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Teaching Students Who Have ADHD:

These are lessons I've been personally learning from my son, Jonathan, who has ADHD, and from my one-of-a-kind-student, Sean, who opened my eyes to what my son faces in the classroom.

* Not everyone fits inside the box we call the classroom and classroom structures--students and teachers included.

Learn to allow students to hang out of the box a little...and allow yourself to do the same, when appropriate.

* As a teacher, I am called to advocate, not judge; I am called to encourage, not predict;

I am called to learn my subject--my students .

* Students with ADHD cannot always change their behavior--I, as a teacher, can change mine.

Learn to recognize the behaviors of the students with ADHD--see resource list for more specific information. We can learn to adjust our teaching styles and help these kids tremendously.

* To respect all students equally means to teach each student individually.

The student who doodles during the lecture may be absorbing every word--learn to recognize and accept and adapt to the differences between visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners.

* To teach students individually requires acknowledgement of how individuals think.

The student with ADHD or other disabilities related to autism may think "visually." In other words, they take mental photographs or movies of life and their thoughts come in pictures, rather than in words. These students have little trouble understanding concrete terms--nouns and verbs can be pictured. Abstract ideas are not as easily understood until a picture can be attached. These kids are excellent at analogous comparisons--just ask them what your 1/2 eaten graham cracker looks like! Yet, no matter what the age, they won't as easily be able to understand a question such as, "Why can't you be content?" if they have no visual reference or analogy for what "content" is. (An interesting and informative book on this topic is Thinking In Pictures by Temple Grandin, a writer who is autistic)


* Students with ADHD may appear to not pay attention at all, but more often it's that they are "hyper-attentive," taking in all of the stimuli around them simultaneously.

These students give the appearance of not listening, yet they are hearing, seeing, feeling everything around them and lack the ability to sort out the important from the unimportant. Learn to limit the amount of stimuli around and in front of the students so that there are fewer obstacles between them and learning. Another reason students appear to not be listening is explained in the article "Blinks."

* "Different" behavior is not necessarily misbehavior.

The kinesthetic learner tap, tap, tapping his pencil on the desk may have no conscious awareness of what he is doing. (Unless of course, it's in detention hall--then the tapping increases in direct proportion to your response). If others are bothered by the noise, learn to silently walk over to the student, gently touch the pencil, look into the student's eyes, and smile. Then watch the student's surprise and positive response as he realizes what he was doing.

* Some people are quieter when they are standing.

Realize that for some students "sitting quietly" after a test or finishing class work is impossible. Learn to accept students' individual needs and allow a place in the room for students who need to stand up to do so. A room in which a few students are standing is sometimes quieter than one in which all students are sitting.

* The impulsive, off-the-subject comment or question often reveals a mind at work.

Students who have ADHD, etc. are often quite creative and bright--they just seem to think on different levels (sometimes even on different planets) than the rest of us. Learn to accept and value those comments and questions--draw the rest of the class into an exploration of ideas which may not exactly fit the "suggested responses" given in the teacher's manual. You'll definitely have some interesting discussions and you'll still get to the point--sooner or later.

* The impulsive, critical comment or interruption must not be taken personally.

People who have attention deficit disorder struggle with interpersonal and social situations because of an inability to monitor other's responses. Learn to wait before responding to what appears to be rudeness--repeat to the student what the student said, tell the student what you heard (including tone, intent so as to help the student learn how to monitor their own tone, etc. better), and then ask the student what he/she meant to say. Often the student will be embarrassed about how he/she came across and will want to correct the situation. An immediate reproof does not help the student learn how his/her bluntness, interruptions, or monologueing affects others, and inhibits further attempts at communication. This is particularly common for females who have ADD and is true for adults with ADD also.


* Students are individuals with a variety of interests and want to learn--even those who seem least motivated or those "not working to their potential."

