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March 28, 2013

Dissss-traaaact…ed at school

By Jessica Kelmon

He isn’t paying attention. Why isn't he paying attention?

It’s ironic: I’m the adult. I should be focused, but this distracted kid’s pulling my attention away from the task at hand. I’m at an East San Jose middle school to report on the secret of this school's success. For the day, I’m shadowing students who exemplify what this school is all about – helping low-income students succeed academically.

Reporting at school

While the rest of the class has their heads bent over a 10-point algebra quiz, this 8th grader, who sits front and center in the classroom, is looking around for something – anything – more interesting. Meanwhile, his page remains blank.

I watch as he vies, repeatedly, for his friend’s attention across the aisle. As part of the school setup, students are seated in pairs to facilitate group work. When they’re meant to work on factoring problems independently, he tries to get the attention of the girl seated next to him by stroking her hair with an eraser, but she expertly ignores him and keeps working. It strikes me that I should do the same – and it makes me marvel at this girl’s wonderful ability to focus despite what I’ll learn is an ongoing distraction issue. And if this boy's constant antics are getting to me, they must be affecting the other kids in class.

The young, sharply dressed math teacher walks discreetly over to the distracted boy, speaking in hushed tones. The child’s response, slightly louder so that I overhear, isn’t what I expect: despite the one-liners he’s been hurling around for the last 30 minutes, he’s not a smart-ass. He’s respectful and shares his plan to get a new notebook (his is currently missing) and start fresh the next trimester (which starts next week). It appears his interest in doing well is sincere. But then, set up with note-taking paper from the teacher, the end result is the same: yet another blank page.

A peek at a problem

With this exchange, I get a glimpse of the very real, very complex problem that teachers face on a daily basis: this student wants to do well, but just can’t seem to get with the program. Whether or not the distraction comes from a diagnosed condition (ADD, ADHD, oppositional defiance, sensory processing, etc.) this child’s inability to focus is impeding his progress. I worry that the only way to help him succeed is to help him conform (ugh) and that if he doesn’t conform, he’ll be left behind – ostracized socially and emotionally by peers who have the skills to stay on task, thinking he’s not smart (or worse), and eventually slipping through the academic cracks.  

Reporting throughout the day, I see that the school is keen on helping this boy. I watch his academic aide in social studies. The aide’s impressively unobtrusive, quietly pulling the boy out of class four or five times to correct problematic behavior in the moment. It’s an interesting approach, but makes me wonder just how much of the lesson the student’s actually getting. Perhaps no less than if he sat in class, without the aide, with the same lack of attention he had in math.

The social studies teacher’s eyebrows rise when I say this child’s behavior reminds me of my nephew, who attends a nearby yet more affluent school. There’s an assumption that a school with more resources would do more; but in this case, at least, it’s the opposite: this school is trying harder. And yet I can’t shake the feeling that even with so much effort, it's still not enough to ensure this boy will turn the corner and start succeeding in school.

Days later, I’m still worrying about this child, and my nephew, and all the distracted students in classes across the country. Because it goes way beyond a poor math grade or a negative report card comment – it affects self-esteem, friendships, graduation potential, and job prospects.

It’s an ongoing, nagging thought. And it’s affecting my focus, too.


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I worry for the distracted children, but the child being annoyed could be my daughter. She's been placed between chatty classmates, beside children so she can help them focus and redirect them--almost like a shadow, and moved to the back so that the distracted children can get more attention. Since my first child was the active one I knew the tricks to keep his focus, and now I see the problems that the well-behaved, bright children face by not needing that extra attention.

Sorry, wrong answer. Though I can appreciate a parent who has concerns about other children who are less focused and their impact on their wonderfully focused child but to define their wonderfully focused child as "bright & well behaved", despite whether or not this really TRUE of their child is to imply that the less focused child is stupid and destined for the juvenile justice system! It's insensitive to say the least! Many children who have troubles focusing are among some of THE brightest children in the classroom...more aptly destined for the gifted and/or talented group and are neither wanting nor trying to be a discipline problem! Thank you!

Thanks, Jane for your correction. My first one was incredibly bright and easily distractible. We often gave suggestions to keep him on task (which, oddly enough usually involved multi-tasking--passing out papers while teacher taught the lesson). And that was successful with some teachers. Along comes my daughter a decade later, and I had to put a stop to her being placed next to the most distractible students as a 'model' or a 'helper.' It was frustrating for her, and humiliating for the other child.

Angel, no offense taken. You did not imply that a child cannot be both bright and distracted.

