Teaching the Distractible Student Effectively – Strategies

Maloney Method - Teaching the Distractible Student Effectively - Smurfs Classroom

Part 2 of a Series: Teaching the Distractible Student Effectively

Do you have a highly distractible student? What works for teaching the distractible student effectively? Here are some strategies and tools to start using.

Teaching Quickly

 A child cannot be on-task (attentive) and off-task (inattentive) at the same time. Children drift off task when the pace of the lesson is too slow and they become bored or is too fast and they become lost. Pacing the teaching so that the child is forced to pay attention but not pushed into unnecessary errors is one simple way to keep students attentive. Most instruction errs on the side of being too slow. Kick up the presentation pace and see what happens. The student will either attend better or become lost. Finding the appropriate pace takes a little time, but results in big gains.

Using Praise

Children crave attention and will do many things to get it, especially from particular adults, such as their parents. Teachers and parents often underestimate the power of their attention. Children will work hard for such attention. They are generally unhappy when it is withheld. The secret is to give the attention to those behaviors which you want to strengthen and to withhold it from behaviors which are undesirable.

The Criticism Trap

Sometimes parents get trapped by giving attention to the wrong behavior. The child stops working and gazes out into space. Mom asks the child to get back to work. The child does so, but a few minutes later is once again distracted and the cycle begins again. The criticism trap works because the child gets attention, albeit for the wrong behavior, and mom gets reinforced with temporary compliance to her request when she criticizes the child, but over time there is little real change. The problem persists.

The Inattentive Child

The inattentive child can become much more attentive if mom carefully attends to which behavior she pays attention to. Don’t wait for bad behavior. Catch them being good. A lot of off task behavior will disappear if attention is consistently given only to the acceptable behavior of paying attention.

Other Stronger Reinforcers

Sometimes a points chart which outlines which behaviors will earn rewards can be provided to motivate the child to try harder. The points are kept in a bank book and used for agreed upon articles or activities. Such a points chart could have a list of acceptable behaviors such as paying attention, following instructions and completing assignments as categories which earn points.

The Good Behavior Clock

Setting a kitchen timer for short periods of attentive work is another option. If the child can generally work for ten minutes, but then begins to drift then the timer could be set initially for ten minutes. As the child earns rewards and learns to work consistently, the setting can be gradually increased until the work pattern resembles the behavior of other less distracted learners. The clock should generally be kept in view so the child can see how much longer he needs to work diligently.


Teaching the Distractible Student Effectively – Strategies

Conclusion – Teaching the Distractible Student is Possible… When You Have the Right Tools!

The research literature contains many thousands of studies of behavior management in academic situations. There are many well-written books on the subject. Most interventions are relatively easy to use and have immediate and lasting effects.

Like any other technology, behavior management does require skill on the part of the user. These skills are relatively easy to learn as an option to labeling a child and being dependent on medication. It is at least an effective first step to an alternative.

Bonus: Check out the FREE lessons of the Maloney Method Digital Reading Program.


 If you can read, you can teach a child to read.

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