ADHD Resources & Strategies For Effective Teaching With Empathy
Students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) often struggle to succeed at school. That’s why it’s so important to develop ADHD strategies for teachers.
Did you know there are at least 1 to 3 students with ADHD in every classroom of 30 students?
Understanding the struggles students with ADHD face
Imagine watching the season finale of your favorite TV show. Just when it starts to get good, someone changes the channel to NBC Nightly News for a few minutes. Then, they turn back to your TV show. Then to another channel and another channel, and then back to your show. How are you supposed to know what happened during the episode?
American Psychiatric Association experts say the scenario described above is what it feels like to have ADHD. Students with the condition say they get a lot of different thoughts at once and don’t know how to sort or make sense of them.
Unfortunately, many students with ADHD are often stigmatized as difficult, defiant, or too demanding. Students with ADHD often struggle with symptoms, including:
- Overactive behavior and hyperactivity
- Impulsive behavior
- Difficulty paying attention
ADHD affects each student in different ways and can even overlap with other learning and behavioral conditions. Some students may struggle with one of the symptoms while others struggle with a combination of all of them. These symptoms can present themselves in a number of ways:
- Tendency to rock in their chair
- Easy to distract or often distracts others
- Turns in sloppy or unfinished work
- Can act impulsively or recklessly
- Loses things often
- Sometimes forgetful
These uncontrollable traits can cause students with ADHD to stand out from their peers and struggle to “fit in.” Oftentimes, these students end up getting bullied for being “different,” causing feelings of low self-esteem.
Ultimately, the symptoms that come with having ADHD often create barriers for students living with the condition to become uninterested in school altogether. That’s why it’s so important to find ways to create a safe and supportive learning environment for students with ADHD.
Foundational strategies for teaching students with ADHD
Next to parents, teachers play one of the most impactful roles in shaping the success or failure students experience on a daily basis, especially if those students are living with ADHD. That’s because students with ADHD typically require more attention than their peers. So, how do you find the balance between the two?
Being fair isn’t about giving every student the same exact treatment; it’s about giving every student what they need. Here are some strategies that can help you create an inclusive environment for all students, with or without ADHD:
Help everyone stay organized with rules and routines
Create a set of rules and routines that provide structure while leaving room for flexibility. Many students with ADHD don’t know how to behave in new situations unless told. Classroom rules give everyone a shared understanding of what’s expected. Oh, and make sure to post the rules in a visible place in your classroom. That way, you have a physical reminder to reference whenever anyone misbehaves or doesn’t stay on task.
Another strategy you can use is dedicating a specific spot on the board as the place where all classroom and homework assignments are listed, along with due dates. Try reminding students to look at the board before and after class so they know what they should be working on or turning in—do this until it becomes routine.
Encourage students with ADHD to check in with you before the end of class to ensure they understand what’s due and when. And make sure they feel comfortable asking questions if they’re unsure of what they should be doing.
The ADHD Foundation suggests helping students with ADHD learn to perform tasks in three stages:
- Stage One: Stop and Listen
Remind them the importance of listening. This will help them better understand what they’re learning and keep track of any associated assignments.
- Stage Two: Look and Think
Ask them to keep a close eye on peers for a reminder of what they should be doing. They can also look to the dedicated “assignment section” of the board for direction.
- Stage Three: Decide and Do
From here, they can get to work. And encourage them to ask you questions if they ever feel lost.
The ADHD Foundation says to try taking situations stage by stage to help students with ADHD find their independence and learn to succeed using their own devices. The key is to reinforce instructions and stay positive every step of the way.
Students with ADHD feel more comfortable when they know what to expect. Routines and rituals like these help them become familiar with what they need to do every day. If there are any changes to the classroom’s everyday routines, be sure to alert students with ADHD first.
Incentivize students using a reward system
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) experts say students with ADHD respond well to incentives tied to short-term goals. Try creating a reward system that encourages good behavior and discourages bad behavior through incentives like points, stickers, or merits. Below, see an example of creating a points-based reward system:
ENCOURAGING GOOD BEHAVIOR
DISCOURAGING BAD BEHAVIOR
Turning in homework on time
Disorganized and messy assignment
Impeccable penmanship and organization
Disorganized and messy assignment
Helping a classmate understand a complex lesson
Making fun of a classmate for getting an answer wrong
That way, the whole class can enjoy a friendly competition working to win “good behavior” points. This also gives you an opportunity to recognize and praise students whenever they’re doing something good. The ADHD Foundation warns that with students with ADHD, it’s not just the reward that matters, it’s who gives the reward to them.
