how to pay attention in class

How to Pay Attention in Class: A Comprehensive Guide

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Eran Grayson

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Attention is the cornerstone of effective learning. How to pay attention in class is an obvious challenge for any student when beset by the constant intrusive barrage of the cell phone, feeling tired, or not viewing the course material as interesting. But for high school and college students with ADHD, staying focused in class can be a daily challenge and can impact the learning process.

The constant battle to eliminate distractions, procrastination, and barriers to getting started on a task can make the academic journey seem like an uphill climb. You are not alone in these challenges to the learning experience.

With a little extra effort, the right mindset, and positive strategies in your back pocket, you can overcome these challenges and thrive in your educational pursuits.

Let’s discuss some ideas for improving our classroom concentration, staying engaged, and heightening our motivation to stay focused. We will explore practical and effective focus techniques for students with ADHD, covering key areas such as coping with distractions, dealing with procrastination, communicating with teachers, seeking academic accommodations, being proactive about self-advocacy, and building essential executive function skills.

Coping with Distractions During Class Discussions

Distractions are an inevitable part of any classroom environment, but for students with ADHD, they can be particularly disruptive.

Some students benefit from a certain amount of simple changes to their routine. For example, getting enough sleep is an important step in having the ability to re-focus during class discussions. Get the rest your body needs to concentrate when you need to.

Here are some other tips to help minimize distractions and enhance focus:

  • Strategic Seating: Choose a seat near the front of the class to minimize distractions. Sit away from windows, doors, and high-traffic areas. We all want to sit next to our friends. But will that lead to talking and cause you to lose focus? Will it cause you to pay more attention to the teacher or less?
  • Use of Fidget Tools: Consider discreet fidget tools such as stress balls or textured pencils to channel excess energy and maintain focus. Chewing gum can also be an effective strategy in this same vein because it provides a small amount of physical activity.
  • Taking Notes: You may find paying attention to the class discussion easier when taking notes. Writing engages other senses beyond the ears and gives you material to review later.
  • Digital Detox: Turn off non-essential electronic devices during class to reduce the temptation of checking messages or social media. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder already presents enough of a challenge to your attention span; you don’t need the added distraction of a cell phone pulling your focus away from the lesson!

Dealing with Procrastination and Task Initiation

Procrastination can be a major hurdle for students with ADHD. Overcoming this challenge requires effective time management and task initiation strategies. What are some ways to stay in the moment while trying to accomplish classwork?

  • Use Timers and Alarms: Set specific time limits for tasks and use alarms to signal when to start or finish. This creates a sense of urgency and helps in task initiation.
  • Create a Routine: Establish a routine with dedicated study and work periods. Consistency can help train the brain to focus during specific times of the school day.
  • Prioritize Tasks: Identify the most important tasks and tackle them first. This prevents the tendency to procrastinate on challenging or less appealing assignments.
  • Actively Participate: You may find it easier to stay focused when you join in and give voice to your ideas during class discussions. Lessons become more interesting and fun when you have something to contribute to the entire class.

Communicating with Teachers and Seeking Academic Accommodations

Open communication with the teacher is essential for students with ADHD. Consider some tips to communicate your needs and seek necessary accommodations effectively.

  • Schedule Regular Check-Ins: Arrange regular meetings with your teacher to discuss progress, challenges, and strategies for improvement. Talk openly about where you are struggling and make it a clear priority not to shy away from hard work.
  • Explore Accommodation Options: Work with the school’s disability services office to explore accommodations such as extended test-taking time, preferential seating, or note-taking assistance.
  • Utilize Communication Apps: Use communication apps or platforms to contact your teacher for clarifications and additional support.

Developing Self-Advocacy Skills in the School Setting

Prepare a self-advocacy letter explaining your ADHD diagnosis, how it impacts your learning, and suggested accommodations. Share this letter with teachers at the beginning of each semester. Give the instructors plenty of time to develop alternative lessons within the course.

Self-advocacy is a crucial skill for students with ADHD. Building this skill empowers students to take an active role in their education.

  • Understand Your Learning Style: Identify and communicate your preferred learning style to teachers. This helps them tailor their teaching methods to suit your needs and abilities better.
  • Practice Assertiveness: Practice assertive communication to express your needs and concerns clearly. This includes asking for clarification, requesting extra help, or seeking accommodations. Can a teacher provide effective assistance if they need to be made aware of your struggles in paying attention in class?
  • Set Realistic Goals: Establish realistic academic and personal goals. Break them down into achievable steps, and celebrate small victories.
  • Seek Support from Peers: Connect with classmates who share similar challenges. Forming a support network can provide understanding and encouragement. Talking about your focusing issues may open the door to other students with similar challenges.

Building Useful Executive Function Skills

Executive function skills are the cognitive processes that enable individuals to plan, organize, and execute tasks. Strengthening these skills is fundamental for academic success in the classroom and other activities in life.

  • Use Visual Aids: Utilize visual aids such as calendars, planners, and to-do lists to organize tasks and deadlines. Notes are a form of visual aid. But consider alternate forms of taking notes, too! Some students find that notes that involve drawing pictures help trick the brain into paying attention to what they hear in class.
  • Practice Mindfulness: Incorporate learning mindfulness techniques into your routine to improve focus and reduce stress. Techniques such as deep breathing or meditation can benefit the learning process.
  • Break Down Multitasking: Avoid multitasking, as it can be overwhelming. Focus on one task at a time, and use strategies like time blocking to allocate specific, defined periods for different activities.
  • Time Management Workshops: Attend workshops or seek resources on time management to enhance organizational skills and efficiency.

Paying Attention in Class is Achievable

Navigating the classroom with ADHD may present unique challenges. Still, with determination and the right strategies, success is possible and achievable.

By addressing distractions, tackling procrastination, communicating with teachers, seeking accommodations, developing self-advocacy skills, and building executive function skills, students can pave the way for a fulfilling academic journey.

Remember, each small step forward is a victory, and with perseverance, you can pay attention in class and excel in your educational pursuits. Embrace the journey, embrace your uniqueness, and let your potential shine.


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