The Kids Are Alright
A veteran teacher of children with ADHD and learning disabilities shares five secrets for helping them learn to love school.
My biggest joy here at Denver Academy — a small, private school in Colorado — is changing a child’s bad attitude about school.
For children with attention deficit disorder, school is where they struggle and, sometimes, fail. My goal is to help them succeed. As a middle school teacher, I engage them by playing to their passions.
Through the years, I have developed strategies to help my students learn. My favorites are:
Use technology. Kids love technology — cell phones and video games — so I use it to engage them in the classroom. Denver Academy uses iPads, so students see the material I am teaching as fun and interactive.
Try experiential learning. Every spring I take a group of 20 students to Chaco Canyon National Park, in northern New Mexico. It is a sacred site once inhabited by the Anasazi. We talk about “the natural world” and why the Anasazi lived the way they did. Why did they choose this place to settle? How did they find food? I ask them to write down their thoughts in a journal. There is always one kid who asks, “Why can’t school be like this all of the time?”
Know your students. Amy, a student with ADHD, joined my class last year. She was distracted by noise and visual interruptions. I talked with her parents and learned that Amy loved being outside. So I used the natural world to engage her whenever possible.
I moved her seat close to the window, so she could look outside when she couldn’t actually be out there. I asked her to keep a journal about the linden tree outside her window and how it changed during the year.
Find the right seat. I get creative with ADHD students’ seating arrangements. Paul was overwhelmed by too much information and too much noise, so I allowed him to go to his special office to calm down. His office was a desk I set up just for him in a quieter area of the classroom.
Team with parents. Parents are experts on their children. I sit down with moms and dads before school starts to set up goals for the year. We need to be on the same page, and they need to know what they can do to help their child at home.