10 Effective Strategies for All Teachers Most of us become teachers because we want to impart knowledge and help children and adolescents experience the joy of learning. In the majority of cases we enjoyed our academic careers because we didn’t struggle a great deal and we were obviously successful. As such, it is difficult to understand how Learning Disabilities or Impairments actually ‘work.’ I’ve heard many teachers say, “If s/he would only apply themselves and put in more effort, s/he would do much better.” This lack of application may be true as motivation is certainly a piece of the puzzle, but this statement abdicates responsibility of the teacher and puts it squarely on the shoulders of the student who has experienced road blocks in most every area of their life and learning. It is the teacher’s responsibility to teach and therefore his/her responsibility to figure out HOW to teach so that each student will reach his/her potential. What if the statement were, “If I just applied myself a little more and put more effort into teaching, my students would do much better.” There is no doubt that if a teacher is motivated to help all students learn or win grants for women and tries hard to develop appropriate strategies, more often than not students will respond in kind and put forth the necessary effort. Let me begin by saying that I am definitely not an expert when it comes to ADHD although I have taught my fair share of student who deal with ADHD every day. I’ve been a teacher for 18 years and have been a special education resource teacher for over 8 of those years. I have been an advocate for students whose learning includes the need for accommodations for the symptoms of their ADHD. Throughout this time, I have had many, many conversation about ‘what it’s like to be inside that brain.’ One of the best analogies was shared with me by a young adult with ADHD who has been attempting to cope, survive and be successful for his entire life. He said: ”It’s like driving your car at 100km/hr during a major snow storm, your children won’t stop fighting in the back seat and your radio is stuck on the 80’s hard rock channel. Your windshield wipers just won’t go fast enough for you to see clearly, the kids won’t let up and no matter how hard you punch the radio it won’t turn off.” Another student who had ADD said: “Every day I tell myself that I’m going to pay attention no matter what. I start out well and then I kind of ‘wake up’ ten minutes later and realize that my math teacher has filled up three full blackboards of notes and I’m still back at the first one!” I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in that ‘type of brain.’There is no doubt that whether your student has ADHD or ADD, their struggle is real and is for the most part out of their control. ADHD is a neurobiopsychosocial disorder, meaning that there are differences in brain functioning which impact how an individual learns and interacts with other people. ADHD cannot be cured and an individual does not ‘outgrow it.’ Instead, the individual must learn to work ‘around it.’ Medication has proven to be safe and effective when properly prescribed and used, and there are no proven long-term risks. Despite the positive effects of medication, students with ADHD still require accommodations as it does not eliminate all symptoms, and it should be noted that not all parents choose to medicate their children. The following are 10 strategies used for getting the most out of your students with ADHD:
- Accept that most of the child’s behaviours associated with ADHD are beyond his/her control.
- A child with ADHD fidgets constantly because they have a difficult time ‘feeling’ their body. As a result they move a lot in order to be physically aware.
- Work WITH the behaviours and not AGAINST them.
- Let the child play with a stress ball, sit on an exercise ball, get up and walk around, etc.
- Create external structures.
- Always have the day’s schedule posted in the classroom (or even on the student’s desk for younger children);
- Colour code homework duo-tang and/or subject binders;
- Provide to-do lists, calendars/agendas to help communicate with home;
- Use alarms (on vibrate to avoid public humiliation) to signal 10 minutes before a change in activity;
- Give lists for backpack, locker or desk, i.e. leaving for school, going home, starting class.
- Strategic seating.
- Depending on the layout of the classroom, the student may be in the front of the class where there are no visual distractions between the teacher and the student OR at the back of the class, so the student can get up and move around without distracting other students.
- Give the student a desk with a larger surface in order to accommodate for disorganization. A visual outline of where things should be placed on the desk can also be helpful.
- A novel idea—give the student a ‘stand up’ desk. The desk is lifted off the floor and the student simply stands to work.
- Allow students to use personal interests to acquire curriculum expectations and create plans for alternative choices.
- Let them choose books of interest and write about topics of interest,
- Use an alternative delivery method of the knowledge they have acquired, and
- Use their area of interest to apply math concepts to empower them and give them a sense of control over their learning, i.e. auto shop, sports. This action counters their ‘out of control’ feelings.
- Break down task into smaller chunks. Students with ADHD are often easily overwhelmed by large quantities of work.
- Give them 2 -3 questions per page. There should be a great deal of white space! You can easily just cut the paper into small bits and give them one at a time. It’s strange, but it works!
- Create step-by-step instructions and make sure they know where to start. Don’t ASK them IF they understand. Ask them to SHOW you they understand!
- Create assignment checklists, so the student knows where to start and can physically check off the tasks. They are often confused about where to start, so they don’t start at all!
- These strategies help them remember what they have been asked to do and keep them on task. Keep in mind that they will always need prompts to look at the list though!
- Yes…But Negotiation Strategy—ADHD kids are tough negotiators: Tell the student “yes” but then indicate what s/he must do to be rewarded.
- Earning things is directly connected to self-esteem -> pride of achievement
- ADHD kids have a false sense of omnipotence: Fun first – work later
- Need to earn it… “I’m not saying no; I’m just teaching you how to get it”
- We need to teach the child to negotiate appropriately by using real world examples
- STOP, DON’T and NO are the worst words to use with ADHD kids
- They need to be told very specifically what you want them TO DO, not what you don’t want them to do!
- Use positive terminology to solicit positive behaviours; for example, “please look at me and put both hands on your desk” instead of “stop that noise and sit still.” Be sure that the student will make another noise!
- Build a relationship with the student!!!
- This strategy is the MOST IMPORTANT as a child with ADHD needs an environment in which s/he feels safe.
- As soon as you are aware that the student has a diagnosis of ADHD, have a private conversation with the student, discuss what strategies works best and set up a plan so that the student doesn’t stand out in the class.
- Show respect for the student’s learning and social needs as it will help the student trust you and in turn be able to come to you with difficulties and concerns.
- Build a relationship with the student’s parents so that clear communication is maintained between home and school; they are so often disorganized, so they need help in ALL areas of their life. The more respectful support they get, the more successful they will be!
If students with ADHD can make it through to the end of high school, they are often very successful adults because they have obviously been able to develop the coping skills necessary to be successful. Adults with ADHD make excellent lawyers as they are able to think on their feet and pay attention to many levels of activity in the courtroom. They also make great policemen and soldiers as they require high structure but are able to handle very stressful and active situations such as combat. As teachers, we need to realize that having ADHD can be extremely frustrating and many students become very discouraged early on especially if they perceive themselves as always being in trouble. It’s beyond their control and as a result they often just give up! The main problem is their average intelligence; they know that they can “do it,” but they just can’t seem to keep it together long enough to actually “do it”! This conflict between having ability but not being able to focus to complete it, affects every aspect of their lives—academic, social, athletic, and professional.
Check out this news clip on stand up desks:
Kelly Pearce is a high school teacher who has a passion for working with students with special needs. She is currently working as a District Special Education Resource Teacher with District School Board Ontario North East and helping principals, teachers, parents and students develop strategies to accommodate their learning needs. She has recently completed an MSW through Laurentian University and is now teaching at Algoma University on a part-time basis.