Managing Short Attention Spans in the Classroom

A study of first graders found that their average attention span was approximately 5 to 7 minutes. In many classrooms, this attention span isn’t long enough for a student to adequately retain information. As such, even the average student stands to face troubles academically.

Consider, then, how difficult it likely is for a student with a short attention span. These students face special challenges that are rarely addressed by educators, counselors, or even school psychologists.

Fortunately, however, there are things you can do to help manage short attention spans in the classroom. In addition to engaging children in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), you can also institute a variety of teaching strategies. Learn more about these strategies by reading on!

Utilize Applied Behavior Analysis

Our first piece of advice is to utilize applied behavior analysis, sometimes called ABA. This therapy involves using positive reinforcement to incentivize certain behaviors in children.

For instance, let’s say that you tell your students to put away their bookbags before class begins. When they do this, you should reinforce their positive behavior by offering them some sort of reward.

For example, you could give them a 5-minute break to talk to each other in the middle of class. Conversely, when they don’t do this, you should do something to remind them, you should take away this 5-minute break.

This principle can be used with students with short attention spans as well. Give them small and reasonable tasks to complete within a short time. If they complete them within this amount of time, reward them with, for example, a piece of candy.

Applied behavior analysis can also be used on a one-to-one basis. In fact, for children with more severe behavioral issues (like those with ADHD and autism), it often is.

Greet Children at the Door

Another thing you can do to help manage short attention spans in your class is to greet children at the door. This helps you to form connections with each student. The stronger the connection the students have with you, the more likely they are to pay attention to you during class.

In addition to greeting your students, make sure to pay them compliments, ask them about their day, and take an interest in their lives. Such practices will inspire children to look at you positively. If they look at you in a positive light, you’re much more likely to keep their attention.

Give Your Students Brain Breaks

Often, short attention spans don’t come about through deliberate means. In other words, kids aren’t trying to lose focus. Their brains just struggle to remain focused throughout the course of a class.

You can help students manage this problem by giving them brain breaks. Brain breaks are 2 to 5-minute periods during which students can meditate, stretch, or simply let their psychological guard down.

There are numerous benefits to brain breaks. Not only do they decrease stress and ease frustration, but they also facilitate stronger focus and thus result in greater productivity overall.

Now, how often should you give your class brain breaks? For young kids, every 5 to 10 minutes or so. For older kids, every 15 to 20 minutes.

Break Tasks Down into Small Periods

Another way of improving attention in a student with a short attention span is to break tasks down into small periods. So instead of requiring a task that takes 20 minutes to complete, break it down into a smaller task that takes 5 minutes to complete.

This way, the child will be able to focus on the task fully before their mind starts to drift. Over time, you can even start to prolong the duration of these periods. This will slowly condition the child’s attention span so that it becomes longer.

Now, what does this look like in a real-world scenario? It could look like giving a small assignment that only takes 4 minutes to complete. On the other hand, you could give a long assignment and have students work on it based on the starts and stops of a timer.

After the timer stops, you could have the students get up and show you their work. Then, once you’ve seen everyone’s work, you could start the timer back up for another small period.

This enables students to focus on the task at hand. It also keeps things from getting boring, as the physical aspect of getting up offers a variety of mental stimulation.

Make Use of Audible and Visual Cues

Detailed instructions can bog down a child’s mind and make it difficult for them to focus. For kids with short attention spans, this is even more true. This is why, instead of always giving detailed instructions, you should make use of audible and visual cues.

For instance, you could explain that, when you flicker the light in the classroom, it means that there are 5 minutes left on a test. Or, you could play a quick sound clip when the class is getting out of hand.

You could also use cues to provide mental stimulation. For instance, you could use bells to draw attention during specific parts of lessons.

These small cues can communicate so much, and yet they take up little brain power. This makes them ideal for kids with attention issues.

ABA Can Make a World of Difference

When it comes to reaching children with short attention spans in the classroom, ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) can make a world of difference. Not only does this therapy increase focus and attention in a child, but it also helps them develop skills so that they can adequately handle specific situations. Through positive reinforcement, this therapy slowly adjusts the child’s behavior so that they behave properly at given times.

Are you a school counselor, school psychologist, behavior interventionalist, or special education director? If so, you should sign up for our free monthly Behavior Management webinars; they’re like a virtual classroom for educators interested in virtual learning. These webinars will teach you strategies for managing children’s behavior so that they become the best students they can be.

Special education directors can also benefit from our software. This software enables you to create legally-defensible behavior intervention plans in less than an hour. Sign up for a free, 30-minute online demo of our software now!


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