The school environment changes in the middle years. Instead of loads of structure and guidance, as your child had in elementary school, students are expected to manage more of their life on their own. At the same time, the students themselves are changing. They are less motivated to please adults and more motivated to impress peers. As they search for their own identities, the social scene becomes more important. It is a confusing time for students with ADHD, but with the right support, they can thrive!
Maintaining motivation is the key to success.
What Teachers Can Do
"MAKE BRIDGES." Connections are the life-blood of learning! We learn by connecting new information to things we knew before. When teaching ADHD students new material, help them connect it to concepts they understand by asking questions: "What does this remind you of?" "Where have you seen something like this?" "When do you think this will be useful in your life?"
USE VISUALS. We are born with the innate ability to see and recognize images. Words require more work for the brain to process. Visuals communicate a lot of information quickly. Pictures also help students make connections as they learn. Take advantage of the unlimited supply of images indexed by Google and incorporate as many visuals as you can into your teaching.
HAVE STUDENTS FILL OUT BIO SHEETS ON THEMSELVES. Selena Conley, a veteran special education teacher, hands out bio sheets and asks students to answer the following questions: "My name is," "My talents and gifts are…," "Sometimes I need help with…," "I like to work in this type of environment…," "I get distracted when…," "I get upset when…," "I use these tools to help me with my work…." She uses the responses to understand her students' areas of strength and weakness and to tap into the "academic tools" that they use.
TRY THESE READING TIPS. Give students a pad of self-stick notes. As they are reading, they can jot down notes and questions and place them next to key points and main ideas for fast reference. Allow students to subvocalize -- say the words aloud softly as they read.
GIVE STUDENTS A GOAL FOR YOUR CLASS. At the beginning of your class, guide students through the process of setting a goal to accomplish. After all, if they don't know where they are going, how will they get there? Students will have a much easier time focusing if they can connect what they are doing with the goal they set, such as specific grades they want to earn on tests or for your class.
TEACH STUDY SKILLS. All students, and especially students with ADHD, need to learn effective study skills to cope with increasing academic challenges in middle school. This is the time to teach them how to take useful notes, how to get and stay organized, and how to manage their time. One example is to review class notes within 24 hours of taking them to transfer information to long-term memory. A few minutes of review every day can save hours of "cramming" for a test.
HAVE STUDENTS TRACK THEIR GRADES. Teach students to calculate how their grades are determined. If they can access their grades online, have them monitor them weekly. The more they can see how each assignment affects their GPA, the more they will understand that grades are earned, not randomly given out by the teacher.
TRY THESE MATH TIPS. Keep sample math problems on the board and have students copy them in a notebook for reference. Using dry-erase boards, have students compute one step of a problem at a time, asking them to hold up their boards when you signal them.
ADJUST LIGHTING. The constant flickering of fluorescent lights is hard for the ADHD brain to process. Whenever possible, turn off fluorescents; use daylight or bring an incandescent lamp into the room. Experts also recommend turning off half of the lights in a classroom and letting students work in the section of the room where they are most comfortable.
What Parents Can Do
HOLD WEEKLY MEETINGS. Spend a few minutes at the beginning of the week meeting with your family members to coordinate schedules. Keep this meeting quick and informal, but expect everyone to have their calendar or planner. Let everyone share their schedule, including upcoming test or project dates. To avoid being a "nag," be sure to share your schedule, too. The weekly meeting shows time management skills by encouraging your child to "think forward." It also provides an opportunity to offer critical support and encouragement to your adolescent.
TALK TO TEACHERS A LOT. Many middle-schoolers become overwhelmed by homework when several teachers assign work. Too much homework is counter-productive, yet most families suffer in silence. If your middle-schooler has more than 60-80 minutes of homework each night (based on the Rule of 10: a child's current grade level multiplied by 10 equals the maximum number of minutes for daily homework), you must speak up.
PRAISE EFFORT. Instead of emphasizing grades or performance, praise effort only. Research shows that praising results actually diminishes effort; students internalize their focus on results to think that effort is a sign of weakness or lack of capability. Rather than face new challenges, they stop trying. Instead, show them that you are proud of their efforts -- if they are willing to take on challenges, they will grow.
MAKE THE MOST OF TEXTBOOK VISUALS. A popular strategy that teachers use when young students are learning to read is a "picture walk." By looking at all of the pictures in a story first, students see baseline visuals that will help them make connections to the words and meaning of a story. The same strategy -- to “walk” through the pictures in their textbooks before they start reading -- can help middle-schoolers.
GIVE YOUR CHILD A REPORT CARD. If your child comes home with a disappointing report card, parenting specialist Kirk Martin recommends grading your child on his non-academic strengths for that semester. Some of the "subject areas" might be leadership, creativity and attitude. Arrive at a grade and add specific examples of how your child did well.
TEACH RELAXATION SKILLS. Students with ADHD are prone to anxiety. After a hectic day at school, they need to let that anxiety settle. Aerobic exercise is an effective way to calm down and get a handle on stress. Deep breathing is another. Both activities bring oxygen to the brain and help balance brain chemistry.
This article appears in the Fall issue of ADDitude.
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