Pay Attention to Get Attention

So many of the young people who walk through our doors at Wings tuition struggle with sustained attention to tasks. Some may be diagnosed ADHD, others identified as Dyslexic or with Dysgraphia, and others who are just "struggling to engage" at school.

Whether your child is diagnosed with any number of various conditions or whether they are just experiencing difficulties with staying focused on their school work, there are many things we can do as teachers to generate optimum attention and focus and we shouldn't be waiting for a diagnosis to get start.


Ensure the working space of students is free of unnecessary items and that they have their own supply of resources ready to go for every lesson.

1. Reduce clutter

Keeping a tidy, organised space for students to work in reduces potential distractions and annoyances so that learners can focus on the task at hand. Ensuring that all resources and learning materials are close at hand and that the space is "ready to learn" reduces time-wasting and other avoidance behaviours employed by children with attention difficulties.

(*A disorganised classroom is a red flag and often a sign of struggling teachers or struggling students. While some occasional mess is to be expected in an engaging and productive classroom, a disorganised space is another problem altogether.)


2. Chunk tasks into manageable pieces

We all know that feeling of overwhelm when we are faced with a huge task that has to be completed. Breaking big problems or goals down into smaller achievable tasks not only gives students confidence and autonomy but also increases productivity.


3. Use pen and paper

The process of writing things down on paper encodes information in a favourable way which assists the retrieval process at a later date. Learning to read or learning foundation math skills needs to be a multi-sensory experience involving hands, eyes, speech, language, listening and writing. While some computer-based software can be a helpful practice space, information that is passively viewed or clicked is not encoded as powerfully as written language or written mathematical processes.


4. Background Music

According to Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D, background sounds such as soft music, white noise or nature sounds played at the right volume reduce the likelihood of other classroom distractions such as shuffling feet or dropped pencils stealing the focus of inattentive children.


5. Encourage paraphrasing

Something that all specialists will recommend but may not be practical in most classrooms is to ask students to tell you, in their own words, what they need to do, or what they understand, before beginning a task. Imagine doing this for 25 children a day every time you asked them to begin a task! One to One and small group tuition allows the time and space for this very valuable strategy to be applied in every lesson. Paraphrasing provides insight into how a child is processing information and how well they are understanding and learning.


6. Apply appropriate demand

In the standard classroom, there are times when the content being taught is either too easy or too difficult for many of the students in a class. This is the daily struggle for most teachers, finding each child's "Goldilock's Zone" across various subjects throughout the school day. That is, the zone where work is neither too difficult or too easy, but just the right level of demand. In this case, being "engaged" and "attentive" when the work is too hard or too easy is difficult for anyone. By targeting tuition through initial assessment and creating individualised learning programs based on this assessment, we can create an appropriate level of demand for your child that will stretch them out of their comfort zone, just the right amount, towards growth and greater learning independence.


On a personal note: As the mother of young man with an ADHD diagnosis, and the teacher of countless students both diagnosed and undiagnosed, I know that no amount of labelling, planning, timetabling, diarising, chastising, incentivising or punishing will "cure" them or make them pay more attention (Of course I have tried all of these, and still relapse occasionally despite knowing better!). But there are certainly many strategies they can employ, scaffolds we can create and spaces that can be designed that will support kids who struggle with attention difficulties to manage their learning and lives more independently and with a greater sense of self-worth and personal success.

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