ADD/ADHD in the Classroom: Clearly Communicating Assignments

Welcome back to our series on improving the prospects of children with ADD/ADD/ADHD in the classroom. Last week we focused on the way in which the physical setup of the classroom can be improved to facilitate learning. I am sure that you will note that these changes will not only benefit those students dealing with attention issues but that it will make for a better functioning and effective classroom all round.
This week’s article will focus on the way in which assignments and instructions are received and processed by students dealing with ADD/ADD/ADHD. This is an area that can cause a great deal of irritation and frustration, both on the side of the teacher and the child. Teachers often complain that they are as clear as they know how to be, yet their instructions are not understood and followed. Children on the other hand say that they have no idea what is expected of them, or that they are not able to complete the assignments exactly as requested. How can we escape from this muddle?
Here are some tested suggestions for doing so effectively:
1) Establish clear lines of communication and use as many of them as possible. If students are struggling with attention issues, you cannot simply expect that it will work to give instructions only once and only in one particular way. This may sound tedious but you can improve the chances of your message getting to the kids in your class by sending it down several channels. These can include a) verbal instructions; b) a written list of assignments given out at the beginning of each week and c) a clear outline of assignments written on the whiteboard at the end of the day d) sending reminders via email, social networking or cell phones. Making use of multiple channels of communication in this way will make use of both the power of repetition and the fact that children process information in different ways according to their personalities.
2) Check that you have been understood. We should all be very aware of the fact that what we say is not necessarily what is being heard. It is especially important that we hold on to this insight when we send messages into brains affected by ADD/ADHD. You should therefore have a system in place to check whether your messages were received as intended. This may mean having a kind of creative system in place to ascertain whether students know exactly what is expected of them. Sometimes this can be as simple as asking students to repeat the main points of their assignments in their own words.
3) Break assigned work up into manageable units. Most students with ADD/ADHD will react very negatively to a big blob of work that they are simply required to complete at a certain date. You can address this negativity by clearly marking out milestones as the school year progresses. These milestones will break up the work that is expected into manageable units by clearly delineating the next step that will be required of students. Presenting work like this, in small bites, will achieve the same end result but will make the prospect of actually doing the work much less daunting for those dealing with attention issues.
4) Allow for reasonable adjustments. Large and very complicated assignments can present what feels like insurmountable challenges to those dealing with ADD/ADHD. Do your best to accommodate them in ways that will recognise the nature of their condition without disadvantaging the other students in the class. The two adjustments that you can make that would perhaps be most welcome are:
• Allowing students with ADD/ADHD more time to complete it assignments.
• Allowing students with ADD/ADHD to present the results of their work in a variety of formats. This can mean, for example, that you interview a student about his/her impressions of a book instead of asking for a formal written book review.
Adjustments like these may seem unfair at first glance, but when you remember that you are dealing with a recognized inability to devote sustained attention to certain tasks they make perfect sense. It would, however, in light of the perceived unfairness be good to explain to all the students in the class why certain adjustments are being made for those students dealing with ADD/ADHD.
The interventions outlined above are not particularly difficult to implement, but they will make a massive difference in the lives of your students. Your main reward will be to see them growing academically as they respond to the fact that assignments and homework are now something manageable and, who knows, maybe even enjoyable!