ADD/ADHD in the Classroom: Improving Behavior

Over the past few weeks we’ve looked at different strategies for dealing with ADD/ADHD in the classroom. Some of the topics we discussed were classroom setup, lesson planning, the importance of movement and ways in which attention can be improved. These interventions will not work, however, if there is not a basic level of cooperation and good behavior within the classroom context. This is often a very difficult ideal to achieve, especially as students with ADD/ADHD tend to get fidgety in circumstances that exacerbate their condition. The purpose of this week’s article is, therefore, to focus on behavioral improvement in the context of the classroom. This is obviously a foundational issue, because if your classroom is in chaos no effective teaching will take place.
Here are some suggestions on how to improve behavioral outcomes with children dealing with ADD/ADHD:
Pick your battles: Many children with ADD/ADHD are constantly engaging in attention seeking behavior. One of the main reasons behind this kind of behavior is the desire to escape from activities that require the kind of focused attention that is very problematic for those dealing with ADD/ADHD. If, therefore, you respond to every single instance of attention seeking by interrupting the flow of the class and addressing the behavior, you play right into the hands of the attention seeker. It is therefore important that you pick your battles wisely. It is sometimes better to, within limits, simply ignore attempts to derail the flow of the teaching session. Don’t get me wrong, I’m obviously not suggesting that you should allow chaos to reign! Deciding not to join the battle can, however, sometimes be your wisest course of action.
Focus on motivation: When asked about the reasons behind disruptive behavior many students with ADD/ADHD will respond by saying that they simply don’t see the point of a particular lesson or activity. This can, of course, in some cases be an indication of disenchantment with education in general. A more common reason, in my opinion, would be that those dealing with ADD/ADHD find it very difficult to pay sustained attention to subjects that they are not passionately interested in. Motivation is therefore a crucial factor. It will not be enough for the average ADD/ADHD student to know that the completion of a certain piece of work is a course requirement. You will have to have other systems of rewards and consequences in place. Make sure that the systems are fast acting (i.e. rewards and consequences should follow hard on the heels of the behavior that it is supposed to reinforce or counteract).
Deal with impulsiveness: One of the main symptoms associated with inattention and ADD/ADHD in the classroom is impulsive behavior. This can be seen most clearly in the way in which some students will simply blurt out answers or interrupt other people. Make it clear that this kind of behavior is completely unacceptable in your classroom. One way to do this is to revert to what some may regard as an old-fashioned practice, namely hand raising. Discipline yourself to ignore interjections and even correct answers unless students properly raised their hands and are called upon to give an answer, or make a contribution. Some students may resist this but they will quickly learn that this is the only way to go if they want to participate in the classroom discussion.
Take a long-term approach: Behavior modification is, in most cases, not something that will happen overnight. You should therefore take a long-term approach to help ADD/ADHD students to improve the way in which they conduct themselves in class. One great way to do this is to enter into a formal behavior contract with such students. In this contract you can clearly specify what you can expect of each other within the classroom situation (e.g. as a teacher you can specify that you will do your utmost to be well prepared and to present stimulating lessons, while you expect the student not to be disruptive and to do his/her best to pay attention). After this behavior contract is signed you can make it clear to the student that his/her progress will be constantly monitored, and that they are welcome to also monitor your own adherence to the contract. One way to make sure that this contract is more than a piece of paper is to send regular progress reports (at least weekly) to the student’s home. In this way you can reinforce the idea that good behavior is a long term process and any deviation from this ideal will be commented on.
Managing challenging behavior is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks that a teacher can ever be faced with. Great results can be achieved with a little bit of planning, and the application of the principles listed above.