School Behavior

When Behavior Interferes with Learning

Already received a phone call (or five) from the school? On the principal’s speed dial? If your child is always in trouble, share with his teacher these expert strategies for improving classroom behavior. And use them at home, too.

A teacher employing ADHD friendly techniques to help his students improve classroom behavior
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When Teachers Are Challenged

Students with ADHD frequently act up in the classroom and find it hard to stay focused on assignments. Teachers often don't know what to do to manage these monumental challenges and improve classroom behavior. Experts say that teachers need a large repertoire of ADHD-friendly strategies to address and manage impulsive behavior and distractions, like the ones outlined here.

Telling this group of children simply to behave is too vague, rather a better way to improve classroom behavior is to explain exactly what good behavior looks like.
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Say What You Mean

Telling a child to “behave” or “be good” is too vague. Explain exactly what good behavior looks like. For example: “Keep your hands at your side when waiting in line” and “Take out your books and sit quietly.” Make sure kids understand the expectations and consequences. “Keep your hands to yourself, and you’ll get an extra 10 minutes of recess.”

A boy doing a good job in class with an abacus, and modelling good behavior for his classmates, a great way to improve classroom behavior.
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Show Good Behaviors

Posting visual reminders helps kids with ADHD remember the rules. Write out classroom rules, such as “Respect Others,” and “Use an Indoor Voice,” on colorful paper, and post them somewhere easy to see. Place cards with messages like, “Raise hands before speaking,” on the child’s desk for an extra reminder. Use an abacus to track interruptions by moving a bead each time a student speaks out of turn.

Setting a clear routine is a good way to improve classroom behavior by building in transition time and minimizing chaos.
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Set a Clear Routine

Write the day’s schedule on the blackboard, and erase items as they are completed. Alert the class in advance if there are revisions. Use a timer to help transitions between activities, and give five- and two-minute warnings, so kids have time to stop doing one thing and start another. This gives students with ADHD a sense of control over their day, which leads to better behavior.

A girl working in a silent and distraction free environment, an efficient way to improve classroom behavior.
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Mute Distractions

Do what you can to minimize external distractions. Seat a child with ADHD close to the teacher, and away from doors or windows. Surround her with students who are good role models, and away from students with challenging or distracting behavior. Allow her to use earphones or earplugs to block distractions while working on homework or tests. (To avoid singling out children with ADHD, make these available to all students.)

A teacher giving an attention grabbing presentation, a good strategy to improve classroom behavior.
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Grab Their Attention

  • Use a bell, chime, or gong before giving assignments or making important announcements.
  • Wait until it’s quiet and you have students’ attention before speaking.
  • Vary the pitch and volume of your voice.
  • Use props — for example, a butterfly net if you’re assigning a project on nature. Try anything that will keep all eyes on you.
One way of improving classroom behavior is to redirect attention when it strays such as this teacher asking students to raise their hands.
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Redirect Attention When It Strays

Saying things like “Earth to Amy!” to a child with ADHD or scolding her in front of the class for not paying attention doesn’t fix the problem; it adds to it by embarrassing the student. Instead, find ways of redirecting a student who is distracted. Give nonverbal cues, such as standing close by, making eye contact, or patting her on the shoulder. To help build confidence, ask a question that you know she can answer.

A class answering a question in unison after several repetitions, a good way to improve classroom behavior for all students.
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Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

After assigning work, have several students repeat it, and then have the class say it in unison. This gives students with ADHD more opportunities to hear it, and is a good way to drill instructions into the heads of students without ADHD as well. Give both oral and written instructions, so kids with ADHD don’t have to remember everything. When giving written instructions, ask the students to color, highlight, or underline key words.

Offering sincere praise, like teacher does for her student, is a great way to improve classroom behavior.
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Offer Brief, Sincere Praise

Teachers often dwell on the shortcomings of kids with ADHD. Be sure to offer positive feedback when kids with ADHD are well behaved or stay focused. Be specific about their good behavior by saying things like, “You’re being very patient — thanks for waiting your turn!” Or just say, “Nice job” or give him a thumbs up. Don’t overdo it: Kids know when praise is forced, or they may feel insulted that you are praising them for a skill that they should have mastered.

A teacher that is aware of the pressure points of adhd, such as transitions, can moderate them, a smart strategy for improving classroom behavior.
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Know the Pressure Points of ADHD

Kids with ADHD often misbehave during transitions — lunch, recess, breaks; when the schedule or class structure changes (a substitute is present); when he is failing a class; or when medication wears off. Ignore minor muttering in class, especially if the student follows instructions. Teach the child to recognize when he is about to lose control and have a crisis plan in place.

Creating a place to cool off distracted adhd students is an efficient way to improve classroom behavior.
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Create a Place to Cool Off

Sometimes a child with ADHD is distracted because of an annoying tag inside of his clothes or the sound of a child writing behind him. Be sure to have a quiet area in your class — a tent, a beanbag chair in the corner — for students. Clarify ahead of time what students can do there — read, draw, or rest. For older kids who suspect they might blow up, give them tacit permission to head to the guidance counselor’s office to talk or to cool off.

A student in his seat and given a specific set of directions is a student with improved classroom behavior.
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Keep a Child on Task and in His Seat

  • Make sure directions are clear and understood before sending a child to work independently.
  • Send students to their seats with a written task card, checklist, or things-to-do sheet. Have students cross out each task as they complete it.
  • Make sure necessary supplies are available so students can work during independent time without excuses.
  • Assign a study buddy to students who might need help.
One strategy for improving classroom behavior is to allow fidgety students to move around by asking them to answer a question or clean the blackboard.
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Let Fidgety Students Move Around

Movement helps kids with ADHD hit the reset button and focus. Ask a child to perform a task, like cleaning the blackboard or straightening a bookshelf. Or allow her to get a drink of water or go to the bathroom. If this is not practical, playing quietly with a small object can help students with ADHD focus on the main task. A fidget toy can be as simple as a squeeze ball or a rubber band. Don’t punish her by taking away recess. Many children with ADHD have a harder time concentrating without a break.

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