I have always loved teaching the high-energy, fidgety kids whose attention tends to jump tracks at the slightest distraction because… I am one. I embrace the distractions and struggle to stay on task long enough to finish something in one sitting. Knowing this about myself has always made me especially interested in finding more effective ways to both manage my own attention issues and to teach children who have similar, and sometimes stronger, struggles.
I know this course is designed for teachers, but this information about teaching children is important for all parents (and anyone who works with children) to know. The more we know, the better we understand the children we work with. The better we understand our children, the better parents, teachers, and community members we become.
Before I jump into tips for teaching kids with AD/HD, it is important to point out that every child is unique. Every tip will not help every child, but having a range of tools that might help your child will let you discover the best ways for your child to grow and develop.
The course introduces AD/HD, how it affects the brain, three broad types of AD/HD, how it is diagnosed, medications, and many more aspects that I will not be going into here. I’m assuming that if you’re reading this it’s because you already know what AD/HD is and you’re probably thinking of someone with it, hoping to find some more teaching methods to use.
So let’s get started.
8 Tips for Teaching Kids with AD/HD
#1: Use explicit direct instructions (with an advance organizer, rationale, demonstration, guided practice, and independent practice)
When you’re teaching something, you need to be very clear about it. I love the mantra: “Tell them what you’re going to teach them. Teach them. Tell them what you just taught them.” You can use this in a classroom, at home, or in any other teaching situation. An advance organizer tells your children what you’re about to teach/tell them. It could be as simple as an outline for older children, a series of pictures for younger children, or a series of dots or signposts to indicate steps in what is to come.
After you tell your children what you will be doing, give them a rationale, or reason to put in the time and effort to learn it. Learning is work, and our children engage in that work much more readily if they have a good buy-in to do so.
For your actual instruction, demonstrate what they are to learn, supervise and instruct them as they practice it (guided practice), and then let them practice on their own (independent practice). They may still need help and supervision as they work on their own, but independent practice is the only way to find out if they have acquired the new skill or information for themselves. The course points out that there should be THREE TIMES MORE independent practice than instruction or demonstration. We learn by doing.
After your lesson, a post organizer is also very helpful to review and cement new information. New skills and information should be reviewed again during follow-up lessons.
#2- Use clear, simple expectations. This doesn’t take much explanation. I’ll just point out that children with AD/HD will get distracted if your expectations take too long to explain or remember. They aren’t trying to ignore you. They just struggle to focus on something for 4 minutes when a 30 second summary would have worked.
#3- Use cue cards to help with self-regulation for independent work. As mentioned above, independent work is essential to learn new information and master new skills, but self-regulation is something that children (and adults) with AD/HD struggle with. Cue cards might help. These are simply reminders (either text or images) about what the child is supposed to be doing. Checklists are often very helpful—they remind your child what he/she is supposed to be doing and provide a reward (checking the box) when the task is complete.
#4- Use checklists to help children learn to ask themselves about their own past behavior. This is another tool to help with self-regulation. Many children do not recognize that they are off-task. Agree on a signal (perhaps a timer, a hand signal, a word, etc), and when you give that signal, the child pulls out a checklist to analyze their own behavior. The checklist might have questions like “What am I supposed to be doing? Am I doing it?” Simple questions that let the child metacognitively analyze where their mind is at a designated time helps them refocus on a task. The stronger the child’s ability to self-regulate becomes, the better he/she will be at focusing and paying attention for longer times.
#5- Use external reinforcements to help motivate. The course points out that external reinforcements can be powerful for some children, but the rewards will need to be changed frequently, perhaps as often as every 2-4 weeks. If they help, use those sticker charts, prize bins, and other point systems! Just remember to change the available prizes at least every month or so.
I personally prefer to only use external reinforcements for short term systems. Special occasions, a new skill that takes extra focus, and countdowns to holidays are some of my favorite times to break out extra rewards.
#6- Use technology. Creative teachers use all the resources available to them, and there are a ton of technology options! Games and gamified drilling activities can help children memorize everything from letters and sounds to number facts, geography and more. Apps can be used as cue cards, metacognitive checklists, and even external reinforcements. One of my own teens even showed me a “study app” that you open when you start studying, click a button to start a timer for you, and then click it again when you’re done. The amount of time you spent working gives you rewards in the app!
The course has a lot of tips in helping you choose websites that are educational as well.
#7- Use short assignments. Assignments should have a purpose. Long assignments that are not necessary for the child to master the information become overwhelming and boring, and students are more likely to misbehave when they are expected to do too much work at once. This ties into #8 as well.
#8- Use frequent breaks. Again, children will become overwhelmed, bored, and distracted if they are required to focus on something longer than they are able. This leads to behavior problems. An easy solution is to schedule your time in blocks. Spend 10 minutes focused on one activity, take a break, and then return if you’re not done with the first activity. The course suggests that breaks be structured, for example, 10 math problems followed by 5 spelling words followed by reading gives you a break from math with another subject. My personal experience is that unstructured breaks are important as well. You can also take breaks while remaining focused on one subject. For example, if you write down a few notes about plants, draw the parts of a plant, go outside and identify those parts, and then return to make a playdough model, you’ve taken breaks and stayed focused on the topic.
The course includes an introduction to Special Education, litigation in the field, and methods for teaching children with dozens of traits, ranging from learning disabilities to gifted and talented. Here is a list of some of the topics:
Social & Emotional Challenges
RTI (Response to Intervention)
Emotional & Behavioral Disorders (like anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, conduct disorder, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and psychotic disorders)
Deaf or Hard of Hearing
Blind or Have Low Vision
Autism Spectrum Disorders
Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
Gifted and Talented
The course includes 11 quizzes to complete and 2 lesson plans with accommodations to create.
Each topic has several lessons within it, except for the lesson plans, which have the instructions for completing the lesson plan with accommodations. If you score less than 90% on your lesson plans, you have the option of “retaking” the assessment for a higher grade.
The Assignment List helps you organize all the quizzes and assignments at a glance:
The textbook for the course is Exceptional Students: Preparing Teachers for the 21st Century by Lydia Smiley, Stephen Richards, and Ronald Taylor and contains most of the instructional material for the course.
Most people complete courses with StraighterLine in about 45 days, though some finish in as little as two weeks.
Teaching Students with Exceptionalities is one of five online college courses that StraighterLine offers adults beginning a degree in Early Childhood Education. Those five courses are: