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Selective Use
Teacher Attention

(Antecedent Interventions)
Classroom Interventions for Children with Attention Deficit Disorder


The selective use of teacher attention is a positive reinforcement strategy for building up and maintaining appropriate classroom performance and behavior.  It involves increased monitoring of student's behavior, systematically attending to appropriate behavior, and ignoring inappropriate attention seeking behavior.  The selective use of teacher attention should be the mainstay of a teacher's classroom management strategy.

Attention is highly valued by children.  A teacher's smile, praise, hand on the shoulder, encouragement, acknowledgement, d silence can have a significant effect on children's behavior (O'Leary & O'Leary, 1977).  Teachers need to be aware of the effect of their attention on maintaining appropriate and inappropriate behavior.  If a child is called on and praised for raising his/her hand appropriately, the child will be more likely to raise the hand rather that to blurt out.  Praising and encouraging a child for working attentively on his math worksheet will increase his on-task behavior and work completion.

Attention also can increase negative classroom behaviors.  Disruptive behaviors can be inadvertantly rewarded through negative teacher attention.  Responding to negative behaviors with a scowl, reprimand, or some other form teacher attention can be rewarding to some children.


Using attention selectively in the classroom takes less time and effort than more complex positive reinforcement programs.  One study found that after the teacher had altered her pattern of attention, she spent 25% less time attending to social behaviors than she had initially, and the children displayed 70% less disruptive behavior (Madison, Becker, & Thomas, 1977).  Another study demonstrated that systematically attending to the behavior of the children with problems did not adversely affect other children in the class.  Rahter, it resulted in better behavior in the rest of the class and improved relations between the child with problems and his/her peers (Drabman & Lahey, 1977).  Results such as these demonstrate that using attention selectively in the classroom con be efficient and effective.


There are some limitations to selective to using selective attention with children with ADD.  First, attention can be less powerful than a positive reinforcement program that uses tangible rewards and priviledges.  For children with at least moderate ADD symptoms, a more powerful reward system may be needed.

Second, behavior change resulting from the selective use of attention is slower than that typically seen with punishment or more powerful programs.  It may take weeks of consistently ignoring inappropriate behavior and praising appropriate behavior before significant change is seen in a child with ADD.

Third, while studies support that a combination of praising appropriate behavior and ignoring inappropriate behavior can successfully reduce classroom disruptiveness,  studies of the classroom management of children with ADD suggest that some level of mild punishment for inappropriate behavior will be needed for effective classroom management (Pfiffner, Rosen, & O'Leary 1985; Rosen, O'Leary, Joyce, Conway, & Pfiffner, 1984).

Next Page: Classroom Modification

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