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Students who have chronic difficulties paying attention in class face the risk of poor grades and even school failure. Inattention may be a symptom of an underlying condition such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. However, teachers should not overlook other possible explanations for student off-task behavior. It may be, for example, that a student who does not seem to be paying attention is actually mismatched to instruction (the work is too hard or too easy) or preoccupied by anxious thoughts. Or the student may be off-task because the teacher's lesson was poorly planned or presented in a disorganized manner. It is also important to remember that even children with ADHD are influenced by factors in their classroom setting and that these students' level of attention is at least partly determined by the learning environment. Teachers who focus on making their instruction orderly, predictable, and highly motivating find that they can generally hold the attention of most of their students most of the time. Here are some ideas to consider to boost rates of student attending and on-task behavior:

Jim's Recommended Internet Resources for...

ADHD Inattentive Type Fact Sheet. This handout addresses frequently asked questions about the inattentive type of ADHD. The handout was created by CHADD: Children and Adults With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. ( ||Report Broken Link

Children's Health Topics: ADHD. Sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics, this page contains links to ADHD topics such as establishing and evaluating a treatment plan for children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. ||Report Broken Link

Teaching Children With ADHD: Instructional Strategies. Published by the U.S. Department of Education, this 22-page booklet has great ideas to manage the academic and behavioral needs of children with attention problems. ||Report Broken Link


Brock, S.E.(1998, February). Helping the student with ADHD in the classroom Strategies for teachers. Communiqué, 26 (5), 18-20.

Carnine, D.W. (1976). Effects of two teacher presentation rates on off-task behavior, answering correctly, and participation. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 9, 199-206.

DuPaul, G.J., & Ervin, R.A. (1996). Functional assessment of behaviors related to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: Linking assessment to intervention design. Behavior Therapy, 27, 601-622.

Ford, A. D., Olmi, D. J., Edwards, R. P., & Tingstrom, D. H. (2001). The sequential introduction of compliance training components with elementary-aged children in general education classroom settings. School Psychology Quarterly, 16, 142-157.

Gettinger, M. (1988). Methods of proactive classroom management. School Psychology Review, 17, 227-242.

Gettinger, M., & Seibert, J.K. (2002). Best practices in increasing academic learning time. In A. Thomas (Ed.), Best practices in school psychology IV: Volume I (4th ed., pp. 773-787). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.

Heward, W.L. (1994). Three 'low-tech' strategies for increasing the frequency of active student response during group instruction. In R.Gardner III, D.M.Sainato, J.O.Cooper, T.E.Heron, W.L.Heward, J.Eshleman, & T.A.Grossi (Eds.), Behavior analysis in education: Focus on measurably superior instruction (pp. 283-320). Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Martens, B.K. & Kelly, S.Q. (1993). A behavioral analysis of effective teaching. School Psychology Quarterly, 8, 10-26.

Martens, B.K., & Meller, P.J. (1990). The application of behavioral principles to educational settings. In T.B. Gutkin & C.R.Reynolds (Eds.), The handbook of school psychology (2nd ed.) (pp. 612-634). New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Powell, S., & Nelson, B. (1997). Effects of choosing academic assignments on a student with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 30, 181-183.

U.S. Department of Education (2004). Teaching children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: Instructional strategies and practices. Retrieved August 20, 2005, from

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