ADHD: Approaching Discipline as a Teacher

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How should the teacher approach discipline?

I have to admit this subject has always been a difficult one for me as an educator. On one hand I understand the implications of ADHD and understand that behaviors that typically require some sort of discipline in a school setting stem from impulse and behavior issues that the child does not necessarily have full control over. On the other hand, how can a teacher like myself allow these behaviors to go unchecked and set a bad example for the rest of my students that I:
a) am a pushover,
b) expect and encourage disruptive behaviour, or
c) am oblivious to the environment in my own classroom.

So then how do we as educators overcome this double edge sword?

First, teachers need to understand that often, children with ADHD don’t always realize why they’re in trouble. For example, when the teacher tells Sarah not to interrupt and she says, “I didn’t,” it sounds like she’s being argumentative or making excuses. In fact, Sarah may have no idea she was interrupting. So from her point of view, she can’t understand, first, why she was accused of something she didn’t do, and second, why the teacher won’t let her defend herself.

In one study, a group of non-ADHD children and those with ADHD were given fictional scenarios of disruptive behavior and asked to explain what was going on. A significant difference emerged: Most children thought that the child in the example could have controlled his behavior if he chose to; those with ADHD thought the fictional child couldn’t control the behavior, and they identified outside forces that provoked it–for example, “His friends bug him all the time.” (source-From The Attention Deficit Answer Book: The Best Medications and Parenting Strategies for Your Child by Alan Wachtel, M.D. Copyright � 1998)

From the perspective of someone with ADHD, this view makes perfect sense. They know that in many cases they themselves can’t control their own behavior. So it’s not surprising that they feel persecuted when a teacher, parent, or peer blames them for their actions. If you got blamed because it happened to pour rain at your soccer game you’d feel persecuted too!

In the classroom, I think the teacher must walk the fine line between responsibility and blame. It’s important for the teacher to impart a sense of responsibility to the child for his actions, and to help him understand the consequences of those acts–but to do it in a way that doesn’t make the child feel persecuted.

It’s a tough challenge. One way to approach it is by acknowledging the difficulties while expressing confidence in the child’s ability to overcome them and offering a concrete strategy for doing so. For example, the teacher might tell a child, “I know it’s hard for you to sit still on the bus. I think it will be easier if you sit next to me so that I can remind you to sit down.” Even though the outcome may be the same, that approach sends a much more positive message than simply telling the child to sit next to you on the bus.

How have you approached discipline in the classroom/and or at home for undesirable behaviour? Do you feel that acknowledging your perspective has allowed you to accept disciplinary measures more readily and to learn from them and not take offense?

ADHD in the classroom, maintaining order while providing a flexible learning environment for all.

Reach for the Top 9As many of us reading this post are aware, kids with ADHD can sometimes act without thinking, can be hyperactive, and have trouble focusing. They may understand what’s expected of them but have trouble following through because they have difficulty sitting still, paying attention, or attending to details. (source kidshealth.org)

As an experienced educator working with young children for over a decade, I understand that most of the time disruptive behavior is not intentional. Never the less , it can be very distracting to the classroom learning environment. One solution would be to teach in a physically active and stimulating environment at all times. However, in addition to burning myself out doing this on a daily basis (don’t get me wrong, I would if it was the only option for the success of my students!) we also know that all students do not learn in the same way and some children require more “down-time” so they themselves do not suffer form the same ” burn-out”. Therefore, in our regular classroom where several students needs are to be met, this constant “up and moving” classroom is not feasible.

Listed below are some solutions to minimize disruption in the classroom and allow children who have ADHD and other children to have an outlet without forcing the entire classroom to partake at once.

Solutions in the Classroom

The number one thing teachers can do to help ADHD students squirm and fidget less is to provide physical outlets that let them regularly release pent-up energy and improve focus.

1)Send students with ADHD on errands. Ask your ADHD students to deliver a message to another class or take a note to the office. These tasks help kids build a sense of self-worth while providing an opportunity to stretch their legs and move around.

2)Let students stand and walk around between lessons. One teacher, for example, put a mini-trampoline in her classroom for kids who got restless. In the beginning of the school year, everyone used it frequently; but after the novelty wore off, only the ADHD students who needed to use it continued to do so. Another teacher let students use exercise balls instead of chairs so ADHD students could move around a bit, but still stay seated.

3)Provide fidget objects. These object can include worry beads, Wikki Stix, and squeeze balls—anything that can be quietly squished or handled. Not having to focus on staying absolutely still conserves the student’s energy for focusing on class lessons.
(Tip: Attach squeeze balls to the desk, so they don’t get hurled across the room!)

