How Can Teachers Effectively Engage Students With ADHD?

What are some strategies you use to empower students with ADHD?

Teaching methods and behavior strategies must reach every student in the classroom…

Hyperactive students tend to have a very high energy level, act impulsively and can be behaviorally distracting. They may fidget, play with objects, tap pencils so loudly against their desk that kids from across the room look over at them, or blurt out answers to teacher questions before the instructor is even finished asking them.

When working with students who are hyperactive or impulsive, teachers should keep in mind that these students are very often completely unaware that others view their behavior as distracting or annoying.

Teachers working with children can greatly increase their own effectiveness by clearly communicating behavioral expectations to students, encouraging and rewarding students who behave appropriately and by being consistent and fair when responding to problem behaviors. Following are some teaching strategies that can be employed:

1. Reminders & Signals

Provide students with brief reminders of expected behaviors at the ‘point of performance’ (also referred to as just-in-time), when they will most benefit from it. You could also consider using structured prompts such as the following for students who tend to blurt out answers: “When I ask this question, I will give the class 10 seconds to think of your best answer. Then I will call on one student.” Another example of using a structured prompt is to remind students who have difficulty moving through the hallways as part of a group, “Remember to keep hands to self and walk quietly on the right as we go to art class.“

You can redirect overactive students in a low-key manner by using a silent signal. Meet privately with the student and identify with them those motor or verbal behaviors that appear to be most distracting. With the student’s help, select a silent signal that you can use to alert the student that his or her behavior has crossed the threshold and now is distracting others. Role-play several scenarios with the student in which you use the silent signal and the student then controls the problem behavior. When you are able to successfully use the ‘silent signal’ during instruction, be sure to praise the student privately for responding appropriately and promptly to your signal.

2. Giving Directions

Gain the student’s attention before giving directions and seek evidence of the student’s full understanding of them. When giving directions to an individual student, say the student’s name and establish eye contact before providing the directions.

When giving directions to the whole class, use group alerting cues such as ‘Eyes and ears on me!’ to gain the class’s attention. Wait until all students are looking at you and ready to listen before giving directions.

When you have finished giving directions to the entire class, privately approach any students who appear to need assistance. Quietly restate the directions to them and have them repeat the directions back to you as a possible indicator of understanding.

3. Clutter

Removing unnecessary items from the student’s work area can improve task performance. Students who tend to distract themselves and others by playing with objects behave better when their work area is uncluttered. Take away (or direct the student to put away) any items that the student does not need for the work assignment, but might be tempted to play with (e.g., extra pens, paper clips).

4. Interaction & Movement

Structure instructional activities. Students with high energy levels may be more likely to engage in distracting behavior when forced to sit through long periods of lecture or independent seatwork. Instead, offer students frequent opportunities for more movement by designing instruction to actively engage them as learners (e.g., cooperative learning). An advantage of these less formal and more spontaneous learning activities is that overactive motor behaviors are less obvious, therefore peers are less likely to be distracted.

  1. Take discretionary motor breaks. When given brief ‘movement’ breaks, highly active students often show improvements in their behaviors. Permit the student to leave his or her seat and quietly walk around the classroom whenever feeling particularly fidgety. Or, if you judge that motor breaks within the classroom would be too distracting, consider giving the student a discretionary pass that allows him or her to leave the classroom briefly to get a drink of water or walk up and down the hall.
  2. Employ proximity control. Students typically increase their attention to task and show improved compliance when the teacher is in close physical proximity. During whole-group activities, circulate around the room to keep students focused. To hold an individual student’s attention, stand or sit near the student before giving directions or engaging in discussion.
  3. Encourage acceptable outlets. If the student distracts other students by playing with objects, substitute an alternative motor behavior that will not distract others. Give the student a soft ‘stress ball’ and encourage the student to squeeze it whenever he or she feels the need for motor movement. Or if the setting is appropriate, allow the student to chew gum as a replacement motor behavior.

5. Self-monitoring

Students are often able to change problem behaviors when they pay attention to those behaviors.

  1. Meet privately with the student to discuss which behaviors are distracting.
  2. Together with the student, select no more than 3 items to check through a simple distractible behavior-rating system. For example, a useful rating item might be “How well did I observe the rule today of raising my hand and being called on before giving an answer? (Poor – Fair – Good.”)
  3. Choose a class period or part of the day when you want the student to monitor distracting behaviors.
  4. Have the student rate his or her behaviors at the end of each class period.
  5. Be sure to praise the student for accuracy in rating behaviors, and for improvements in the student’s behaviors over time.

Like this article for teachers?

Browse the Professional Learning Board COURSE CATALOG to find related online courses for teachers in your state. Professional Learning Board is a leading provider of online professional development classes that teachers use to renew a teaching license or renew a teaching certificate.

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