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Duration of Focus

While much of the content that is delivered through virtual education may be as engaging as lessons delivered in a traditional classroom setting, virtual learners often take on the executive functioning task of navigating course materials on their own.

With many families participating in ongoing virtual learning scenarios as part of their educational interactions, students with ADHD are facing additional challenges. The end result is that those who struggle with skills like time management and scheduling may face burdens that have little to do with their grasp of the actual material in the class.


Make the Most of Virtual Learning

In order to make the most of virtual learning and ensure that their skills and knowledge in the subject are being adequately demonstrated, students with ADHD can use blocking strategies to maximize the time they spend on task. Doing this effectively requires an understanding of the "duration of focus" and how it impacts learners with ADHD and other attention-based challenges.

What is the Duration of Focus?

First, it's important to understand that everyone — whether they are dealing with ADHD or not — has times when their focus is sharper than others and has to navigate the variability of attention across different tasks. You've likely experienced this yourself. Some days you may find yourself able to stay on task and complete everything on your to-do list without getting off course while others may find you constantly pulling yourself away from social media or the television to get anything done.

Generally speaking, though, the human brain is wired to give attention in bursts of time. Focus is a skill that begins developing in early childhood and continues to develop over time into adulthood. As children age, they learn to divide their attention among different stimuli and to switch their focus to what is most important. They also develop longer durations of focus over time.

The duration of focus refers to the amount of time that a person can consistently stay on task without their attention wandering. This duration is impacted by factors such as age, the subject matter, the environment, and — of course — the learner's own neurological development. For this reason, a learner with ADHD may have a duration of focus that's significantly shorter than a same-age peer without ADHD.

What is Blocked Scheduling?

Blocked scheduling refers to creating a time management plan that assigns specific tasks to a particular chunk of time. Blocked scheduling can be used to combat the overwhelm and frustration that often comes with virtual learning. Depending on the setup and delivery management system for virtual learning tasks, a learner could be seeing assignments, announcements, and resources for multiple classes at the same time. It can be difficult to assess which tasks are most important and choose where to begin. In fact, this sense of overwhelm can be so debilitating that a learner may find themselves unable to get started at all.

Instead of facing all these demands on their attention simultaneously, a learner with a blocked schedule can prioritize by subject. If there are four subjects — math, science, language arts, and history — that each have discrete tasks due at the end of a six-hour time period, a blocked schedule can break those up into separate activities. During each block, the learner focuses only on that subject and is given the mental permission to ignore the other demands on their time. This allows for focus and attention that would otherwise be lost.

Combining Blocked Scheduling with Duration of Focus

The most effective blocked schedule plans are customized to the learner's unique needs and preferences. Most learners with ADHD find some subjects easier to focus on than others. In other words, the duration of focus will often be longer for some tasks and shorter for others. Using this information to its fullest will allow learners — perhaps with the help of their parents if they're younger and unable to navigate this for themselves — to craft a schedule that uniquely meets their needs.

Let's say that a learner struggles to focus on math but is able to focus much better and for a longer period of time on reading for language arts class. It makes sense, then, to break the blocked schedule for math into shorter chunks than the language arts tasks. A learner might spend 15 minutes working on math, take a 10-minute break, spend 30 minutes reading, take another 10-minute break, and then spend another 15 minutes on math.

Virtual Learning and Blocked Scheduling

The ideal length of a scheduled block will vary based on age and interest. However, we do know that even most adults only have a focused attention span of about 20 minutes. While we know that face-to-face classroom requirements are often much longer than that, the virtual learning format allows for more flexibility that may actually help learners with ADHD focus more fully if they are provided with the tools to do so.

Generally speaking, most learners are not going to be able to focus well or achieve their goals for a block of time that's longer than 30 minutes. At the same time, quite a bit can be achieved in a short block of time if focus is truly present during the duration. Ten minutes spent intently focusing on a math problem is better than 60 minutes spent mostly ignoring it — even if sitting at the computer staring at the screen looks like work.

It is also important to schedule in breaks between tasks to allow for focus to return before moving on to the next subject or goal. For learners with ADHD, especially, using these breaks to bring in physical movement can be very beneficial. Even something as simple as running in place, a quick dance party, or playing catch for ten minutes can help provide the conditions for focus and attention on the next task.

Success is Possible

Success during virtual learning for a student with ADHD is possible. In fact, the flexibility allowed by a virtual learning environment can work in an ADHD student's favor — as long as a plan is in place to allow them to take advantage of it. Blocked schedules help prioritize tasks without overwhelming students, giving them the chance to use each duration of focus to its fullest. Kentwood Preparatory School takes the unique needs of learners with ADHD very seriously and is ready to help navigate proven strategies for success in any learning environment. Call (561) 649-6141 to schedule a tour of our campus.


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