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Saturday / October 20

Classroom Strategies to Keep Students with ADHD Engaged

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a common condition that every teacher will most likely encounter in the classroom during his or her career. In fact, estimates place the number of school-aged kids who have an ADHD diagnosis at about 11%, or about 1 in every 10 students. The condition changes the way students learn, but that does not mean they will not thrive in school.

There are effective strategies you may implement in the classroom to ensure your students with ADHD have the same opportunity to perform as well as other students.

What is ADHD?

In order to better understand how to help students with ADHD, it’s useful to have an up-to-date understanding of at least the fundamentals of the condition. The National Institute of Mental Health defines ADHD as “a disorder that makes it difficult for a person to pay attention and control impulsive behaviors.” Depending on the type, a student may also be restless and have a need to constantly be active.

Whether or not the percentage of children with ADHD has skyrocketed in recent years is up to debate. However, a few factors may have driven this increase in diagnosis, such as better medical accuracy, less stigma surrounding mental illness, and a resulting overall awareness of ADHD.

ADHD doesn’t manifest itself in just one way. In fact, there are three types of ADHD as defined by the American Psychiatric Association (APA, 2000). It is important to know the difference between the three subtypes and thee behaviors associated with each. Remember, ADHD isn’t a catch-all phrase. You can’t rely on uniform classroom strategies to address it.

What are the different types of ADHD?

Predominantly Inattentive

Students will have a more difficult time concentrating, struggle with organizational skills, and be easily distracted. For example, the student may lose a pencil, print-outs, and other items needed to complete a task. Daydreaming and frequently having trouble remembering directions are also telltale signs. A study showed that students with predominantly inattentive ADHD have a later age of onset and will therefore have a larger effect in middle school and after.

Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive

Students are characterized by impulsivity and overactivity. Educators will find that these students fidget, feel restless, have difficulty sitting still, and constantly chat. Quiet activities may not be the forte here, but you can create hands-on lessons to hone their learning style.

Combined Hyperactive-Impulsive and Inattentive

As the title insinuates, this is a mixture of the above subtypes. The student will show symptoms from both types of ADHD but they will not be exclusively under one category. The student will be inattentive and impulsive to varying degrees.

Keep in mind, no statistically significant differences were found between the groups when examining off-task and/or disruptive behavior during structured and free play observations at school. However, each type of ADHD makes learning in the traditional sense challenging. Each student is unique in her strengths and weaknesses. All students need attention and support from parents and teachers to reach their potential. This is where you come in!

What are some unique strengths of an ADHD brain that a student can leverage?

ADHD isn’t necessarily a disadvantage. In fact, there are some unique advantages. People with ADHD tend to show great creativity, spontaneity, engagement in personal interests, and high energy. ADHD allows for intense focus once a person is able to channel his energy levels into an interest. A student with ADHD will also have strong resilience, as he is excellent at adapting to new strategies and pushing past barriers. Another great ADHD benefit to use as a springboard is the student’s ingenuity and unique way of approaching problems.

Here is how you can help your student be her best self in the classroom!

How can I create an ADHD-friendly classroom environment?

Take a deep breath and let’s leave the frustrations behind. There are many techniques to use in the classroom setting to help a student with ADHD achieve success.

Allow short breaks. Schedule short breaks throughout the day to allow the student to release some energy. Some examples may include a water break, restroom break, and taking a brief walk. Another way to tailor an environment toward your student is to alternate stationary activities with those that allow the student to move his or her body around the room when possible. A few great examples to try out:

  1. Do role-playing activities to showcase new knowledge. Give students a chance to have debates on topics or creatively act out scenarios. Ever thought about spicing up biology class by personifying the mitochondria and nucleus in short 5-minute group plays?
  2. Turn test reviews into games. Jeopardy-style review games are both engaging and competitive, which also makes the information more memorable than a boring paper worksheet.
  3. Have sensory stimulating gadgets in your classroom. Students with ADHD may be tempted to fidget, continuously tap the desk, or touch those around them. Having a squeeze ball or a colorful bubble tumbler available can be a great outlet during breaks or even during a quiet activity to keep hands busy without disturbing others.

Set clear expectations. How do you make expectations clear? Write lesson plans and homework for the day down where the student can always find and read them. Setting these students aside to give them optional office hours or tutoring opportunities during lunch can also help them get through homework assignments that would otherwise take hours to complete alone.

Reward positive behaviors. Creating a behavioral reward system will help a student understand which behaviors are acceptable in class. Keep the student aware of his emotions and resulting behaviors with a behavior chart that rewards behaviors you want to see more of. Keep the behavior plan in plain sight so that all students, not just those with ADHD are on the same page. This way, those with ADHD aren’t called out for their behavior or made to feel uncomfortable.

When implementing the system, be sure to give consequences and rewards immediately following the specific behavior. When rewarding, you can recognize good behavior publicly to bring attention to what’s desired. When giving instructions, it is helpful to be brief and direct for the student.

Getting students with ADHD to focus is not an impossible task. Rather, it’s manageable by recognizing that every student has a different learning style and strengths to leverage. Tweaking your teaching strategies can maximize performance and be rewarding for you as a teacher as well!

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Written by

Brett Farmiloe is a contributing writer for Online Counseling Programs, a website that offers extensive resources surrounding counseling degrees, mental health education and related professions. He is also a backyard chicken farmer who frequently contributes content to Forbes and Huffington Post.

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