For educators, this scenario is a common one: A particular student who stares out the window, transfixed on the arc of a bird in flight instead of his or her math lesson…or the one who wouldn’t stay put in a chair if there was glue on it.
Of course, we’re referring to classic symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and students who exhibit these hallmark signs of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity can indeed pose frustrating challenges in the classroom. As educators, we know the brainpower is there – but the kids just can’t seem to focus on the material we’re working hard to teach. If this wasn’t enough, these behaviors rob valuable time from instruction and disrupt the entire class.
Challenges of ADD/ADHD in the Classroom
In essence, a school setting requires children to sit still, listen quietly, pay attention, follow instructions and concentrate. But these are the very elements that kids with ADHD have a hard time adhering to – not because they are unwilling, but because their brains simply won’t let them. Indeed, this doesn’t make teaching them any easier; let’s take a quick look at what challenges most students with ADHD present for educators:
• They demand attention by talking out of turn or moving around the room.
• They have trouble following instructions, specifically when they’re presented in a list.
• They often forget to write down homework assignments, complete them or bring that completed work back to school.
• They often lack fine motor control, which makes note-taking difficult and handwriting a trial in patience to comprehend.
• They often have difficulty with operations that require ordered steps – as we hinted at in point number one – and this includes solving math equations such as long division.
• They usually have problems with long-term projects where no direct supervision is administered.
• They don’t pull their weight during group work sessions and may even keep a group from accomplishing its task.
How do students with ADHD pay the price for their problems? Low grades, scolding and punishment, teasing from peers and, ultimately, low self-esteem. Meanwhile, educators end up fielding complaints from parents who feel their kids are being “cheated” of instruction, which leads to teachers feeling guilty because they couldn’t reach the child with ADHD. It is truly an agonizing, constantly-revolving vicious circle.
The question then becomes, how do teachers help with enhanced student anxiety and ADHD… and how does one teach a kid who can’t settle down and listen?
Managing Student Anxiety and ADHD in the Classroom:
What Teachers Can Do to Help Children with ADHD
Educators must learn to practice copious amounts of patience, creativity and consistency. The role of a teacher is to evaluate each child’s individual needs and strengths, and from there develop strategies that will help students with ADHD focus, stay on task and learn to their full capabilities. Successful programs for children with ADHD often integrate these three components:
• Accommodations – What can be done to make learning easier for students with ADHD.
• Instruction – Evaluating the methods used in teaching.
• Intervention – How behaviors that disrupt concentration or distract other students are headed off.
The most effective tool, however, in the battle of overcoming ADHD in the classroom, is a positive attitude; most educators aren’t aware of it, but one of the best ways to deal with a student suffering from ADHD is to say things along the lines of, “Let’s figure out ways, together, to help you get your work done.” Educators can also assure the student that he or she will be looking for good behavior and quality work, and when it’s seen, should be immediately reinforced with sincere praise. Looking for ways to motivate an ADHD student by offering rewards on a “point” or “token” system has also been proven as a successful tactic.
The Anxiety Factor: Dealing with Disruptive Classroom Behavior
To head off behavior that takes time from other students, educators must work out a couple of warning signals with the ADHD student – this can manifest as a hand signal, or a sticky note on the student’s desk.
C8 Sciences Tip: If a teacher must discuss a student’s behavior, it’s best to do so in private, and “mildly inappropriate” behaviors can be ignored if they’re deemed unintentional and non-distracting to other students.
Classroom Accommodations for Students with ADHD
Teachers can make changes in the classroom to help minimize the distractions and disruptions ADHD often yields; let’s take a brief gander at some of the primary ones:
• Seating –
The student with ADHD should be seated away from windows and away from the door, and ideally should be put right in front of the teacher’s desk (unless that would be a distraction for a specific student). Also important to note is that seats in row formation – with focus on the teacher – usually works better than having students seated around tables or facing one another in alternate arrangements.
• Information Delivery –
Instructions should be given one at a time and repeated as necessary and, if possible, the most difficult material should be worked on early in the day. Using visuals such as charts, pictures or color coding is crucial, while creating outlines for note-taking organizes the information as it’s delivered.
• Student Work –
Teachers can create a quiet area free of distractions for test-taking and quiet study, and worksheets and tests with fewer items can be created (in addition to frequent short quizzes rather than long tests). Research has also found that testing the ADHD student in the way he or she does best, such as orally or filling in the blanks, yields positive results, as does showing the student how to use a pointer or bookmark to track written words on a page. Further, long-term projects can be divided into segments and a completion goal for each segment can be assigned, and late work should be accepted in addition to partial credit given for partial work. These are all reinforcing tactics that C8 Sciences is very comfortable recommending.
• Organization –
A good idea here is for the student to keep a master notebook in the form of a three-ring binder with a separate section for each subject; it’s the teacher’s job to make sure everything that goes into the notebook has holes punched and is put on the rings in the correct section. In this day and age of handheld device obsessions and habitual texting habits, it’s a good idea to let the student do as much work as possible on a computer.
But aside from that, materials for each subject should be color-coded and educators should allow time for the student to organize materials and assignments from home (while posting steps for getting ready to go home in order to assist). Finally, it should be ensured that the ADHD student has a system for writing down assignments and important dates – and that he or she USES it.
Teaching Techniques for Students with ADHD and Anxiety
Teaching techniques that help students with anxiety and ADHD focus and maintain their concentration on an educator’s lesson and their own work can be greatly beneficial to the entire class. Here’s an overview of how some of these techniques work:
• Starting a Lesson –
Teachers can signal the start of a lesson with an aural cue, such as an egg timer, a cowbell or a horn (subsequent cues can be used to show how much time remains in a lesson). Additionally, activities of the lesson can be listed on the board, while students can be told what they’re going to learn and what a teacher’s expectations are when opening the lesson. What’s important with ADHD students is establishing eye contact, so this should be figured into a lesson plan.
• Conducting the Lesson –
Instructions should be kept simple and structured, and the pace should be varied while including different kinds of activities. Many students with ADHD do well with competitive games or other activities that are deemed rapid or intense. The use of props, charts and other visual aids are useful, as are unobtrusive cues that can remind the student to stay on task, such as the aforementioned shoulder touch or sticky note on his or her desk. What’s more, an ADHD student should be allowed frequent breaks, and can be allowed to squeeze a rubber ball or tap something that doesn’t make noise as a physical outlet. Educators should try not to ask an ADHD student to perform a task or answer a question out in the open that might be too difficult.
• Ending the Lesson –
Teachers should summarize key points, have three different students repeat any assignments – followed by the entire class saying it in unison before putting it on the board – and be specific about what to take home.
We know that success in school requires children to pay attention to assigned tasks and expectations, and because the student with ADHD is greatly compromised by not being able to accomplish some basic tasks, the key to motivating them is to modify and adjust the learning environment. As adults, we should be continuously trying to challenge the child with ADHD by presenting him or her with activities designed to improve behavior and learning, while simultaneously providing the support that he or she requires to meet these goals.
Support without challenge is meaningless; challenge without support is equally ineffective.