4)Keep lessons short and provide frequent breaks. You can even do this during tests if you sense that a student needs to move.

Does anyone have other methods, tips and tricks they have used?

In my next post I will discuss the topic of discipline for a child with ADHD from a teachers standpoint.

The Write Stuff: Handwriting Difficulty in Young Learners

Multiple-print-reversals-e1331590434434-300x286The first time I reviewed my son’s grade one assessment binder that came home from school I was overcome with worry.  Flipping through the pages, I noticed that every page had some letter or number reversal.   I got even more concerned as I read his teacher’s notes about the number of reversals he was making.  I had excused his writing because of his young age but now having a seasoned grade one teacher comment was making the gears in my head turn.  As a teacher myself who works with students with learning disabilities, letter reversals in writing is not new to me.   I knew how to help my son; I had all the right tools to help him improve his writing, tools that I regularly use with my students.  What I didn’t know was why these reversals occur and what is typical for younger children and what isn’t.  I dove right into books and articles to learn as much as I could about letter reversals in children.

frustrated writingWhat I learned from my research was that letter reversals in young children were common until about age 8 because generally, children do not develop directionality until that age.  Directionality means up/down, right/left and forward/backward.  Another issue is that some children do not learn to properly form their letters and what helps is to re-teach them how to write.  I also learned that for children who have dyslexia, 8 out of 10 will have an issue with directionality.   Younger children who have Dysgraphia will have trouble with forming letters, maintaining word spacing, and will complain about having sore hands.  These students may also have trouble forming ideas about what to write about.  Their writing may be illegible and may not fall on lines or within the page margins.

It’s a lot of information to take in and in my son’s case I’m not yet sure if the writing troubles are because of his age (he’s in the second grade now) or because there is an underlying issue affecting his handwriting.  As an educator, I know these handwriting issues will not just disappear regardless of the outcome and some work needs to be done.  While I strongly support modification and accommodation to support a student with difficulties I am an advocate for remediation in whatever capacity possible.   It’s the basis of our ABC123 Tutoring Program and it’s what I utilize with my students and my own son.

wetdrytryIn the ABC123 program, I have used the Handwriting Without Tears  program and while researching writing difficulties I came across their iPad app Wet-Dry-Try  and purchased it to try with my son.   He immediately took to the program and was willing to practice printing.  With the program he learned to properly form his letters from top to bottom, something I had tried to do with paper and a pencil, but which only frustrated him.  The app has been a game changer in our home, and my son has been learning how to form his uppercase and lowercase letters and numbers.

With students who have difficulty with writing it’s important to learn what strategies will work best for them.  For my son it was the iPad, for others it may be paper with raised lines or finding the right pen or pencil.  Practicing letter shapes through motor activities such as finger tracing in a tray of sand, or forming individual letters and numbers with play-doh are other methods that help students learn.  It’s also important to ensure that the student is using good writing hygiene, meaning that they are sitting properly, holding the paper down and have a good grip on the pencil since many of these bad habits will be harder to unlearn later on.  With many of my students, their grip is awkward which makes writing with a pencil difficult.   A strategy I learned from an occupational therapist was to have the student ball up a tissue in their hand to grip their pencil (see picture below).  For my son and many of my student’s it’s helped to find a commercial pencil grip that works for them.

kleenex grip

In the end, a wait and see approach is risky and many bad writing habits are difficult to change later on.  If you have a child or student with a writing difficulty, it’s beneficial for them (Dysgraphia or not) to try to remediate these difficulties because it’s likely that they will not improve on their own.  After remediation has been thoroughly examined accommodations such as keyboarding or Assistive Technology can be further explored.  For my son, I am taking it one day at a time and working with him to improve his printing for now.

To read more about Dysgraphia and the warning signs: http://www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities/dysgraphia/what-is-dysgraphia

The night is always darkest…

High school and AD(H)D is like oil and water; you can mix them as rigorously as possible, yet they will always continue to separate.  The trick is to understand they don’t mix as well as other substances.  Teachers, parents, IEPs, and IPRCs are the breads and flours we need to complete this mix.  It takes the right combination of each to get a solid mixture.

When my mom got the call from Mr. Cousineau, she knew that I was finally going to receive the help I needed.  We met with Mr. Cousineau at the end of the school year, probably with a week or so of school left.  It was my grade 12 year, and next year I would be challenging myself with the OAC courses as I prepped myself for university.  Everyone wanted me to transition successfully to university–everyone except me; I just didn’t care.

