It’s hard to believe that another summer has gone by and that it’s time for school once again. I’ve always loved the beginning of a new school year. It’s a refreshing new start and an opportunity to begin with a clean slate. In a few short weeks, the ABC123 Tutoring Program at the LDAWE will recommence for the new school year. For me, it’s always an exciting time as I prepare new language and math activities in anticipation of the students I will be working with and also freshen up some of my existing material. Soon, I will be seeing my students that I have gotten to know very well over the last three years and I will be meeting new students that are joining the program for the first time. My students are all diverse, with their own unique talents and their own set of challenges. It’s a busy time especially in the beginning as I begin to map out the program in ways that will help each individual best. One of the challenges I face is not the materials I prepare or the individual assessments I make. The most difficult part of my job is managing the classroom with so many students, many of who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). “Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurobiological disorder that can be noticed in the preschool or early grades of school. ADHD affects between 5-12% of the population or about 1 or 2 students in every classroom.”
Individuals with ADHD will have at least one symptom that includes: Hyperactivity, Impulsivity and Inattentiveness. (Read more about ADHD signs and symptoms at the LDAO website: http://www.ldao.ca/introduction-to-ldsadhd/introduction-to-ldsadhd/what-is-adhd/) It can be a very busy and loud classroom environment and can be an enormous challenge for even the most seasoned teacher.
I believe that teachers can make the difference for students with ADHD and can contribute to a student’s success in school. How a student feels about himself/herself is important and feeling confident and positive about their capabilities can help them achieve greater success in school. I’ve had the opportunity to try various techniques and classroom management strategies that I’ve read about or learned in other teacher’s classrooms. Over the last three years I have narrowed those ideas down to a few key strategies that work well with my students and help create a positive learning environment for everyone:
- Create classroom rules with students and display them where everyone can see them. Students are great at coming up with rules and will take ownership of the rules when they participate. They are aware of what is acceptable and unacceptable in a classroom environment. Get them involved to get them on board with the rules.
- Refer to the rules when a student is not displaying appropriate behavior. I take it a step further and help the student understand what it is they should be doing instead.
- Provide clear instructions. Breaking down instructions into smaller parts can help keep students stay focused and on task. Giving too much and saying too much can be overwhelming for any student including a student with ADHD.
- Provide frequent breaks. Let’s face it; working hard on school tasks can be too much sometimes, especially for students who struggle. Giving frequent breaks can let them blow off some steam or just relax until they are ready to get back to their work.
- Provide fidget toys or objects. I have a small bin of squeeze toys and balls for my most fidgety students. Having something in their hand helps eliminate some of that energy they have and helps them focus on what they are doing. My rule is that as long as it’s not distracting to others they can use these objects freely.
- Use positive reinforcement. I never want to embarrass my students or punish them for their behavior when I know they have trouble controlling their impulsivity and hyperactivity. I set some goals for each student to work on and reinforce the desired behavior with praise, small prizes or free time.
- Never single out a student. I try not to single out my students or call attention to their ADHD. If I need to speak to them about a behavior I do it discreetly or privately. I also used secret signals with students to let them know when they are off task or when they need to refocus. The last thing a student who already feels alienated from their peers needs is to be humiliated in class in front of their peers.
- Come prepared with lots of patience and kindness. Go with the mindset that students with ADHD can have a hard time learning because of impairment to their executive functions. As teachers we need to be patient and help them navigate through this. It’s not their fault; they are not lazy or stupid. Be kind. Put yourself in your student’s shoes. What if this was you? What if this was your child? As a mother it helps me look at my students as “my kids” and to treat them the way I’d want my child’s teacher to treat him.
I love the time I spend with my students even if it is a challenge at times. I frequently remind myself that even though I have worked with many students with ADHD they are all unique. Strategies that work with one child may not work with another. As a teacher I know I need to be flexible and to treat each student as an individual. I also know that at times I may not have the answer, and I may need to reflect on that. I do try to have fun and not sweat the small stuff; it makes for a more relaxed environment where students are not afraid to be themselves and are more open to learning in a classroom community.
What strategies have you used in your classroom with your students?