Strategies and Tips for Teaching Kids With ADHD
ADHD — one of the most common childhood neurodevelopmental disorders — is typically identified in children after they begin attending school. Today, an estimated 6.1 million U.S. children have an ADHD diagnosis.
While an official ADHD diagnosis comes from a medical professional, teachers play a role in helping students with ADHD learn to adapt and overcome the limitations this disorder presents. Whether you’re a special education teacher or a teacher with a student with ADHD in a general education classroom, the challenges of effectively teaching a student with ADHD can be significant. From issues with classroom management to a lack of support from administrators or parents, there are many reasons teachers may struggle to provide adequate help for the students who really need it.
The good news is that even with those challenges, it is possible for students with ADHD — and their teachers — to thrive every day. By making some small, impactful changes to classroom activities and overall attitudes, a teacher has the opportunity to positively impact their students with ADHD for many years to come.
The Challenges of Teaching Students With ADHD
ADHD can magnify the typical challenges that are faced in a general education classroom, especially in school districts where there is a lack of funding or a shortage of qualified teachers. In these cases, teachers tend to be overworked or overwhelmed because they are working with students they may feel unqualified to teach.
The following are specific areas where teachers may experience difficulty when teaching students with ADHD:
Teachers of students with ADHD may devote a lot of time to developing and maintaining an up-to-date Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to track a student’s progress and identify potential problems. Keeping track of a student’s progress is essential to their success in school because this is often how problems are addressed. But the amount of time and paperwork IEPs require can weigh down even the most experienced teachers.
In some cases, a special education teacher may oversee IEPs for students in several general education classes, checking in with their teachers for updates on academic progress and seeing students a few times a week for additional help. In other cases, students with ADHD may have other disabilities that require them to spend their school days in special education classrooms. In both cases, teachers must maintain accurate and up-to-date paperwork to define goals and track progress.
For special education teachers who don’t see each student with ADHD on a daily basis, this can be especially challenging because they may have the added step of collecting information from one or more teachers to compile it into one file for each student.
2. Lack of Support
Some teachers may face a lack of support from the parents of students with ADHD. When there is a lack of expectations and consistency at home, learning strategies and routines a teacher tries to implement in the classroom may not be effective. Parents who are unable or unwilling to maintain regular communication and support a teacher’s classroom expectations can also make it more difficult for teachers to make progress with their students.
In other cases, the lack of support may come from the school’s administration or the school district as a whole. Many schools are tight on money, and administrators are being pressured to achieve more results with less funding. In some districts, special education programs may not have the funding they need to hire an adequate number of teachers or purchase the equipment they need to teach effectively. Teachers may be expected to keep up with a large number of students without having the time or money they need to be successful.
Finding the time to maintain communication with parents, complete paperwork, grade papers and teach can be difficult for teachers. Meetings must be scheduled during planning time or after school, cutting into a teacher’s time to update lesson plans or spend time with their family. Added to that are the challenges of scheduling IEP meetings that take parental and administration schedules into account, which can sometimes feel impossible.
4. Behavior Management
Behavior management is a big part of teaching a child with ADHD. Because of their disability, they may easily become frustrated with school and their teacher may often get the brunt of their frustration. Managing these emotions in a classroom setting can sometimes take time away from instruction or other daily activities. On a larger level, teaching a child with ADHD requires a lot of time and effort spent identifying their triggers and emotions and then teaching them how to control those emotions.
Teachers may also spend extra time figuring out the best way to present the material so these students can learn effectively. They may need to devote time to help students stay organized, maintain planners or homework calendars and create an organizational system that keeps their students on track and focused each day. Often, they need to maintain communication with parents on a regular basis, sending daily progress emails or making regular phone calls to parents to update them on their child’s behavior and progress.
Tips for Teaching Students With ADHD
Though teachers face several challenges when it comes to teaching students with ADHD, it’s possible to ease their burden and help students with ADHD succeed. The following are a few tips to help make effective shifts:
1. Establish Rules
Every good classroom has a short, simple list of rules to follow. These should be clearly laid out and posted from the beginning of the school year. Rules can be more effective for students with ADHD when they are incorporated into their daily routine. This can be done by incorporating strategies for ADHD classroom management into your daily schedule. For example, instead of simply saying, “No talking when you come to class,” tell students, “When you arrive, sit down quietly and begin the math problems on the board.” Consistently modeling this and other behaviors every day can go a long way toward teaching students what you expect.
2. Create a Routine
Routines are essential when teaching students with ADHD because they help students stay on task. For example, place homework assignments in the same spot every day or write them on the same place on the board, and take a few minutes at the end of class to go over them so students know what’s expected of them. Stick to the same basic daily schedule, and be sure to incorporate time to move around or engage in physical activity.
3. Make Learning Personalized
Though every child needs to receive the same educational material, they don’t all have to be taught the same way. Some students may struggle to sit still long enough to complete assignments, while others struggle more with organization and remembering to complete each step in an assignment.