Often a student who is not meeting expectations is capable of doing more than what has been expected and is not being challenged enough by the class work. Learn to recognize those students and offer independent activities to enrich their experience with you. Be available and eager to discuss topics even if the rest of the class isn't "on that page."

A Few More Lessons From My Heart and Experiences:
* Use multi-sensory approaches to giving information.

* Incorporate small-group discussion prior to whole-class discussion to allow the impulsive students to have their say in a less distracting manner (you'll find that often what they have to say is valuable, when presented at the "right" time).

* Begin and/or end class sessions with an activity such as journal writing or silent reading to help the ADHD students transition into or out of the previous activity.

* Establish a daily routine--warn / advise students of changes in the routine ahead of time; kids with ADHD do not handle change or surprises well--they need to feel in control and this security is lost when something out of the norm takes place. These kids do need to learn flexibility--but it isn't of much value if it's force-fed--if you don't want to let the whole class know of a change, then inform the child's parent. This allows the parent to prepare the child before arriving at school. If it truly must be a surprise, perhaps engage the student's help, so that they are a part of the surprise.

* Provide students with 3x5 note cards on which they can jot down questions they have for you during a lecture or film, when perhaps speaking out would not be appreciated. This satisfies their immediate need to ask, so to speak, and prevents their frustration and worry about forgetting what they wanted to say if they have to wait until later to speak.

* Seat students with ADHD near your desk--close enough that they can talk with you spontaneously (though with the understanding that you will not always allow talking). This provides a sense of security which is often needed by these students, but more importantly, it encourages informal conversation between you and those students, which develops relationships and understanding.

* Use the buddy-system--for yourself! Ask a colleague to share the load, so to speak. If you find yourself having one of those days when you can't deal with the intense behaviors of a child with ADHD, or you're particularly stressed, ask a colleague if he/she could "invite" the student to his or her classroom to help their students. Generally, students with ADHD are of above-average intelligence and their behavior is sometimes due to boredom--find a place in which they can help students--perhaps a grade lower or peers who need extra tutoring. If that is not acceptable, perhaps they could help somewhere else on the campus--pick up the cones on the p.e. field, sharpen pencils in the library. The key is to allow the student some movement and you some breathing room on those "bad days" that we all have. Families call it "going to Grandma's!"

* Be kind and discreet. Share your frustrations with your chosen "buddy," but avoid venting in the teachers lounge. This child is already dealing with one misunderstood label--ADHD; "problem" is not a label that needs to be attached so that all of his future teachers are wary of his arrival to their class. Also, well-meaning teachers may say something with good intentions, but as in the game of telephone, what is reported is not what was meant.

* Be "party-wise." For instance, ask those providing refreshments for a party to avoid foods/drinks with red food coloring--studies show that this dye increases hyperactivity in some children. Limit the amount of stimuli in the room--noises, colors, anything new.

* Meet with parents regularly. Assure the parent that you want to help their child and you want to work with them as a team. Ask parents to keep you informed of changes in the student's medications, and let the parent know when you observe changes in behavior. This will build trust, which will in turn, further increase the child's self-esteem. If the parents do not feel heard or understood, neither will the child--which sometimes fosters a "victim-mentality," harmful to all concerned.

I now step out of the classroom as a teacher, and share a request as a parent:

* Let the parents talk. You may be the only other person who sees what difficulties this parent has been living with, as you spend extended time daily with their child. As much as you want to, or perhaps even feel obligated to offer advice, "be slow to speak." The parents may just need to vent, spill, or cry. Let them know that you do see that their child is different from the others, that he has special needs, and that you do not consider them bad parents (often parents of kids with ADHD have been told this directly or implicitly--it hurts and erodes the parents' courage to face the problems with positive steps.)

A thought: the behavior you must understand and adjust to and cope with and if possible change, during the next 9 months is what the parent has lived with since that child was born. Even so, this parent loves this child -- and trusts teachers to do the same.

All of the above written by Laurie Hagberg, 1998



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   The most valuable reward in teaching
is hearing a student say,
"Thank you for understanding me."

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