Effective classroom management includes accommodating the needs and learning styles of all students within the environment. In general, these accommodations are designed to capitalise on a student’s unique abilities as well as create an equitable learning environment that accounts for any challenges a student may face in the classroom. Children and adolescents with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are often easily distracted by internal stimuli (e.g. thoughts, memories, feelings) and external stimuli (e.g. sound, smell, sight, touch). For students with ADHD, one of the accommodations needs to focus on minimising distractions and promoting attending to academic tasks.
When referring to distractions, parents and educators often refer to any environmental stimulus that directs a child’s attention away from the task at hand. Common physical distractions in the classroom for students with ADHD include windows and doors with views of the hallway or outside areas, detailed or bright classroom displays, ‘high traffic; classroom areas commonly frequented by students (i.e. the pencil sharpener, cubbies and so on.), as well as storage areas or locations with access to large numbers of materials. What qualifies as a distraction is highly specific to each child, however, teachers can follow a set of general guidelines to create a learning environment designed to promote the success of all students.
Being easily distracted can result in:
- Difficulty remembering the information;
- Missing out on information (e.g. comments, questions and instructions) which can affect their understanding,
- Mental fatigue caused by switching back and forth between getting distracted and the task;
- Taking longer to complete a task; and
- Reduced work performance.
Minimising Environmental Distractions - Practical Steps For Children with ADHD
Teachers can work to minimise environmental distractions for students with ADHD by planning a classroom layout that allows for smooth transitions and minimal disruption between and during activities, including collaborative and hands-on work.
Examples of this may look like keeping detailed displays and storage areas behind students, so they are not easily visible during instructional time. Limiting the number of supplies and materials accessible to students at any time, can reduce inattentiveness as well as minimise distractions caused by fidgeting with classroom items that are not required for the immediate task at hand.
Seating arrangements are also a useful tool in minimising distractions, both for students easily distracted by peers and students who struggle with general inattentiveness related to academic work. Seating students closer to the teacher so they may frequently “check in” and be easily monitored by the instructor may assist with overall inattentiveness, as may seating students to face away from windows or doors to avoid distraction by external stimuli (playground sounds, birds or clouds, people in the hallway, etc.).
Regarding talkative students as well as those easily distracted by peers, a simple seating change that moves students away from friends or large groups may help eliminate social distractions too.
Here are some more ways you can reduce distractions in practical ways for all of your students but they will particularly benefit those with ADHD.
Items on Display
Items on display, especially motivating items such as games or playthings, can make it harder for the students to concentrate because they can’t suppress or ignore their desire to want to play with the items.
To reduce distraction, place these items in a solid (opaque) container so the students can’t see them.
Shelves with containers and items on display can make the room feel overstimulating and students become unable to focus on any one particular item or task.
The simplest way to reduce the distraction here is to fix a cloth over the shelves thus hiding their contents from view. As shown below by establishing a well organised learning environment (labels, colour coded storage systems, labels and files) it help maximise the student's independence.
Wall Art and Displays
Having posters, safety instructions, artwork, decorations, and materials all over the room can make it hard for the student to focus on their work. They are a huge distraction because the information displayed competes for the student's attention along with you particularly if you are also trying to use one of the resources on the wall, a poster about the subject for example.
A student with ADHD are unable to differentiate between what is relevant vs. irrelevant or what is important vs. interesting. For example the soccer poster is more interesting than the maths worksheet but not important.
To reduce these distractions, group the displays into one place, ideally at the back of the classroom. Remove items that are not being actively referred to and create blank wall spaces.
Following any physical changes to the classroom, teachers may also work on building student-specific accommodations that account for distractions into daily routines.
Tools and strategies such as extra test time, visual timers, schedules, activity checklists and personalised behaviour charts can promote student success by prompting focus and appropriate responding.
Alternate activities based on challenge level, length and novelty to maintain student interest. Allow students to take ‘brain breaks’ and avoid overloading students with information. This can help with attention, processing and retention of information.
Students with ADHD can benefit from several strategies designed to minimise distractions and promote attending in the classroom. From environmental modifications to personalised accommodations, educators can use a variety of resources to ensure the learning environment is equitable for all students.
Paul, A. M. (2013). You'll never learn! Slate Magazine