The ADHD Friendly Classroom

The ADHD Friendly Classroom

By: Trenton Flanigan Jones

It’s the first day of school and when you enter the classroom several students are already chatting loudly with peers, running around the classroom, and rummaging through your school supplies.  These students, bouncing off the walls and their peers with energy and excitement, can’t sit quietly in their seats no matter how many times you ask them to.  Later, you will discover that the most distracted and disruptive students often have an ADHD diagnosis and may not respond to conventional classroom management practices. What do you do? A savvy teacher will keep in mind that students with ADHD have unique needs in the classroom and will immediately implement the following strategies:

Keep Classroom Structure and Expectations Consistent

  • Classroom rules and expectations posted on the walls and desks
  • Review lesson agenda in the first five minutes of class
  • If students are off-task, use respectful redirection, i.e. give students in-the-moment feedback that’s calm and concise

Study Modalities and Tools

  • Students should use “speech-to-text” and “text-to-speech” writing/reading tools, such as Google Voice typing
  • If it assists with focus and is used appropriately, students may listen to music with headphones during independent work time
  • Instruction utilizing the four learning modalities – VARK (Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing, Kinesthetic)
  • Provide students with tools and directions to assist with organizing their backpack, calendar, binder, and school supplies

Limit Distractions

  • Preferential seating, i.e., students allowed to sit away from distractions
  • Recommend noise canceling headphones
  • Rotate classroom seating assignments
  • Improve classroom lighting, e.g., replace fluorescent bulbs with full-spectrum bulbs, use lamps in the classroom with full spectrum bulbs

Break Assignments and Projects Down into Smaller Steps

  • Break directions into chunks
  • Use checklists and schedules
  • Use a timer on the overhead screen and/or individual timers
  • Use “Brain Breaks” and “Movement Breaks”

Use Individualized Incentive Plans

I saved the most essential strategy for last:  After working as a special education teacher for over 20 years with students with ADHD, I have learned that a well-designed individualized incentive plan can be a wonderful tool for student success. Step 1—survey and/or interview your students about their personal tastes, interests, and goals, so that you can learn what reward(s) will highly motivate each student. The reward may be as simple as a favorite snack at the end of each week or extra time to work on a preferred activity. Or, a point system can be used for the incentive plan, where the student works towards accumulating points to earn a more significant reward. Step 2—decide with the student and other stakeholders, e.g., parents, counselors, teachers, administrators, and peers, the specific incentive plan goal(s) and a reasonable time-frame to achieve said goal(s).

Last year, one of my students with ADHD was having a very difficult time with impulsive and hyperactive behaviors while riding the school bus, so the student, student’s school psychologist, bus driver, and I created an incentive plan together with the understanding that the student would earn a reward at the end of each week, provided the bus driver did not have to redirect the student more than two times during the week.  The student needed a few weeks before they earned their first reward, but after four weeks they were doing so well that we raised the bar to— “no more than one redirect,” and after six weeks— “no redirects.”  Eight weeks later, the incentive plan was no longer necessary.

Trenton Flanigan Jones (MSEd.) is a special education teacher for the Beaverton School District and a former lead teacher for ACAP (Autistic Children’s Activities Program).  His life mission is “to help his students as much as possible and learn from his students as much as possible.”

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