If you have a student in your classroom with ADHD or ADD, you may be searching for new or different strategies to help create the most beneficial learning environment for them. Here are two quick and effective methods developed by Rundle Academy teachers, Jamie Burla and Nicole Davidson, for developing such an environment for your student(s) and improving their learning styles.
ADHD: Quick & Effective Strategies
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurological disability that interferes with a person’s ability to sustain attention, focus on a given task, and to control impulsive behaviour. The current research shows that ADHD is caused by a deficiency in key neurotransmitters in a specific set of neural circuits. The set of brain circuits that is affected influences the symptoms of ADHD, which include hyperactivity, distractibility, and impulsivity. As a result of attention disorders, students may blurt out answers, struggle with organization, appear forgetful, and may have difficulty following directions. ADHD is also commonly referred to as ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).
We are Junior High and Senior High Science teachers at Rundle Academy in Calgary, AB, which is a school for students with learning disabilities and/or attention issues. The need for quick and effective strategies for students with an attention disorder is necessary for student success. Although the list of strategies is endless, we would like to present two that we have found to be particularly effective.
Physical Environment Strategy
In our opinion the physical set up is the starting point for addressing the needs of ADHD students in your classroom. Where the ADHD students sit and even how they sit can have a big impact on learning, which in turn affects the learning ability of your entire class. When altering your class to integrate all the students’ needs, you must be aware of the shift in culture that is required for you and your classroom’s operation. In order to preserve the integrity of your classroom, you must also ensure that providing an accommodation to one student does not negatively impact the rest of the class. A simple explanation to other students in the class who ask why one student has tools that others do not, is simply, “Well that is just what they need to learn, the way you may need glasses to see the board.” The culture at Rundle Academy is based on Rick Wormeli’s thoughts that, “Fair isn’t always equal.” We find this to be a great foundational philosophy that justifies providing nearly any accommodation including several that are not commonly used.
An example of an uncommonly used accommodation for ADHD students is to allow them to move about quietly while learning, as many individuals with ADHD will feel the urge to move. By allowing the students to move around the classroom we have found that they pay closer attention and remain more engaged in learning. In order to preserve the integrity of the classroom for all students we will often present material from one end of the physical classroom and have the hyperactive student stand or pace at the opposite end. Surprisingly, we have found this strategy causes minimal disruption to the classroom, and that the other students and teachers adapt very quickly to the situation.
The floor in your classroom also lends itself to being an interesting lesson space. One of the strategies that we use in our science lessons is painters’ tape. When students need to demonstrate their understanding of a concept many ADHD students choose to grab the painters’ tape and tape out the concept on the floor. This works best with flowing concepts such as the water cycle or digestion but we have found that ADHD students display substantial creativity with this tool. Not only has this been shown to be effective for hyperactive students but also kinesthetic learners, and general feedback from students has been positive on “walk-through” lessons as most students enjoy getting up and moving during a lesson.
A “walk-through” lesson is a very useful tool but all students will have to sit at some point and put pen to paper. In order to help the ADHD student, we have used exercise balls, rubber chairs, or rubber “Sit Fit” cushions with incredible success. This small modification to the sitting surface allows your hyperactive students to satisfy their need for movement while focusing their attention on the lesson. If chair alternatives are not available, then fidget toys are a great alternative. Squishy toys or stress balls provide the ADHD student a small conduit for bodily motion while still maintaining the look and feel of everyone else in the classroom.
Finally, the proximity to other students is something that must be considered when seating your students with attention issues. In traditional settings, ADHD students are situated at the front of the classroom in order to decrease the distraction of having the other students ahead of them and to allow them to focus more intently on the teacher’s visual and physical cues. However, at our school, we have achieved far better success with the opposite approach. Students have explained to us that when they sit at the front they actually become hyper-focused on what is occurring behind them, and this brings a constant urge to turn around to see what is happening. We have found that sitting the ADHD student in the back of the class solves this issue and is actually a better approach as the ADHD student is not “distracted” by other things rather they are focused on all things at once. Providing ADHD students with the opportunity to see their entire physical surroundings may take their eyes off the teacher but actually improves focus by allowing their brains to prioritize all the sensory information coming into their brain.
Instructional Strategy: Individual Whiteboards
At our school all divisions and departments use individual whiteboards. The use of individual whiteboards assists in repetition and concept memorization, and provides students with an opportunity to assess their own degree of concept understanding. The teachers can also use whiteboards as a method of formative assessment, to review previously learned concepts or as an exit strategy to gauge student learning. This method is useful for our students with ADHD because it provides them with an engaging, fast-paced means of demonstrating knowledge.
When whiteboards are useful:
- Prior to teaching for immediate feedback on a student’s interest and base knowledge of a concept. This will keep your ADHD students engaged in every question you ask the group.
- For immediate feedback regarding a student’s understanding while teaching a concept. This helps your ADHD students remain constantly engaged in a lesson, and improves focus.
- For immediate feedback regarding a student’s understanding after teaching a concept. When the students are given time to practice, the students who struggle with attention an efficient way to demonstrate their knowledge.
- For providing students with immediate feedback when in the review process. The review process can be very overwhelming for ADHD students and by having students perform “quick quizzes” on the whiteboard we have seen a significant improvement in focus. Typically we provided them with questions orally or with a written list.
- For students who need to maintain focus. Allow some students to draw/write relevant information while listening to instruction. For example, they can be used to doodle on while listening to a lesson or while watching a video in class. Oftentimes, students with attention issues need to maintain their attention by being engaged in the content. These students are instructed to doodle about the topic and jot down words that they hear in the lesson.
There are many classroom strategies that can improve learning for ADHD students. We believe that the first step is to analyze your classroom space. Once you feel comfortable with your physical classroom, begin modifying your instructional approach, which may include the incorporation of movement into the lesson or varied work practices (e.g. whiteboards). We hope these ADHD specific learning strategies will assist you in providing your ADHD student with the best possible learning environment.
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Have you used any of the above strategies in your classroom for ADHD or ADD students? What has worked? What has not? Share your thoughts and tips in the Comments section below.