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How can teachers engage ADHD students? Elementary teacher Sara McGee offers these classroom tips.

ADHD student support in the classroom
ADHD student support in the classroom

Sara McGee sets up her first-grade class to engage students, no matter what their learning style or behavior differences — whether the student has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, autism, Asperger’s or other special needs. “My goal is to make schoolwork accessible, so that all students reach their potential,” says McGee. How does she achieve her lofty goal? “By using technology, music, and art to make learning interactive.”

McGee sees herself as a facilitator, giving students the tools and direction to learn while encouraging them to discover, problem-solve, and reach conclusions through hands-on activity and peer interaction.

One way McGee does this is through “focused talk.” Students are paired up and assigned a topic that they will have to talk about. McGee counts down on her fingers — 10, 9, 8, 7… — in front of the class, as children gather their thoughts. When the countdown is over, a child turns to his partner to discuss the topic. To prevent the twosomes from talking over each other, the pair is given a “talking stick,” which permits the child holding it to speak. Focused talk allows students to also work on their social skills and problem-solving skills.

Learning Tools

Because behavior problems get in the way of learning, especially for kids who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities, McGee uses visual cues to keep them on track. She attaches a group of small illustrations that depict good behavior to a lanyard worn around her neck — she uses enlarged versions during lessons — that let students know when they act out of turn. “I point to a picture — a child raising her hand or a child sitting in his seat — and redirect a student’s actions without having to embarrass him in class,” McGee says.

McGee uses music to help students stay on task. When she plays “The Fox and the Chicken,” her students know to clean up their work and take their place for carpet time — before the song ends. She uses CDs — Movin’ 2 Math is a favorite — that incorporate music and movement to teach.

“Teaching is my job and my passion,” says McGee.

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