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February 21, 2018

4 Proven Strategies for Teaching Students with ADHD

Early in my career, I was teaching a small special education reading group a riveting lesson about digraphs. Partway through the lesson, one of my students (I’ll call her Sarah) interrupted by asking, “Mrs. Rockwell, didn’t you get a good night’s sleep last night?”

Confused, in more ways than one, I answered, “I think I slept fine last night, why?”

“You look tired,” she added, as she continued to study my face.

Feeling too rushed to get through the district-mandated scripted reading lesson, I moved on without giving Sarah’s comment another thought. Later, I caught my reflection in the mirror: I had forgotten to apply eye make-up that morning (I usually don’t leave the house without mascara). I did, indeed, look tired! Sarah has Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and often gets distracted. Sometimes it’s other students, sometimes it’s noises outside; in this case, it was my tired-looking eyes that inadvertently distracted her.

Perhaps you have a student like Sarah in your class? As a former special education teacher with 14 years of teaching experience, I have worked with several students with ADHD, each with unique characteristics. Sarah demonstrated mainly inattentive characteristics, while other students presented more hyperactive and impulsive characteristics. A few of my students struggled with regulating their emotions and maintaining friendships, while others struggled with organization, time management, and completing tasks.

In honor of ADHD Awareness Month, I would like to share four of my favorite, go-to methods for teachingstudents with ADHD. Perhaps these methods can also be beneficial for your students?

1. Movement Breaks

To manage both hyperactive and inattentive behaviors, I incorporated “movement breaks” several times throughout each day for my students. This was as simple as standing up to stretch, striking a fun yoga pose, or taking a quick lap around the school. At least once per week, I would throw a “one song dance party.” I am a terrible dancer, but this truly was a great way to re-energize and refocus everyone involved. My students made song requests for upcoming dance parties and they invited special guests, such as the principal, to join in on the fun. I found that even short movement breaks provided an energy release for my students with ADHD, which refocused and relaxed them, making them ready to learn.

2. A Consistent, Structured Schedule

Students with ADHD thrive when they know what to expect throughout the day, so posting a consistent, structured daily schedule or class agenda in my classroom helped my students stay on-task during instruction times and organized during transitions. When there were inevitable schedule changes, I would inform my students in advance of what to expect. During independent work time and other less-structured parts of the day, I provided clear expectations and used a timer to encourage my students to work on a given task until the timer went off, promoting focus and time management.

3. Share Time

To increase social skills and academic achievement, I facilitated a brief “share time” on a regular basis in my classroom. Students would tell the class what they did over the weekend or they would share something they were looking forward to later that day. Sharing helped students find common interests, which fostered relationships for those who had difficulty with maintaining friendships. Through share time, I also learned so much valuable information about my students, including what they were interested in. Because students with ADHD often struggle with academics, I tailored my lesson plans around their interests and strengths to promote success.

4. Calming/Relaxation Strategies & Visuals

Students with ADHD often experience feelings with greater intensity than other students and they need support with regulating their emotions. Some go-to calming techniques my students used include: deep breathing, slowly counting backwards from 10, using positive self-talk, requesting a walk to the drinking fountain or to the bathroom, drawing, reading a book, listening to calming music, and squeezing a stress ball. It is important that students learn and practice calming/relaxation strategies before experiencing strong feelings or losing control. We practiced various techniques as a whole group on a regular basis (for example: first thing in the morning and right after lunch). Using visuals, I posted a menu of my students’ favorite relaxation techniques on the wall to refer to as needed. Visuals are an effective method for students with ADHD to regain control of their emotions and behaviors.

Although there is definitely not a one-size-fits-all approach to working with students with ADHD, I found these four methods to be invaluable for many of my students. If I could go back to that digraphs lesson with Sarah (aside from remembering to apply mascara that morning), I would have recognized that Sarah was not engaged in my lesson and I would have incorporated a movement break and/or somehow made the lesson more relevant to my students’ interests. We don’t always have control of the factors that distract our students, but we can be prepared with effective methods to help them focus, learn, and be successful. What tried and true methods have worked for you?


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