All About Adolescent Literacy

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Assistive Technology for Students with Attention Issues


How can teachers and parents help students with attention issues, who have trouble getting organized or paying attention?


We have a whole host of tools these days. One interesting thing about students with ADHD is they often have real difficulty with the perception of time. So often a student will sit down, and they'll start doing their homework, and they say, "You know what? I'm going to take a five minute break," and the next thing they know, their parents are getting mad at them, because an hour and a half has gone by, and they've only done six questions out of the 30 questions that they have to complete. So that student, who meant to take just a five-minute break, didn't realize that they're actually off task for 45 minutes or an hour. So there's this new wonderful app for the computer called Rescue Timer. It actually tracks the amount of time that you're doing productive things on your device, or on your computer. And you can set it to say, "Hey, if I'm not productive for five minutes, or 10 minutes, then give me a bunch of warnings, or lock me out of this other program, so that I can't go onto Minecraft for 45 minutes." So Rescue Timer gives students simple feedback how much time they're spending off-task. And the second part is to help them get back on task, by giving them prompts and reminders, or even restrictions to help make sure they get there.

Another great technology that comes in our smartphones is just our general reminders, reminding us do our homework, or to bring the homework assignments home at the end of the day. A couple of years ago, I had one father who came in, and said to me: "My daughter is using these reminders, but after school the reminder goes off and she just ignores it, because she still wants to talk to her friends. So let's just say the custodian and I have become really good friends, because every night after dinner when my daughter sits down to do her work, soon enough we're driving back to school, because there's some textbook that she's forgotten.”

Now, with the smart phones, we can actually have GPS-based reminders. So as the phone detects that it's leaving the school, it can bring up a reminder that says: "Here is the list of homework assignments that you have to do tonight." And hopefully that helps students remember that they need to bring their math book home.

There are also a lot of tracking or tagging devices such as The Tile that let you put a smart tag on a student's books or other important possessions. So when a student is running around in the morning thinking, "Oh my goodness, where is my notebook?," they can push a button, and the tracker will start beeping so they can see where that notebook actually is. It's great for people who lose keys. It's also great for students, who lose their textbooks on a regular basis.

We know that a lot of students have trouble keeping their papers organized. I love how students come into a clinic, and you say, "Can you take out your science binder?" And they open their knapsack, and they start taking out handfuls of paper, and spreading it out for you, and then they say, "Oh, sorry, that's September's work. And I think these papers are from math class. Oh wait, here's the November stuff that we're working on now." But if students have a smartphone, they can take a picture of that science worksheet, and have that automatically load up into a cloud device, such as Dropbox, or Google Drive, or Microsoft's version of it. So suddenly, they don't have to worry about losing that paper. You can take a picture and have it in the right place, so you can refer back to it when you have to study for that upcoming exam. By getting the document in a digital format, either by their teachers providing it to them, or by taking a picture of it themselves, now they have it when they need it.

View the full Q&A with Dr. Todd Cunningham >