

In order to address such a wide range of needs a range of strategies may need to be employed:

  • Curriculum adaptations
  • Instructional modifications
  • Environmental accommodations
  • Behavioural support
  • Peer support, peer mediation, peer tutoring
  • Flexible scheduling
  • Social skills instruction integrated into the curriculum
  • Active communication
  • Flexible programming, increase or decrease restrictiveness
  • Alternative disciplinary responses
  • Concrete and frequent feedback about appropriateness of behaviour
  • Determining the function of misbehaviour and substituting more appropriate behaviours
  • Use techniques that address social isolation - peer tutoring, co-operative learning groups
  • Moving from reactive rule-breaking school discipline to a proactive teaching model.
  • Establishing classroom routine, communicating behavioural expectations, limiting non-instructional activities, controling student transitions, identifying the required behaviours and preparing students to engage in these behaviours.

After analysing factors which impact on the students’ ability to pay attention, the workshop will
focus in particular on strategies which help teachers to manage students with ADHD.

  • Keep work periods short
  • Reduce delays, externalise time
  • Externalise important information
  • Externalise motivation (think win/win)
  • Externalise problem-solving (play)
  • Use immediate feedback
  • Increase accountability to others
  • Use more salient and artificial rewards
  • Change rewards periodically
  • Act, don’t yak
  • Keep your sense of humour
  • Use rewards before punishment
  • Anticipate problem settings - make a plan
  • Keep a sense of priorities
  • Maintain a sense of perspective
  • Practice forgiveness – of the student and yourself.

In order to be effective in working with students with attention problems, remember to consider all of the factors that are needed to manage complex change:

Vision + Skill + Incentives + Resources + Action Plan = Change
_____ + Skill + Incentives + Resources + Action Plan = Confusion
Vision + ____ + Incentives + Resources + Action Plan = Anxiety
Vision + Skill + _________ + Resources + Action Plan = Resistance
Vision + Skill + Incentives + _________+ Action Plan = Frustration
Vision + Skill + Incentives + Resources + _________ = Treadmill