We sat down with Mr. Cousineau, a tall, beefy, foot-ball-coaching type of guy.  He was calm, and reserved.  My mom sat down, ready to tear into him as a representative of the failed system that left me for educational-death.  Mr. Cousineau made a quick move as he introduced him self:

“Thanks for coming, I’m Mr. Cousineau (I’m sure he used his first name; I just don’t remember it,) and I’m just distraught and so sorry.”

And just in that introduction my mom was stunned to silence.  Now, if you knew anything of my mom, silence does not come cheap for her.  She was raised in a family of four kids, she was used to getting her way, and she was one of two girls in our household of seven.  She yelled, a lot.  This time, she just sat down and as robotic as any other meeting and she said:

“My name is Lynne Wachna, this is my son, Matthew.”

Mr. Cousineau quickly took control of the meeting.  He apologized over and over and explained how turnover in the special education department has led to a bit of unorganization.  He acknowledged that I did not receive the help I needed and took full responsibility, even as a new teacher.  He explained how there was nothing to be done about the past but learn from it to prepare for the future.  Next year he was going to make it his duty to see to it that I get the help I needed.  My mom was at the break of tears.  Everything she needed to hear, he said it.  Finally, a rope was thrown out to our sinking ship.

…Then my OAC year started.  Nothing but heart break for my mother.  Mr. Cousineau was transferred out to another school.  I’m sure it had something to do with budgets (I hope it did.)  Of all points in my schooling career, this I will always identify as having the second largest impact.  With no assistance, and a heavy course load, I quickly fell behind.  Ashamed to show my face in class, I skipped classes on a regular basis.  I started to hang out with the other students that skipped classes, getting involved with drugs and alcohol during school hours.  It was a mess.  It was my OAC year.  I had many highlights that year:

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  • A “0” in English
  • An average of 35% in all of my classes
  • Over 100 total absences
  • OFSAA Swimming Finalist (finished 6th and 13th)

Ya, I know, the last one doesn’t seem to fit.  I see the last part as proof that I wasn’t a loss cause.  There is a lot to share about my OFSAA experience and my medication, but that will be in my blog about my treatment.

I ended that year applying for university and college.  I met with my councilor at school to figure out what programs to apply to.  I wanted to be  a radio DJ, and he had no clue what program I should take.  He had me apply to anything that was drama.  One of those programs was the Drama in Education program at the University of Windsor.  This program had a full day interview requirement for its 2000 applicants (they would end up only picking 20.)  I made it to the interview and was actually selected.  They sent me a letter telling me that all I had to do was pass my OAC year with a 65% average.  I knew I was far from it.  I finished OAC with a 35% and no clue what I was going to do with my life.

My parents continued to push me that summer to upgrade at summer school and to register for a second try at OAC; a sixth year.  The first thing we did was meet with the vice principal, Manny.  My mom and I sat in his office, and the meeting started with a tone.  Manny sat down and told me I couldn’t come back.  He showed me my marks and absences and said I was over 18 and they didn’t want me back.  My mom lost it.  She somehow managed to release the anger inside without having to raise her voice; I had never been so scared.  She cited the years and years of lost education with no resources and no help.  She cited my files and their recommendations from doctors and psychologists.  Manny was stunned.  He swallowed his pride, and offered me a contract.  One missed class and I was out.  That year I skipped about 10 classes for school functions with Manny’s blessing.

I received the help I needed from a great LST teacher.  I received extra time on exams.  Teachers actually worked with me, rather than against me.  It felt so different, and I got caught up in it.  I started to develop into an organized student.  I worked on things like routines, organizational plans, and study plans.  It was great.  I finished that year with an 85% average and my first year tuition paid off in bursaries and scholarships.

Years later, I ended up in teachers’ college.  In my education, a fellow teacher candidate asked me if I would make a presentation about teaching students with AD(H)D.  I shared my story and was asked a burning question.  “Can you tell us some more positive stories, we feel like you have been bashing teachers the whole time and we kind of feel bad.”

To this I replied:  “Well, we’ve come a long way since.  When I was young, good stories were far and few.  My story should show that we are moving in the right direction in special education.”

Strategies for Success: Making this school year a positive one for your students with ADHD

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.   Image 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.”

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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.

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  • 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. Image 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? 

What was that again?

