Overcome a Short Attention Span

Overcome a Short Attention Span

A short attention span can easily affect a person’s learning of math facts.  When attention is lost, all learning stops until attention is regained.


What causes a Short Attention Span?

Some causes are external (outside of a person).  Examples of these external reasons include excessive noise and too many distractions.  When a short attention span exists due to something external it’s easier to control.  For example, if there’s too much noise in the room, you can do things to make it quieter, or, if there are too many distractions in the room, you can remove a few of them.


Other causes are internal (inside of a person).  Common internal reasons include Attention Deficit Disorder, Executive Functioning Disorder, and Absence Seizures.  When the cause of a short attention span is something internal it can be a bit more difficult to address.  This article is here to help in these situations.  Within it, you will receive four tips on improving the likelihood of learning when an internal reason exists.


Tip 1. Verify Information is Received


When a person with an internal cause stops paying attention it can be rather hard to notice.  This is because many of those with an internal cause have become rather good at “pretending” they are paying attention even when they are not.


They aren’t trying to be rude or disrespectful when they do this.  It’s really just the opposite. They know they offend most people when they don’t pay attention.  They also know that they are unable to control when they do, and when they don’t, pay attention.  So, they just pretend.  By pretending, they can keep a good relationship with you even though they can’t always pay attention to you.  Unfortunately, this also means they will miss a lot of things that you tell them.  Thankfully, there are ways you can verify they receive your information.

Technique – Probing Questions – Most techniques used to verify that information has been received puts them on the spot.  When this happens, and they can’t answer the question you asked, they will most likely shut down (for more information on this, refer to Tip 2- Keep Things Positive).  Thankfully, probing questions are less likely to do this.  Probing questions are questions you can ask that won’t create offense.  It’s best to ask these questions indirectly.  You can ask these questions in a variety of ways.  For example, rather than asking a question to a single student,  you could ask the entire class.  You could also follow a direction with an immediate opportunity to practice.


Tip 2. Keep Things Positive
  • “It is important to give much encouragement, praise and affection” – ldonline
  • “Provide frequent, positive feedback.” – ADD Association


Many professionals have mentioned that those with a short attention span can easily be discouraged.  To prevent this, it’s best to keep things positive.  One way of keeping things positive is through positive reinforcement.


Technique – Provide Positive Reinforcement – Positive reinforcement is a behavioral technique which focuses on the positive outcomes rather than the negative ones.  A good rule of thumb when using positive reinforcement is to provide 5 positive comments to every 1 negative.


Tip 3. Increase Lesson Related Stimuli


Teachers and parents have found that those with a short attention span are more likely to learn and retain information when they can use their hands.


Example of an array used to increase retention
Image 1 (3×3)


Sample array for building retention
Image 2 (3×6)

Technique – Use Arrays and Counters – Arrays are a great multi-sensory tool that work well when teaching math facts.   Teaching with arrays is easy to do, and learning is much more efficient.


When using arrays it’s important to use counters.  Counters provide a better multi-sensory experience.  There are plenty of items you can use as counters.  Some examples are beans, pennies, and bingo chips.


Sample Array for Building Retention
Image 3 (6×6)


When using an array, be sure to begin with a small fact (such as 3×3).  Large facts (such as 3×6 or 6×6) are taught through doubling.  This can easily be done on an array by doubling sections.


A collection of arrays designed to teach these facts are provided on our worksheets page.  These worksheets are free to print and use.




Tip 4.  Remember to Practice


Even after you learn a new fact, you still need to practice. Practice can make a memory stronger, which will help prevent it from being lost. It will also improve both speed and accuracy.


Technique – Using Worksheets – When working with multiplication and division facts, worksheets are a great option.  It’s important to remember, however, that the purpose of the worksheets is to strengthen the memory.  If a memory hasn’t truly formed, and there are concerns of dyscalculia, then a worksheet may be of little value.


A variety of multiplication and division worksheets are available on our worksheets page.  These worksheets are free to print and use.


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