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Increase Time on Task for Students with ADHD

written by: Margo Dill • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 9/11/2012

ADHD in children can often lead to problems completing classwork, participating in small groups, and paying attention to directions or lessons. You can work with your students with ADHD to increase their time on task by using positive reinforcement. Praise can help students focus on their tasks.

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    The Problem

    If you want to begin improving time on task for students with ADHD, it's important to understand the problem. Many students with ADHD can not complete classwork at the same rate as other members of their class. They have trouble focusing and staying on task. You've probably noticed these behaviors of ADHD in children such as always sharpening their pencil during seat work time, looking out the window, excessively erasing marks on their paper, and so on.

    Our natural reaction to these behaviors is to remind the student to get back on track. But this could have the opposite affect on your students with ADHD than you are hoping for. If you find yourself constantly saying, "You have fifteen minutes left to work. Please concentrate on your paper," and the behavior is not getting any better, then you could be negatively reinforcing the behavior. Negative reinforcement is when a student receives attention for an unwanted behavior, but he/she continues to do the behavior to receive attention. This technique will not begin improving time on task in class. Your student with ADHD may not be aware that he/she is doing this, but it can become a common cycle in a classroom that does not help the student with time on task or the teacher with classroom management.

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    Try This Solution

    Student on task by Design and Technology One thing you can implement for improving time on task in class is to use positive reinforcement consistently and often. You will want to ignore the behaviors students display when they are off-task and praise, or pay attention to them when they are on task. As soon as you see your student stop looking out the window and focus on his paper, call attention to it. "I see Billy is reading his worksheet." "I see Rachel working hard on her multiplication problems." This can be very difficult and requires you to almost keep a constant watch on the students with ADHD to deliver the positive reinforcement.

    If you don't feel the positive reinforcement alone is improving time on task in class, then you could try walking closer to the student when he/she is off-task. You wouldn't say anything to him/her about getting to work, but sometimes it helps a student with ADHD to focus if his/her teacher is in close proximity. When you are standing near the student as soon as you see him/her on-task, you will want to call attention to his behavior. "I see John has written his entire first paragraph."

    Besides positive reinforcement, you can also help your students with ADHD stay on-task by giving them a seat away from the windows and pencil sharpener. You can also remind them to get all their supplies ready in the morning, so they are ready when it is time for classwork.