Dealing with distraction

Manaswini Sridhar

I had two or three rather distracted students in my class last year and I found it extremely wearisome managing them. I have two very distracted students in class again this year. They are intelligent, but they are unable to retain their focus for more than 10 minutes. I would like to deal with such students more intelligently this time because I have understood that I am likely to have such a group every year, and cannot wish away the situation!

ask-&-answer-1 Most children are distracted because they find everything around them so exciting and novel. They are open to receiving new sounds and sights. Once the novelty wears off, they move on to other things. However, there are children who are so distracted that they have neither the time nor the inclination to either absorb or retain what they have experienced.

Such children are given various labels. Some mothers proudly air the tag ‘Attention deficit child’ to the teacher so that the teacher does not put too much pressure on the child. Whatever the reason for the distraction, it becomes a heavy load for the teacher to carry since she has to make sure that this air of distraction does not permeate her classroom and make the other students also lose their focus!

The first thing that the teacher must understand is that this is the way the child would behave in any situation – it is not taking place only in her classroom. It is not at all an outcome of her (lack of) teaching skills. Once the teacher realizes this, it becomes less of an emotional ordeal.

Seat the child in a place where you can keep an eye on her – right in the front row and towards the centre of the row. Place her with students who are bright, motivated and focused. Her fidgeting and lack of focus will not throw these students off balance. This kind of seating arrangement will also help the distracted child recognize that here are other children who are able to listen to and pay attention to what the teacher is saying, and doing this for a span of 40 minutes!

Distracted students should not be seated near the window because the window will provide the very source of distraction they are looking for! Avoid seating them near the door. Most classroom doors are open and the hallway always has interesting people pacing up and down or running breathlessly. Students seated near the door also have the opportunity to listen to the sounds and noise coming from the other classrooms!

If there is a clock in the classroom, it would be best to call the attention of such students to the time before they are given a test. This will enable them to constantly check whether they are in the process of completing the test or are whiling away their time. For students who do not pay attention to the clock, the teacher can point out how much time they have left, every now and then.

It is important for the teacher to talk to such students occasionally, encouraging them to march forth with a positive attitude. It is essential for the students to understand that they have to make an effort in order to improve. A regular timetable both in class and at home will make it easier for such students to become more focused. Timing each activity will lead the child to understand how much more effort she has to put in, in order to do well or complete a given task.

ask-&-answer-2 The easily distracted child likes to move around. So why not give the child the opportunity to do this in a useful manner? Have this child run errands for you, like distributing paper, collecting homework notebooks, etc. But make sure that the child understands that you are doing her a favour by letting her move around. In return for this reward, she too will have to do you a favour by focusing more during the other teaching moments.

Make doubly sure that such children participate in sports and go out to play during recess. They need this kind of physical activity more than other children. Talk to the parents about enrolling the child in some form of guided sports. If your student still continues to push your buttons and threaten your sense of control, you need to talk to the parents and enlist their help. You do want to help the child, but not at the expense of your entire class!

The author is a teacher educator and language trainer based in Chennai. She can be reached at

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