I appreciate the article, because it offers another way to look at an easily distracted child, without just labeling him or her as ADD (which is what most schools do). I have my own personal exapmple, where a teacher complained that my son was unfocused and hinted that he may have a problem. Hell, how many adults are unfocused (texting, applying make-up, eating) all while driving. I would say that our kids aren't the ones who are unfocused; we are.


This describes my daughter perfectly. Ironically, the private school she previously attended dealt with the situation with hand-wringing and patronizing rhetoric - "if she just followed directions, we would be able to deal with her".
The public school she is in now is incredible. They assessed immediately the support my daughter needs and provided it, something her other school was incapable of doing (although they said they would welcome any specialized assessments and behavioral supports I would provide on my own - after having gladly cashed my $35k+ annual tuition checks). She has an incredible teacher who doesn't quit on her.
Everything isn't perfect. My daughter is academically gifted so needs continual intellectual challenge, which I provide with extracurricular support and activities. It is hard, for her and for me, but my daughter is very special. It is worth the work.
For the parents of the "perfect" children. Please have empathy. Talk to the parents of the kids that you perceive as "disturbing" your child's experience to try to fully understand the situation. You may find there is more there than meets the eye. Surprisingly, my daughter has many friends that help her when needed. Their parents would be proud. Your insensitivity is something that your own kids will pick up on (and will eventually emulate).

Distracted is a very mild way to put it - if, like the boy in the article, he is touching other students and calling their names. If the behavior is distracting then it is hurtful to the rest of the class. It takes the teacher's time and energy away from the majority of students in order to deal with the behavior of one student. I am not interested in arguing about whether a child who is distracting the rest of the class is bright or not - that's not the point. What can be done so that all children in the classroom get a quality education when there is one teacher to 33 students, some of whom require constant special attention? Perhaps Parents of children with focusing challenges should be required to pay for an aide who sits with their child through every class.

Are you freaking kidding me! PAY for an AIDe to sit with the child that is distracting the class! How insensitive could you be? I honestly think the parents of those children (such as mine) will need to take the time and effort to re-train the way they think and see things. I try to uplift my son when he states “I’m dumb ” or “What is the use in trying, I’m going to fail anyways”. This comes from not focusing and he received so many bad grades, his confident is shot. I will speak for myself, I implement a lot of multi-tasking skills and tasks to challenge his brain and encouragment when he does will. I just wish I can fine the RIGHT teacher that is willing to recongnize his is smart and talented… not “lazy” or a “trouble child”. All I can do is to continue to love him and encourage him and pray that it will kick in sooner or later. Trust me, I have thought about giving him medicinal treament for the lack of focus issues. Then I thought.. HELL, I got lack of focus too, do I need medicine? I seem to turn out alright, good paying job, nice home and degrees…

I have read all the comments and I am stunned and amazed at some of the responses. My son was diagnosed with ADHD when he was in the first grade. I struggled with the thought of putting him on meds. However, after many different doctor visits and school visits I agreed. It was the best decision I ever made. If your child had diabetes you would not neglect him from insulin... (for more information and support, I recommend a great magazine called,"ADDitude") As for the class setting... My son is in a class which they call, "inclusive" and I think it's awful! Children with "special" needs have the right to FREE resources. I do agree that those resources are not and should not be other children! There needs to be more qualified teachers and assistance to guide and teach all our children for success. The beauty is we have the freedom to make choices that are best for them. If one shoe doesn't fit try another. I will be enrolling my child into a new school next year. All the best to you and your children.

I am not an expert. I am currently a substitute teacher, posses a teaching certificate and degree in teaching. I struggle in varying degrees with this issue.
As a teacher, especially in quiz or test classes, quiet is important for other students. I address my expectations BEFORE handing out the test. I ask for students with problems paying attention - and use activity-rewards for the students. The most common are - you should sit alone during the test, please sit here to help you concentrate - you may stand to take the test - after you read two paragraphs, walk around the room, but do not talk to or disrupt another student; read more and walk, answer three questions and walk again. Usually after standing and walking once, the students are able to focus finish the quiz.
Some of these I know from my own ADHD son, some I learned from the experience of others. The moment I know I got it right, is when the student's expression shifts from fear to relief.

A pill does not teach the skilling

© Barbara Pytel
Jun 28, 2006

How can you tell if you are a right brain? It is not difficult to determine. Learn the characteristics of the right brain.