Targeted teacher strategies for ADHD
As we mentioned earlier, students with ADHD feel more comfortable when sticking to a well-known routine. Here are some targeted strategies to help prevent situations from going awry:
Where to seat students with ADHD
Students with ADHD tend to get over-stimulated when working in large groups like a classroom. Try to seat students with ADHD near the front of the classroom or as close as possible to where you’ll be standing while giving lectures. You can also prevent distractions by seating them away from doors and windows. Experts also recommend seating students with ADHD at single desks; at most, seat them at a two-person desk.
Try to also have a secluded workstation that faces a wall just in case a particular classroom setting gets too chaotic for students with ADHD. This work station should not be used as a disciplinary function but to help the student with ADHD better focus when working on a classroom assignment.
Pair students with ADHD with a peer mentor or buddy
Sometimes, it’s tough to keep an eye on every student. This is where a buddy system can help you spread your attention where it’s most necessary while also managing students with ADHD.
Consider pairing students with ADHD with a student they consider a positive role model and also known for following directions. Ask the peer mentor to help you keep their buddy on track by reminding them of classwork and homework. That way, the student with ADHD has an example to mimic or use for reference.
Helping students with ADHD organize their thoughts
Students with ADHD sometimes have trouble performing tasks in the right order. Try creating a specific sequence of events for every activity or assignment. Creating a clear step-by-step plan not only helps students with ADHD understand what they should be doing but also prepares them for what’s coming next.
Help them stay on track by giving them an overview of the goal they’re trying to achieve and why it’s important. Describe the sequence of events necessary to achieve that goal. Then, have them repeat it back to you. You can even make it fun by asking them to describe every step in 30 seconds or less.
Use sticky notes, to-do lists, and flashcards as reminders
It’s important to teach students with ADHD time management and planning skills. Help them color code their homework in a planner where you can also include reminders, notes, and to-do lists. Work with parents to create flashcards that will help students with ADHD remember these tactics.
Attach these reminders to relevant places like their book bag, inside the assigned reading, to a specific folder, or to their computer. These reminders can serve as memory prompts. And encourage students with ADHD to follow your lead by creating reminders for themselves and to not just rely on you to do it for them. Remember, they’ll be out in the real world on their own one day. The tactics you teach them now can very well help them in the future.
Getting students settled after a recess or break
It’s important to prepare students with ADHD for any kind of transition. Students with ADHD sometimes struggle to get back into gear after a break like recess or lunchtime. A few minutes before the break is over, you can help them wind down by asking them to assist you with an activity like cleaning the board before classmates return. Or, you can try a classroom breathing activity where every student takes a few deep breaths together before getting back into the swing of things.
Be as proactive (and less reactive) as possible. If students with ADHD continue to fidget, give them something to help them refocus their attention while still being able to listen to what’s going on in class. Tangible objects like a fidget spinner or stress ball really help in times like these.
Preparing students with ADHD for homework
Did you know it takes a student with ADHD 3X as long to do an assignment at home compared to doing it at school?
Sometimes, it might be helpful to reduce or differentiate homework assignments for students with ADHD to only what’s necessary or essential.
Here are a few ideas on how to do that:
- Try a combination of one-word and multiple choice answers instead of essays.
- Give them a choice between a written essay, oral report, a series of quizzes, or project.
- Consider having the student complete all their homework at school before going home.
These ideas can help the student avoid at-home comforts from distracting them from what they need to do. Whichever tactic you choose, be sure to make sure the assignment and what’s expected is clear to students with ADHD.
How to communicate effectively with students with ADHD
Feedback is essential to the success of students with ADHD. And be as specific as possible when giving feedback. Sometimes students with ADHD might be off task because they’ve simply forgotten what they’re supposed to be doing. Instead of merely telling them to get back to work, tell them exactly what they should be doing. For instance, “Tawny, please finish your word problems silently.”
The same goes for when they’re doing something right or wrong. Tell them exactly what they are or aren’t being praised for in specific terms. This will give them a better understanding of what kind of behavior is expected.
Here’s an example:
When a student with ADHD calls out answers without raising their hand, remind the whole class this behavior is inappropriate. If the behavior continues, say something like, “It makes it difficult for the entire class to hear the lesson when people call out answers. Please try not to interrupt me unless you raise your hand and wait for your turn to contribute.”
Here’s another example:
Let’s say a student with ADHD keeps bothering the person sitting next to them when it’s time to be working. Say something like, “Tawny, please stop talking to Raphy and listen to me. Please finish reading Chapter 13 before your reading time ends.”
And remember, praise the effort, not the ability. The most important thing is that the student with ADHD tries.
