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8 Must-Know Strategies for Keeping Distracted Students Focused

Student not responding to tutor's attempts at keeping distracted students engaged

Distractions are everywhere these days, and children fall prey to them just as much as—if not more than—adults.

Adolescents generally have shorter attention spans than adults, making their minds more susceptible to wandering during activities that require concentration, like online tutoring.

All of the technological distractions so prevalent in today’s digital world have only exacerbated this challenge, as shown by studies that link social media usage and Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in adolescents.

So what’s a dedicated online tutor to do to get distracted students focused on the tutoring session at hand?

Read on to learn some excellent strategies to keep students engaged and successful during your next session!

1. Encourage Students to Block Out All Distractions

Thanks to online tutoring, students can learn in a quiet, calm environment of their choosing. If your students appear to be distracted by their surroundings, you can suggest that they reduce noisy distractions by wearing headphones during the tutoring sessions. They can also close windows and doors, or kindly ask their family members to be quieter to further minimize background noise.

2. Use Fun Learning Tools to Engage Students

TutorMe's Lesson Space is chock-full of collaborative learning tools. Make sure you are using them to your advantage during your tutoring sessions. Use the drawing tools on the virtual whiteboards to visually engage your students. Use the audio/video chat to make the lesson more personal and lively. Screen sharing allows you to share a fun graphic or video with your students. These innovative learning tools are designed to get your students engaged in the learning process and motivated to stay focused.

3. Redirect Distracted Students

Instead of reprimanding your student for becoming distracted during the lesson, try redirecting them. There will be times when your student's attention wanders—this is natural for anyone, even if they don't have ADHD.

Redirection could mean asking an easy question, shifting the method of your instruction to make it more dynamic, changing the tone of your voice, or pausing and waiting until your student notices that you have stopped talking.

Scolding your student leads to discouragement. Redirecting your student leads to better learning outcomes.

4. Break Up Bigger Assignments

Large projects can intimidate students with short attention spans. You can help keep students motivated and engaged by breaking down large-scale assignments into smaller, more digestible tasks.

For example, if your student needs to read ten pages and then write a report, break up the reading assignment into smaller sections, and help your student understand each section by writing notes and asking questions. When it comes time to write the report, you can pull together all your notes to form a workable outline.

Let's say your student needs to answer a multi-step math problem. Go through the problem with your student step-by-step, making it easier to accomplish. You can even celebrate when they have completed all the steps by doing a little chair dance or making up a fun cheer.

5. Allow Students to Use Fidget Toys

It may seem counterintuitive, but growing evidence suggests that allowing distracted students to fiddle with fidget toys or other comforting objects during sessions may help them concentrate.

Examples of fidget toys include:

  • Fidget spinners
  • Bubble pop toys
  • A mesh tube with a marble inside
  • Tangle toys that look like colorful snakes
  • Squishy water beads in a sealed plastic bag
  • Kneadable erasers
  • Stress balls
  • Thinking putty

Really, fidget toys can be any small object that feels good in the student's hand, giving them a way to move their hands while listening. A fidget toy may increase student attention. ADHD is tough on students who feel like they’re always being told to sit still and be quiet.

Keep that in mind as you compassionately support your students.

6. Keep Sessions Short but Productive

The average attention span of a 10-year old is 20-30 minutes, but this can be shortened by factors such as hunger, inactivity, distractions, and how tired the student is. It's crucial to keep your sessions brief for maximum effectiveness.

To keep yourself from becoming too long-winded, make sure you’re watching the clock. Also, prepare a checklist beforehand, so you can mentally or physically check off everything you want to cover during your session as you go.

Don't try to stuff too much information into your session! You want to be productive but not overwhelming. Check in with your student by asking questions and finding out if they understand what you’ve been saying. If it seems like their attention is weaning, it might be time to wrap up the session.

7. Help Students Exercise Mindfulness

Mindfulness, or staying focused in the present moment, helps students stay focused on their lesson, too. Mindfulness might be a big word that some students won't understand, but you can help your student practice mindfulness through a few simple suggestions:

  • Ask them to notice what is around them, using their five senses.
  • Count your breaths together. Focusing on the simple act of breathing is often enough to calm someone down and make distractions go away.
  • Have the child focus on a specific object, such as a glass of water or a potted plant. If their attention wanders, redirect the student to focus on the object again as they think about the lesson.
  • Talk about your student's mood. Being more aware of how you feel is a key aspect of mindfulness, and it allows someone to step back and notice that they may be frustrated because they’re tired or hungry.

If you’re tutoring elementary school students, check out this excellent article about mindfulness and how it can help these students concentrate better.

8. Make Your Tutoring Setup Distraction-free

This step is one of the most important ways to keep students focused. Your tutoring space should be completely free of distractions. This means you should choose a quiet room where you can be alone to tutor in.

You should also choose your clothing carefully, opting for professional, conservative clothing over loud colors with bold slogans. Your background can be a source of distraction, too. You can certainly dress it up with posters or other items that might enhance your lesson, but be aware that too much going on in the background will probably draw your student's attention away from your face and what you are saying.

Keeping distracted students engaged doesn't have to be difficult. Follow the guidelines above and remember to be compassionate and understanding. When dealing with students who have ADHD, concentration may come and go, so your patience and ability to redirect your student's attention back to the lesson is key to continued learning.

Do you have a knack for keeping distracted students engaged during tutoring sessions? We encourage you to apply to become a tutor on TutorMe today!

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