Just before I graduated from the Faculty of Education, I began volunteering in a grade five classroom one day a week. The teacher pulled me aside one day and asked if I could read with Michael*. “He has some trouble with reading,” she said. As I sat with Michael, I was amazed at how well he read to me. It was perfect and he never stumbled, not even for one single word. I couldn’t understand why this student needed anyone’s help, much less mine! As I was wondering if the teacher had paired me with the wrong student, Michael turned to the question page that went along with the story. What happened next shocked me. As Michael began reading the questions it was evident that he couldn’t remember much of what he had read. He couldn’t really explain what the story was about. As I started prompting and quizzing him about the passage he had read, the more evident it became. Michael didn’t understand what he had read and he couldn’t comprehend the story. As I looked over at Michael, bewildered, I felt terrible for him. He was humiliated and frustrated and was done with the reading work. This experience was my first encounter with a student with comprehension difficulties and, unfortunately, not my last.

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As a Literacy Facilitator with LDAWE for almost three years, I have worked with countless students that have reading comprehension difficulties. While there are many different strategies for teaching comprehension, these are a few that I use with my students that have proven helpful:

1. Monitoring. Teach students to monitor their understanding when reading. When they are not understanding, they need to stop and identify what is giving them difficulty. Then they should use appropriate action to remediate the difficulty. These actions may include re-reading the text, looking back to a previous page, moving forward in the text, or asking someone for clarification. Once students are able to identify when they don’t understand something, they can then take steps to improve their understanding.

2. Identification. Have students use highlighters to identify important parts of a story. Teach them to look at only one page at a time and to highlight important text. For fictional stories, this may include names of characters or places. For non-fiction, this may include dates, names of places, or difficult words. Ask them what it is that they think is important and work with them in separating what is and isnot important

3. Use graphic organizers. Graphic organizers help students construct meaning from the text that they are reading. Students can use a KWL chart (Know, Want, Learn) to activate their background knowledge prior to learning. Using their personal connections, students can then enter what they know about the topic, as well as the things that they want to learn about. Students can enter specific questions they are hoping the text answers. Finally, after reading the text, students can fill in what they learned. Character and Story maps (or Problem and Solution charts) can also be used to keep track of what is taking place in the text. Other graphic organizers can be found here: http://www.readinga-z.com/more/graphic_org.html

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4. Paragraph Shrinking. My favourite strategy to use is paragraph shrinking. Students will summarize each paragraph (for younger students, each page) and identify: 1) the who or the what of the paragraph; 2) the most important thing about the who or what; and 3) the main idea of the paragraph. Students should identify the main idea in 10 words or less, which encourages focus on comprehension.

5. Make Connections. Students will understand text they are reading if they can make a connection to it. I ask students, “Does this remind you of anything?”. If students have a schema about what they are reading, the text will be more meaningful and they will comprehend better. Connections can be a personal connection, a connection to something they have read or seen on TV, or something that they have heard about. When I sit with students, I will use self-talk to explain how I am making a personal connection to the text.

6. Read and Search. Teach students to re-read the text and search for answers. Students can read through the first time using the strategies mentioned above. Once finished, have the student read the question and then go back through the text until they find the answer. Often, students don’t realize that they should refer back to the original text. This is an important strategy for students to learn.

7. Visualize. It’s important for the reader to visualize what they are reading. I like to tell them to turn the information into a movie in their mind. I will start with reading to the students and having them close their eyes to imagine what is happening in the story. It’s interesting for a group of students to hear about other’s visualizations in order to see how everyone’s individual schema plays into the text. The next step is for students to independently read a paragraph and visualize what they are reading.

8. Read with Good Fluency. When students struggle with reading, their comprehension may suffer too. All the reader’s energy is being used to decode the words and get through the text, which means their focus is not on what is actually happening in the story. Good fluency helps with reading comprehension. One of the best ways to help students improve their fluency is to re-read short passages. For younger readers, re-reading their short stories a second time is a wonderful way to help improve fluency.

One of the most important things I have learned as an educator is that a one size solution does not fit all. It’s important for teachers to know how and when to differentiate. Every individual has their own strengths and weaknesses, their own likes and dislikes, and their own preferred methods based on their learning styles. I teach my students to know what it is they need in order to be successful and to learn to advocate for themselves. To speak up and say “I need this in order to learn.”

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These are my experiences and this is what I do. There is no manual to follow when teaching people to read. You do what works for the individual. Sometimes you really have to work hard to find what works. You search and experiment. When you fail, you go back and try again. When the “Aha!” moment finally comes for the learner, your inner teacher will jump for joy and you’ll know then that, in the end, it’s all been worth it.

*Name has been changed.