For Teachers

Show and Tell: Defeat Distraction in the Classroom

Teaching students with ADHD is tough, especially if they’re prone to distraction. Keep their focus laser-sharp by using visual and auditory cues, as well as praise to make a difference in the classroom.

ADHD discipline help for when your child just looks up, and ignores everything you say.
ADHD discipline help for when your child just looks up, and ignores everything you say.

Teaching is rewarding and challenging, but teaching students with ADHD calls for special effort to do the job well. When I homeschooled my children, all of whom have ADHD, they kept trying to show me how they needed to learn. I finally got it. I learned how to tweak the curriculum and my teaching strategies to meet the needs of my distractible students. If you’re a parent raising a child with ADHD, perhaps one or two of the lessons will help you and your student at home. Talk with the teacher about using a couple of these suggestions, as well.

Show and Tell

I learned that “show and tell” is good for teachers as well as students. After showing my kids what I wanted them to do, rather than just giving them verbal directions, they were better at completing the task. Too many words can overwhelm a student who struggles to pay attention. Pair your visual and auditory cues to maximize your instructional impact. Hitting the auditory and visual buttons together increases the odds that the information will stick.

Swerve — Don’t Brake

My son often stared off into the distance while I was teaching. When you notice that your student’s attention has wandered, don’t try to yank it back by saying, “Look at me,” and repeating your request until he does. I learned that it was better to swerve than to slam on the brakes to help them circle back to my lesson. I might ask what they wanted to have for lunch or which book they would read next. After re-engaging them, I redirected their attention to the task.

[11 Focus Fixes for the Classroom: A Free Handout for Teachers]

Watch Your Praise

It is easy for a student with ADHD to become discouraged, especially when there is a lot of criticism of his work. My daughter and son were impulsive and needed adult assistance to direct their energy to get things done. I tried to balance my corrections with encouragement and praise. I learned to be careful with my praise, though. If I commented on every positive thing my children did, the praise was less effective. Too much praise can lead to less effort on the student’s part. Use praise strategically to reward effort and hard work.

Don’t Spoon-Feed

My children are bright, but because they are inattentive and hyperactive, I caught myself doing too much of their work for them. I learned that when I did all the talking and asked my children to complete an assignment, I had to backtrack to fill in the gaps that come when their attention had wandered.

Rather than spoon-feeding them the information again, I checked in with them as I instructed them. That way, I could tell whether they were listening to me or were on a track of their own. Asking questions or having them summarize what I’d said made the lesson more interactive and engaging, too.

Manage Monotony

I like structure and routine, and thanks to their ADHD, my children need plenty of it. They also needed variety, and, if I didn’t provide it, they would find it themselves. Students with ADHD are great at coming up with suggestions about how to make things more interesting. Ask them. Using special pens with different-colored inks or moving the lesson from the dining room table to the couch will keep things interesting.

[Tuning Out Distractions, Focusing in on School]

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  1. I agree with your ideas.
    For me, school was often boring, especially when the teacher repeated stuff to make sure that we remembered it … hahaha

    “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand.”

    Over explaining something can often have too many levels of abstraction. It becomes just too complex and a big mess.

    These days, I give occasional classes at a high school.
    What works for me, and seems to work for the kids as they ask me to come back, is to :
    – give a quick description
    – give an example – take questions at any point
    – discuss the example and work through the first exercise
    – get them to do some exercises
    – have a set of exercises that start from easy, and gradually get harder and more complex. The set of exercises is so the experienced and clever students can maintain their interest with a few difficult tasks. I started that when I ran courses in a work place for people with a wide variety of experiences and skills.

    For my own children, I had to give a quick description, then WALK OUT and leave them to do the task. Of course, I was available to answer questions.

  2. When I was teaching my students their multiplication facts, I realized that although most of my students understood the concepts and the instructions in the book, some of them did not. They needed something more.

    A number of the students had ADHD and other learning struggles. So we had to try something different. They all liked to draw. So I had them give each number ,from 1 to 10, it’s own picture that rhymed with the number. For example 3 = tree. And then I had them multiply their numbers and come up with a picture for that answer. For example 3×3 = 9 or 3 (tree)x 3 (tree) = 9 (vine). They all seemed to enjoy this approach!

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