ADD/ADHD in the Classroom: Dealing with Disorganization

Being at school requires a certain level of organization. You have to know where to be, when you should be there and what you should bring. This may sound very simple and straightforward but for those dealing with ADD/ADHD it might be a major headache. It goes without saying that organizational skills will be the first thing to suffer when a person has to deal with the constant presence of inattentiveness and lack of focus. Lack of organizational skills can often lead to very negative educational outcomes. The constant forgetting, lateness and mistakes can very easily be interpreted by teachers as disengagement with learning or even as rebelliousness. Any teacher dealing with ADD/ADHD in the classroom should therefore have very clear and specific strategies in place to help students overcome disorganization and to promote healthy life habits in this regard.
Here are some practical suggestions for how this can be achieved:
Create a Basic Filing System: We have been promised a paperless society for a long time but it is clear that paper will be with us in the education system for at least a few more years yet. The problem is, of course, that paper is hard to keep track of and that it is the perfect medium for the creation of a scattered and disorganized mess. This problem is obviously compounded if you are dealing with attention problems. Help your ADD/ADHD students to win the paper war through the creation of a simple filing system. I know this sounds daunting but this need not be much more than binders with dividers and folders for specific tasks/subjects. Help them to get into the habit of ‘filing’ different pieces of work in the appropriate place. It would be great if you can get the participation and cooperation of parents in this regard so that they can help with the filing on the ‘home front’. There are obviously many different filing systems out there, most of which would be way too complicated for using in the classroom, so it’s up to you to choose (or create!) a system that would work best in your circumstances. I firmly recommend the approach taken by David Allen in his book Getting Things Done (a great resource, by the way, for those dealing with adult ADD/ADHD). Some simplified version of this should work like a charm in the classroom context.
Make use of a Communication/Assignment Book: One of the major irritants in terms of communication between the classroom and the home is that assignments/instructions/communication tends to get lost or distorted. This means that work simply does not get done or does not get done according to the right specifications. There is a very simple solution to this. If you know that communication and organization is a major problem for a specific student you should make use of an assignment/communication book. This should ideally be a page-a-day diary in which you can write instructions for the day. Ask parents to sign it every single day and commit to do the same (even if there is nothing written on the page). In this way you establish a clear and consistent channel of communication that will enable you to act in the best interest of the child by making sure that he/she and the family acts according to the best possible and most up-to-date information. Signing a book like this every single day may sound tedious but it is much better than the alternative, i.e. frustration about work not being done or is being done in the wrong way.

Reduce the movement of books/resources:
If you had a dollar for every time a student left an important book at home you would probably be very rich by now. I also don’t have to tell you about the frustration that this can cause. You know that this level of forgetfulness is, in most cases, not down to ‘hostile intent’ but it still drives you up the walls. One solution, that many teachers swear by, might be slightly expensive but it has worked wonders in terms of bringing peace back into the classroom. This is to simply allow the students to keep a duplicate set of books at home while another remains permanently in the classroom. This means that books are not carried from place to place and can therefore not be forgotten or misplaced. You may be able to make a case about this to your school administration or to persuade parents to shell out a bit more money to buy the books outright in order to improve learning outcomes for the children.
The interventions listed in this week’s article are not radical or difficult to implement. They can however make a world of difference to the lives of students who are constantly stressed because of disorganization and lack of focus. Putting a little thought and effort into alleviating this will make a world of difference, not only to the individual student but also to the overall classroom experience.