Right Brain Traits
Right brains are honored in eastern cultures more than western. They are seen as less smart because of the manner in which they process information. Rights don't go from Point A to Point B. Right brains don't like to listen to directions and don't like to read them. They scan quickly and figure out what to do without reading details. Reading directions carefully is a detailed activity for the left-brain.
How Rights Learn
Rights think and learn in visual, kinesthetic and audio images. They don't memorize well and need to visualize a picture so they can recall the facts. Abstract math is often not brain compatible. Their thoughts are frequently in code and they may have bizarre images in night dreams leaving them confused as to what they mean.
When right brains talk to you, they look at you while listening and look away to the left when answering a question. This is a brain shift from one side to another. This is not a sign of fabrication. They are listening with one side and now switch over for the response. They are not creating an answer in an attempt to deceive.
Word Association
On a spelling test, a right brain hears the word "dog." Their mind wanders to the thought of the neighbor's dog which barked most of the night, that reminds them of the fact that the neighbors are in the Bahamas, which takes them to an island with palm trees and sandy beaches, which reminds them that they need a bathing suit for this weekend, which reminds them that they will need to take spending money... Teacher says, "Word #7 is house." Student raises hand and asks what word #6 was. They've checked out for a while.
Rights Are Misunderstood
Right brains don't explain what they feel well and are misunderstood. They think of one thing, say another because their brain has already moved on to another thought. Unfortunately, their mouth is still moving. Rights often don't realize they have done so. The result is that they don't realize what they said and may even deny saying it or argue they said something else. Because they know what they "intended" to say, they are confused when individuals state otherwise.
See The Big Picture
Right brains don't like to jump through the hoops to get something done. They also don't like to follow rules which don't make sense to them. They see the big picture quickly and what you are asking them to do in steps doesn't seem necessary because they are at the end of the process already.
Right brains are non-judgmental and often have no opinion on many topics. They can see both sides and are often seen as wishy washy or lacking values. They see the whole person and are less likely to condemn a person because of a flaw. They often have an interesting group of friends.
Rights select careers as:
• entrepreneurs,
• athletes,
• sales,
• artists,
• musician,
• craftsmen,
• dancers.
Rights are trusting--too trusting. They easily have patents and ideas stolen from them, usually to a left. Lefts know how to use an idea. They just can't come up with them on their own.
Speech and Music
Rock and Roll music is preferred by rights. They are also easily distracted by music. Baroque music is soothing for a right. Music by Yanni, Enya, and Mozart are good for right brain waves. Their speaking voice may have a singing quality and their faces may be quite animated when talking. They often use their hands when they speak and may have difficulty speaking if they are not allowed to use their hands. Right brained teachers often move around the room while speaking and leave standing still behind the podium for the left brains.
As Teachers
As teachers, right brains are non-evaluative. They don't like giving grades and would rather see people just show them results. Their teaching style reflects their own learning style so they use:
• stories,
• diagrams,
• pictures,
• drawings,
• skits,
• educational games,
• gestures,
• elicit action from students,
• demonstrations, and
• illustrations.
That's how they learn, so that's how they teach.
New Ideas
Right brains embrace new ideas. They are future thinkers and enjoy introducing controversial ideas. They believe that everything is possible, tend to be very creative, and don't see the pitfalls along the way. They leave those little details to the lefts.
Related articles: Left Brain Characteristics, Famous Right Brains, Left Brains and Right Brains, Right/Left Brain Background, Left Brain Characteristics, SAT and the Learning Disabled.
Read previous articles on Educational Issues.
Copyright article 2006 Barbara Pytel. All Rights Reserved.

The copyright of the article Right Brain Characteristics in Educational Issues is owned by Barbara Pytel. Permission to republish Right Brain Characteristics in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

My kid distract and is a low learner, what middle school can be appropriate for him. I'm just a worried mother for the future of him.

Thank you Barbara for the Right Brain info.I have three kids. My eldest(17) is a 60- 80% academic BUT she has to work her butt off to stay there. My middle child (12)is naturally achieving without any effort. My youngest(8) is struggling and i need some advice.
The teacher says he knows his work on the mat or in groups etc. but when he has to go back to his desk and complete an assesment page he gets lost and distracted. she kept on saying he doesnt focus. he has just been signed out at OT . so i dont know what to do about the focus thing? where do i go for help? how do i incorporate everyday things to help him to focus, i'm a working mom but i do have time to sit with him for at least an hour of play time. i've bought activity books, playing cards, ipads and still he struggles to focus.
i shared the concern with him that his teacher needs him to focus in class and he immediately started to cry and said im doing ecerything i can mom! and if you and my teacher dont have nice things to say then i dont want to hear it! he said he wished that he doesnt have to do school!

My heart just broke into tiny peices for him. he is a great kid and very intelligent, i just cant understand why he doesnt focus? Nasema (South Africa)

I am curious about what the TED TALK is. I have a son like this and I look under every rock to find some way to help him.

I have a 5yr son that would be concerned the "distracted child". I'm not sure how to help him I know he is a smart kid but he doesn't stay focus long enough in class to display his knowledge of subjects being thought. Any suggestions/advice is appreciated.

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