Please join me in welcoming guest writer Livia McCoy to My Attention Coach. She has provided us with an outstanding article on on helping students with ADHD and ADD.
Students with attention difficulties often struggle in school. Young students are asked to sit still and listen at a time in their life when they really want to be outside playing—and I am talking about those who do not have attention issues. Add attention issues on top of their young age, and you have problems. For some students, they are able to sit still and listen as they get older and more mature. But, for others the problem persists throughout their schooling. I often say in my workshops that we as teachers need to change the way we view these kids. They are not placed in our classroom to make our lives more difficult. They are normal, interesting, often very bright children who need extra support in order to be successful in school. Several “tricks” that I use to help these students include using predictable routines each day, teaching them how to wiggle without disturbing others, providing visual cues, and giving them listening practice.
Children with problems paying attention need predictability and routine. (This helps all your students, so there is an added benefit.) My computer applications class starts every single day with three, 10 second timings typing a frequently used word. This is followed by them recording their best score in a spreadsheet. After that, we do one-and-a-half minute timing on several frequently used words that I dictate. Then I introduce today’s lesson which takes me about 5 minutes. Students work for 30 minutes on their assignment, do a write-to-learn activity for 5 minutes and finish up using typing software to practice keyboarding. What we do in the lesson portion is very creative and varies widely from day-to-day. But the predictable routine helps me to get them settled down and working very rapidly. Having a plan for every minute keeps them busy doing productive work until the bell rings to leave. Having the predictable routine helps them to enter the room, get ready for the first activity, and be ready to move along at predictable times without a lot of explanation needed for each part of the class.
Some children just cannot sit still. They tap their fingers on the table top, kick their foot against the leg of the table, stand up, sit down, go sharpen their pencil, adjust the blinds—I could go on, as you probably know. A couple of things can help these children. First of all, allow them to get up as often as you can. Try to think of something helpful for them to do. They can help you pass out papers, help arrange the chairs into a circle, erase the whiteboard, or get supplies out of the cabinet. Secondly, you can teach them how to wiggle without disturbing others. (This needs to be done discretely so that they are not embarrassed about it.) Children can wiggle their foot back and forth without kicking the table. Show them how, and have them practice it. Develop a signal between you and them that means, “You are kicking the table leg. Please wiggle without kicking the table,” so you can help them without embarrassing them in front of the other students. They can carry a stress relief ball and squeeze it under the table out of sight of the other kids. Or, you can have them think of something they like to do. Allow it as long as it does not interrupt the learning of other students. I used to show a video about the scientific method. I was always intrigued by a statement in the video that said, “Solve the problem with the problem.” I see this as the perfect example. These students need to wiggle and I am teaching them how to wiggle in ways that do not disturb other people.
Students with attention issues are often impulsive and blurt out answers without allowing other children a chance to speak. I have found a simple technique that works well for them. You may have to use this with all the kids in order to not single out one child. Each child receives a certain number of cards. You can use playing cards, index cards, or something you create on your own. The number of cards is the number of questions they are allowed to answer during a particular lesson. If you decide to give them five cards, each time they answer a question you take a card. When the cards are gone, they have to wait until they receive more cards to answer more questions. This visual cue helps them to see that everyone needs a chance to answer and dividing it equally allows everyone to participate more. Gradually, they will not need the visual cue. They will begin to think before answering and “save” their card for a question they find especially interesting.
In the last several years I have begun experimenting with giving my students listening practice. I explain to them that we are going to do a “pretend test” and that there is no way it can affect their grade. I tell them the purpose of the activity is to help them learn to listen better. It actually serves another purpose. They are also reviewing what they have been studying which helps them to get ready for an upcoming test (one that does count). I explain to the students that I am going to ask a question and I want them to write the answer. I tell them that I will only say the question one time, so they really need to listen carefully. In the beginning, they have a lot of trouble doing this. But, they get better and better the more I do it with them. I do not have formal research that supports my hypothesis about this, but my experience with it lends me to believe it can help.
Every child is different. In twenty-five years teaching I have never had two that were exactly alike. I would challenge you to do a paradigm shift when you see your wiggly, impulsive students. Discuss how you can partner with them to help them succeed. Select one area where you can work together for improvement. When that is mastered, work on another area where they need your help. Chances are great that they don’t mean to disrupt your classroom; they really do need your help. Provide routines, encourage appropriate wiggling, give visual cues, and help them learn to listen. Let them know that you care about them and are happy they are a part of your class.