Managing arousal in students

January 27th, 2012

Students need to be able to regulate arousal levels to ensure optimal learning or task performance. Students who have weak mental energy control may simply lack the stamina required to maintain optimal behaviour/learning.  Their mental energy may be hard to start up and once started, used up quickly.  They may also waste energy on irrelevant details.

Students with reduced alertness can find their class experience tedious. They experience mental fatigue and/or boredom when they try to concentrate.  As a result of being tuned out, they tend to miss the beginnings and ends of statements or directions.

These students are frequently misunderstood.  They can be accused of not trying or laziness.  Their inconsistency is particularly puzzling and frustrating.

How to help at home

  1. Because these students can have difficulty “tuning in”, parents should always prompt them to: “Listen very carefully, I am going to tell you something important about………”.
  1. Students with weak mental energy control need frequent breaks during homework time.  Use a kitchen timer and allow ‘stretch breaks’ every ten minutes (some students will need even more frequent breaks).
  1. Many students who have difficulties with mental effort have trouble getting started with work.  Parents can assist by helping them get organised, and perhaps by performing the first step themselves.  Anything that can get the child going helps to facilitate the flow of mental effort.
  1. Sometimes combining regular changes of work site with frequent breaks can enable students to renew mental effort.  They may need ten minutes working at a desk, ten minutes at the kitchen table, followed by ten minutes of mathematics on the lounge room floor.
  1. The stimulant medications can assist with behavioural and motor inhibition and aid development of the executive functions such as mental energy control.

Managing weak mental energy control in the classroom

  1. Teachers can help students with reduced mental alertness and mental effort by requiring them to put forth relatively small amounts of work or focused attention at any one time.  For example, there may need to be brief breaks between components of a writing task or mathematical problems.  Better to have five minutes of focused effort than 15 minutes of unfocused, ineffective work.
  1. Teachers should also have an inconspicuous method of providing the student with a reminder to tune back in during periods of high distraction or when s/he is obviously tuned out (e.g., a tap on the shoulder).
  1. These students should be allowed to stand up and stretch, walk to the back of the room, or even visit the toilet a number of times per day or section of the day.  They can keep a checklist documenting such breaks and receive praise for not needing to take all of them on some occasions.  Students taking these breaks must understand they cannot be disruptive or talkative.
  1. Teachers may need to signal a student with limited alertness when something especially important is to be taught.  For example, the teacher could stand directly in front of him/her when addressing the class and say: “Now listen carefully, I’m about to give you important instructions about our book assignment”.
  1. Teachers and teacher aides may assist with work initiation by spelling the first word, writing the first sentence, doing the first math problem and so on.
Here are some additional sites that provide more information on attention weaknesses.


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