It’s crucial to also communicate with both students with ADHD and their family as often as possible. Discuss strategies that work and don’t work both at home and inside the classroom.
Pro tip: Praise students with ADHD for good behavior often; it’s proven to improve their concentration skills.
Dealing with outbursts
The best strategy to prevent outbursts is to give students with ADHD plenty of warning before any kind of transition or change to a routine. Sometimes, students with ADHD get deeply focused in a particular activity or task they’re interested in and have trouble shifting their focus.
But what do you do when life throws you a curveball and things don’t go as planned? If a student with ADHD starts to get frustrated and begins acting out, the most important thing you need to remember is to stay calm and remain in control of the situation.
Instead of immediately reprimanding the student, ask them questions to help them remember how to behave. Ask questions like, “Is this a good or bad choice,” or, “What should you be working on right now?” This will help them realize that their behavior might be inappropriate.
Another strategy you can use to help resolve an outburst is performing a physical activity where the student with ADHD mirrors your behavior or has to follow your directions. One way you can do this is asking the student to follow your finger with their eyes as you move it from side to side. Explore different strategies until you find one that works for your student.
Quick teacher tips to use for students with ADHD
- Allow breaks or time to move and exercise
- Try to always address the student by name
- Speak as clearly and concisely as possible
- Use an even tone and avoid showing emotions
- Be specific whenever giving directions or instructions
- Give instructions using a step-by-step process
Keeping a growth mindset toward students with ADHD
It’s easy to feel flustered, frustrated, or even annoyed when dealing with students with ADHD. But the important thing to keep in mind is that they’re not behaving the way they are on purpose. ADHD is a medical condition; the reality is that students who live with the condition require a different type of support than their peers, depending on how severe their symptoms display.
Empathy and acceptance are key to supporting students with ADHD, along with an openness to adapt your teaching strategies to help them learn more effectively.
American Psychiatric Association research tells us that students with ADHD often feel like they’re in trouble. Experts say this makes it difficult for them to deal with criticism and can cause them to act out in defiant or hostile ways. That’s why your reaction to this type of behavior is so crucial; it can impact their view of school and learning. It’s important to ensure students with ADHD feel like education has not—and will not—give up on them.
Try to manage difficult situations with a positive attitude. And although it might not always be easy, it’s important to the success of students with ADHD. Oftentimes, all you need to do is reframe your perspective. Here are a few examples of doing just that:
- Instead of thinking of the student as easily distracted, think of them as having high levels of awareness.
- Instead of thinking of the student as bored or restless, think of them as energetic.
- When the student goes off into a tangent, see it as a form of individualism.
- If the student interrupts you often, that probably means they’re excited about what they’re learning.
- If the student is forgetful, try remembering it might be because they’re getting lost in their thoughts and need help organizing them.
When letting a student with ADHD know their behavior is inappropriate, try to ensure they understand it’s their behavior you don’t appreciate, not the student as a person. And remember, other students will follow your lead. If you treat students with ADHD with compassion and understanding, other students are likely to do the same.
Keeping a growth mindset approach like this helps build positive relationships with students with ADHD. And hopefully, helps forge a pathway to success in school and wherever life takes them.
ADHD resources for teachers
Interested in looking for more ways to support your students with ADHD? Here are a few resources that can help:
ADHD Awareness Month takes place throughout the month of October. The organization who started this movement also provides downloadbale resources vetted by national experts. You can print them out and start using them in your classroom and community now.
The Teaching Channel released this 11-minute video about how to teach students with ADHD effectively. But our favorite part about this resource isn’t the video; it’s the thread of comments that follow it. There are more than 100 comments of teachers sharing real-life moments they have with students who struggle with the condition. The teachers in the thread are constantly sharing new strategies, solutions, and advice.
The CDC provides countless fact sheets with everything from basic information about the condition to possible treatments and medication.
CHADD’s mission is to improve the lives of people affected by ADHD. If you scroll to the bottom of the link provided, you’ll find resources specifically made for educators. These informational resources provide guidance on how to teach students with ADHD mather, reading, writing, and more. CHADD also offers a Teacher Training Program where teachers share strategies that help students with ADHD succeed.
The #1 ADHD resource for teachers are your student’s families
One of the best resources you’ll find that’s not online are the families of students with ADHD. They often have insight that might be a game-changer in your classroom. Turn to them for an understanding of what your student needs to succeed. And remember, they are your greatest ally for doing exactly that.
Work together with families to create a treatment plan that works for the student. Keep families updated on what’s due and when. Encourage them to enforce organizational strategies that keep the student on track at home, as well as in the classroom. Communicate regularly about problems and solutions. And most importantly, inform them of how ADHD can affect their student’s education.
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