How To Teach Students With ADHD

“She won’t sit still!  She is always forgetting to bring her homework back.  I write the assignments on the board but she won’t write them in her planner!  I remind her over and over about things but it never helps.  She won’t listen!”

Yes.  Exactly.  That is ADHD in the classroom.

A 4th grade teacher shared these frustrations with me about a student in his class that had ADHD.  He felt like he had tried everything and no progress was being made with the student’s behavior.  Part of me understood the teacher’s frustrations.  I taught the same student in small group settings everyday.  I experienced the same struggles.  The other part of me felt bad for the student, who was feeling like a failure everyday.  

Now I felt the pressure.  This 4th grade teacher was asking me to give him the magic formula to “fix” this student.  I was, after all, the special education teacher.  I had to remind myself that as teachers, we are suppose to find ways the student can have success in the classroom, not to “fix” them.  Here are 3 ways to approach teaching a student with ADHD.

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You can download a copy of this graphic here!
  1. Strategies

You know your student the best and I trust that you can pick the best strategies for them.  Talk to your special education teacher for ideas, ask teachers who you trust what has worked for them, and do your own searching.  If you take 30 minutes to search around on Pinterest, I’m sure you can find a list of strategies to start with!  You can also find some strategies here (link to other post).  Pick 2 or 3 strategies to try first.  Don’t get discouraged if they don’t work right away.  Give it 1-3 weeks to see how it works.  Again, you know your student the best!  Pick what you think will work for them and keep trying different ideas till it clicks!

  1. Talk to the student

Engage the student in this process.  The student I mentioned above had no idea they had ADHD.  No one ever told her!  After asking her parents, I sat down with her and had an honest conversation about what she was up against.  Her response was, “It’s not my fault?  I’m not stupid?  Other people have this too?”  She had a sense of freedom.  All this time she was trying her hardest and feeling like a failure.  My heart hurt for her.  Now she knew it wasn’t her fault, it was ADHD.  This built the foundation to work at strategies together.  This created a trust and honesty that diffused any of my frustrations.  Instead of saying, “You forgot your homework again?!”  I could say, “The strategy we tried to help remember homework doesn’t seem to be working.  Let’s try something else!”  

  1. Remember the student’s perspective

When this teacher shared their frustration, I couldn’t help but realize they were defining ADHD.  They were getting upset at the disability.  As teachers, there is huge pressure to get a lot of content taught in a short amount of time.  Stopping to remember the student’s perspective is hard.  It is much easier to remind them for the 10th time in 5 minutes to sit still and get to work.  If you have picked some strategies to work on and are working together with the student, remembering their perspective is much easier.  

May you see the student first and the disability second.