Top 5 Tips for Working with Distractible Students

Posted by Brainspring on 16th Jul 2014

Hi everyone,

Sometimes keeping students focused is a big challenge during a lesson.  I have had many students that struggle with attention issues and usually requires some extra effort to keep on task.  Sometimes though, it’s especially challenging.  It is not surprising that many of our struggling readers also present other challenges.

According to Essentials of Dyslexia Assessment and Intervention, “Approximately 60% of children with a reading disability also meet the diagnostic criteria for another disorder.”  The most common condition that occurs with dyslexia is ADHD: “Estimates suggest that 15%-40% of children with dyslexia are also diagnosed with ADHD, and 25%-40% of children with ADHD are also diagnosed with dyslexia.”

This means we will most likely encounter other issues when working with our struggling readers.  We have no control over the issues affecting our students, but we do have control over how we respond.


5 Tips

Here are 5 pieces of advice from my experience with highly distractible students:

1)        Keep your demeanor calm and positive.

  1.  Showing that you are getting annoyed or upset will not help calm or focus the student; it will just make the lesson unpleasant for both of you.   At the same time, don’t act overly excited or peppy.  When I am working with a student that I know struggles to keep focused, I tone down my demeanor to help create a calmer, less excited atmosphere.

2)      Keep the workspace neat and free from clutter or unnecessary objects.

  1. I have nothing out on the table when I work with certain students, not even my usual cup of basic supplies.  I keep everything on the desk behind me and hand my student only the supplies they need at the moment.  In general, I also keep my tutoring room neat and simple.  The only posters I have are for short vowels and b and d reminders because I do not want anything extra to catch my student’s eye and pull them off task.

3)      Politely refuse to engage in conversation.

  1.  When my student starts to get off track telling a story, I politely cut her off and redirect her to where we are in the lesson by saying something like, “Let’s finish blending this word,” or “The word was ‘man’.  Pound it.”  There is no need to be upset or harsh, just simply refer back to the task at hand.
  2. If your student is very chatty or has a story they really want to share, use it as a reward.   Try responding with something like, “I would love to hear that story.  We will have a few moments to share after the 3 Part Drill.”

4)      Be short and concise when you speak.

  1. Try to keep all your comments focused on the lesson.  Not only will this help direct the student’s attention; it will also help you stay calm and focused on what you and the student are doing at the moment, instead of worrying that you might not get everything done.  Try to say as little as possible.  For example, during the auditory drill just repeat, “The sound was /d/,” or during dictation just prompt with the finger tapping motion.  Keep directions and instruction clear and simple.

5)      Don’t take it personally.

  1. There are many possible reasons for their distractibility or inattention that you have no control over.  All you can do is stay focused on the task at hand and do the best you can in the circumstances.  If you stay calm and positive and continue to keep redirecting the student (no matter how many times it takes) they will learn something.

Your patience and understanding will go a long way in dealing with students who struggle with reading and attention issues.  Many of these students are used to being nagged about or punished for their behavior.  By gently and consistently guiding them to stay on task you can make the lesson a positive experience, instead of a battle.  I remind myself that I am not there to make their life harder- I am there to help them learn.  The best way to do that is by modeling kindness and self-control along with reading instruction.


What are your tips for working with distractible students?  Comment here!


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