So Exactly What is Johnny Doing When He is Not Paying Attention?

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It is always interesting for me to enter a regular education classroom with the intention of observing a student who may be struggling with ADHD symptoms. The first challenge I normally encounter is that of entering the classroom quietly so as to avoid distracting the students. This usually tends to be an impossible expectation. Children almost immediately notice any "outsider" who appears around them. They are not only wonder who you are and why you are there, but some actually go out of their way way to approach me and ask these questions personally. Once their curiosity has been satisfied about a class visitor, they can more easily return to the expectation of completing their assigned task. I may then concentrate on observing Johnny's behavior and work effort in the classroom.

There are numerous factors that may be interfering with Johnny's attentive and productive behavior in the classroom. In my initial observation, I wish to determine if Johnny might be struggling to remain on-task due to excess restless energy and activity level. Children who are moderately or excessively hyperactive will frequently have trouble sitting in their chair. They are wiggly and uncomfortable sitting in place for minutes at a time. Often these children may choose to stand in front of their desk to do their work. This "standing" may often appear to be more of a restless dance rather than actual standing in place. Excess activity and energy may also ericit frequent movement to the pencil sharpener, bathroom, or to near classmates to monitor their work production. This restless and off-task behavior may appear to be outside of Johnny's immediate control.

If hyperactive forms of behavior are not disabling Johnny, I may notice other connections to his work production including daydreaming, visual distractibility, staring into space, socializing with neighbors, playing with work materials, or engaging in other work related activities other than the assigned task . Although the majority of these behaviors are often described as "un-focused" behavior, only a few are generally judged to be related to the attention deficits observed in ADHD. If Johnny is "zoning out" and daydreaming, there is a greater possibility of an attention defect intervention. Daydreaming could also be observed as falling into an ADHD consideration. However, the remaining off-task behaviors can also be observed to suggest the alternative interferences of low academic motivation, learning weaknesses, or emotional difficulties.

The introduction of the earlier described positive reinforcement system will be a critical intervention to help determine the nature of Johnny's work interference in the classroom. Improving motivation and reinforcing productive work efforts may increase the time Johnny spends at his desk trying to complete his assigned work. It will then be possible to observe the efficiency of Johnny's work effort including his attention to task. By observation, I can qualitatively evaluate his ability to attend to task as opposed to inattention and off-task behavior as a product of task difficulty. The ability to attend to a task is recognized as a neuro-cognitive ability to regulate concentration and mental energy. However, inattention that results from weak task comprehension or problem solving is more suggestive of the struggle experienced with learning difficulties. If Johnny appears to be struggling to complete an assignment due to task difficulty, I may want to further evaluate the possibility of a learning disability or intellectual weakness that may be eliciting Johnny's inattention. While ADHD can not be ruled out as a possible interference, learning weaknesses may be presenting as a primary interference.

Johnny may independently choose to seek teacher assistance when he feels unable to complete a challenging task. Yet there are many occasions when students fail to assertively approach a classroom teacher for assistance when they need it. Students need to be encouraged to ask for teacher support when they encounter academic tasks that exceed their ability level. In certain subject areas, Johnny may be paired with a helping classmate in an effort to provide him with ongoing task assistance. Classroom aides are sometimes available to provide a similar support for students in need. Learning specialists will occasionally design their intervention services to be provided in the classroom so that they may offer their academic support to regular education students as well as those identified for Special Education services.

Johnny may experience greater academic success with the infusion of specific learning accommodations to help him learn and perform in the classroom. Although differentiated instruction is routinely offered by learning specialists to individual special education students, it remains possible for similar learning strategies to be used by the regular education classroom teacher for the benefit of all students. However, I will not under emphasize the challenge realized by teachers attempting to introduce different instructional strategies to assist students' routine learning in the classroom. Classroom teachers may not have adequate time necessary to incorporate numerous instructional strategies and learning accommodations into the established classroom curriculum. Yet it is my personal experience that teachers readily embrace these different teaching strategies as a way to assist individual students who may struggle with isolated learning skills. The application of these individual learning strategies into the instruction for the majority of classroom students remains the critical instructional challenge for the typical classroom teacher.


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