Consider providing hands-on activities to present the material or allowing students to “teach” each other by breaking into small groups. Incorporating manipulatives and more interactive activities and games into the classroom may also keep students engaged and focused. It may be beneficial to break down an assignment into several smaller steps, providing students with a checklist they can mark when they complete each step.
4. Offer Choices
Many times, offering several choices for how to finish an assignment can produce better results and prevent negative emotions from overwhelming a student with ADHD. For example, if you want a student to practice a set of vocabulary words, allow them to choose between writing each word in a sentence, creating their own flashcards or air-writing each word. In math, you can give them choices between a worksheet, answering problems on the board or using a calculator to complete assignments.
5. Communicate Intentionally
With a classroom full of students, it can be easy to forget that each student is an individual. Taking the time to greet each student by name, inquire about their interests and answer their questions goes a long way toward their academic success, especially for students with ADHD.
Maintaining positive feedback is also important. For example, when a student with ADHD completes an assignment, use positive praise, such as “You’re doing a great job!” If they are exhibiting negative behavior in the classroom or struggling to keep up with schoolwork, ask questions like, “Is this a good choice?” or, “Let’s talk this through,” to get a positive conversation going.
6. Fit Assignments to Attention Span
Students with ADHD will likely struggle to complete long assignments. Be sure that they’re seated in an area in the classroom that provides minimal distractions, then make accommodations for finishing assignments, such as allowing them extra time to finish a test or allowing them to complete an assignment in stages rather than all at once.
Besides allowing accommodations for assignments, think about a student with ADHD as you’re planning assignments. Asking yourself, “Will this set them up for failure or success?” is a great way to start, and anticipating problems in advance gives you time to plan for alternatives or accommodations. This can also help avoid emotional meltdowns that might otherwise take away from instructional time.
7. Build in Time for Breaks
Allowing time for movement in between assignments, such as a bathroom break or recess, can go a long way toward helping students pay attention at the most important moments. If a student with ADHD needs opportunities for movement and its not time for a formal recess, consider asking them to run an errand to the office or help with a chore around the classroom. If it’s not possible to allow for breaks, allowing them to keep a manipulative, such as a squeeze ball, at their desk may also help them by giving them an alternative outlet for movement when they have to stay seated.
8. Integrate Movement and Mindfulness Into Lessons
Some of the common symptoms of ADHD — including lack of concentration, clumsiness, hyperactivity, distractability and nervousness — can get in the way of effective learning. Rather than fight against these symptoms, incorporate short times of movement and mindfulness into the day’s schedule. Activities like yoga, Zumba or even a short walk can improve focus and improve a student’s ability to sit through and comprehend the lesson of the day.
Similarly, mindfulness exercises can help students with ADHD focus on their thoughts and feelings. When they are better able to pay attention to their emotional state, they can better control themselves and prevent meltdowns or emotional outbursts later in the day.
9. Support Engagement and Participation
A teacher’s role is twofold — to present new material and to support children in their own discovery. The goal as a teacher isn’t to stand in front of the class and tell them things they need to know. It’s to encourage them to engage with the material being presented in a way they will remember it later. This is true for all teacher-student relationships, but it’s essential when teaching students with ADHD. This may be as simple as moving a child with ADHD to the front of the room where there are fewer distractions or pairing students with a homework buddy to offer accountability to ensure homework assignments aren’t forgotten or overlooked.
Teachers can also encourage student engagement by helping them get organized. Take note of potential pitfalls and address them. Does a student with ADHD regularly forget assignment due dates? Help them set up a planner and check it at the end of every day. Hang a large calendar in the classroom and use it to make note of important due dates. Does a student with ADHD lose assignments or forget to take the necessary supplies home each evening? You could create a color-coded folder system and put take-home assignments in the same color folder each day. You could also create a checklist of necessary materials and work with the student to check off necessary items each day before they leave school.
10. Reward Good Behavior
Some children with ADHD spend a lot of time being corrected or reprimanded for their negative behaviors. Praising good behavior and offering rewards when appropriate can make a huge difference in a child’s confidence. One of the best things a teacher can do is look for daily ways to encourage and praise a student with ADHD. Be on the lookout for daily behavior victories or a personal best on a test grade, and be sure to provide specific and immediate praise. Offering praise in the middle of the situation can go a long way in providing motivation and confidence to continue the behavior later.
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As a teacher, your days are full. There are lesson plans to write, papers to grade and students to teach. Working with a student with ADHD can create additional challenges, but those challenges don’t have to be a burden. Students with ADHD are smart and creative kids who often need a teacher who is willing to adapt to their unique way of seeing the world. By making small changes to the classroom — like adding visual aids, incorporating stretch breaks and developing more hands-on learning opportunities — teachers can encourage students with ADHD to reach their full potential.
At Enabling Devices, we offer a range of products to help teachers and students make the most of their time in the classroom. For more than 40 years, our company has been creating and manufacturing products that improve the quality of life and learning for children and adults with a wide range of disabilities.