ADD/ADHD in the Classroom: Classroom Setup

“His mind is everywhere except in class!” is the kind of lament that we often hear when teachers discuss children with ADD/ADHD. I already pointed out in an earlier article that an inability to focus on a single task or block of information is one of the most difficult challenges associated with ADD/ADHD in the classroom. This can partially be solved by implementing some strategies designed to bring healthy movement into the classroom setting (discussed over the past few weeks). It should be noted, however, that bringing movement into the classroom can only ever be one of the possible quivers in your arrow as you strive to create an ADD/ADHD classroom. This week we will focus on another one: Classroom Setup.
The last statement presupposes something very important namely that planning should not only be focused on what you should teach (e.g. the aspects of the official curriculum that you should address) but also on the context in which teaching takes place. This may sound like a no-brainer, but it is surprising to see how easily many of us lapse into seeing our only task as delivering content regardless of the outcome. We would all do well to remember the old dictum: “If they are not learning effectively you are not teaching effectively.” I realize that these words can make us all very uncomfortable as they place the responsibility for what happens in the classroom so squarely on the shoulders of the teacher but let us acknowledge that they contain at least a kernel of truth. Effective classroom management should therefore not be seen as an optional extra but as an integral part of what you are doing as a teacher.
So what are some of the aspects of an effective classroom setup in cases where ADD/ADHD is a factor? Here are some of the most important in my opinion:
1) Seat ADD/ADHD students in areas where distractions are at a minimum: Think a little about how much of an ‘attention minefield’ the average classroom can be. It is filled with students, many doing all sorts of interesting things. The window provides a vista on the wide world outside. Off to the sides static and even moving displays stand ready to mesmerize. Now imagine that you are already having trouble to focus at the best of time and you will have some inkling of how challenging the average classroom can be for a student with ADD/ADHD. How can this be overcome? My suggestion is to seat a student with attention issues as close as possible to the middle of the front row of the classroom. In this way you will eliminate most of the other students as possible sources of distraction and will also provide a clear line of sight to you as the teacher.
2) Increase the space between students: This may not be a practical suggestion in some classrooms but it is one worth considering if at all possible. We are all social beings meaning that there are few things as interesting as other people. If your mind is already prone to wander the very near presence of other people is like an offer that you cannot refuse. Therefore, if you can manage to get your students a little further apart you should certainly take action on this.
3) Provide ADD/ADHD students with good role models: Many classrooms contain what can best be described as learning Bermuda triangles! These are the spots where kids who have trouble concentrating or who are otherwise disengaged from education tend to congregate. Most information that gets sent into this triangle seems to disappear without trace. Do your best to make sure that this is not part of the reality in your classroom. Try and surround the kids who have trouble concentrating with some others who are engaged and who employ effective listening and focusing techniques. Your efforts in this regard might be regarded as micromanagement and may even be resented. Stick with your guns however! You may well find that some of the positive practices rub off.
4) Move possible distractions out of the line of sight: Many modern classrooms are jam packed with the latest gadgetry. This is not necessarily a bad thing, technology can greatly enhance the teaching and learning experience. The problem comes in when these items are not being used. Blinking lights, screens with rolling information and even screensavers can make concentration and learning very difficult. You should therefore make sure that computer monitors and other possible technological distractions are not in the line of sight, or completely switched off while you are teaching.
These are just some of the basic things that you can do to organize your classroom in a way that will reduce distractions. None of them are particularly difficult, time intensive or expensive. Next week we will focus on how you can build on this foundation by improving your communication with students who are challenged in the area of attention. See you then!