As an educator, student engagement is a constant battle. Teaching in modern classroom environments can sometimes feel like you’re competing for your pupils’ attention against a seemingly endless stream of distractions.
When we throw teaching children with ADHD into the mix, this situation becomes even more acute and important to address. Having ADHD makes it harder for children to focus, and, as a result, they can struggle to follow instructions or end up distracting other students unintentionally.
If managing groups of pupils both with and without ADHD simultaneously is proving challenging as a teacher, then don’t worry: you’re certainly not on your own. Even the most experienced teachers can find themselves second-guessing their teaching abilities when faced with more complex student needs.
In this article, we’ll provide you with effective strategies and actionable advice for how you can make small classroom accommodations to keep students with ADHD engaged during lessons.
Why do children with ADHD struggle to focus in a classroom setting?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, more commonly referred to as ADHD, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects how a person’s brain functions. It is usually first diagnosed in children under the age of 12, but some cases can go unnoticed if the symptoms are less obvious or disruptive – particularly in girls, who may exhibit less obvious or less easily-recognised symptoms than their male counterparts.
Individuals with ADHD generally struggle to concentrate on things for prolonged periods of time, often act impulsively or without thinking, and show difficulty sitting still without becoming restless or fidgety. It’s easy to see, then, how traditional classroom environments are not set up to cater for these needs, meaning children with ADHD can become disengaged and sometimes end up disturbing their entire class.
Specialist teaching strategies can make mainstream learning hugely rewarding, both for a child with ADHD and for their peers. Let’s take a look at some of these in more detail.
1. Create deadlines
One mistake that teachers make with students with ADHD is to give them an infinite amount of time to complete work. While it’s important not to overload them, introducing some work deadlines can help all children focus and get work completed.
A good approach would be to break down large projects or topics into smaller sections. Each mini-assignment can have its own deadline so that students only have to focus on one thing for a relatively short amount of time. Putting a timer on the board can help students with ADHD complete the specific task at hand before moving on to the next one.
These deadlines will give children with ADHD something to work towards and hopefully prevent them from going off-task. Moreover, small deadlines will create a good level of urgency and provide the adrenaline children with ADHD often require to complete work. Make sure you set clear expectations about what they need to do so they won’t have to break concentration to ask for directions.
2. Talk about their likes and interests
While it’s important to involve all your students, including the likes and interests of your ADHD students (and other neurodivergent students) in the coursework could help keep them engaged. At the start of the term, get to know what all your students like.
Throughout the term, you could keep up conversations with each of your students about their interests. This will keep the class engaged as a whole, and can help to re-engage any disengaged students.
Whenever you see one of your students’ attention span dwindling, you could bring up their specific likes and interests to get them back in the learning zone.
3. Provide feedback
Providing feedback is one classroom engagement strategy that works well with ADHD and neurotypical students alike. Every child likes getting praised for their work, especially if a reward is earned, and positive reinforcement is known to boost self-esteem considerably. By monitoring student engagement closely, you can see who’s making a real effort to boost their engagement levels.
Implementing rewards and incentives for completed homework or class assignments could be key in getting your students with ADHD focused for longer. And knowing that their hard work is being recognised by their teachers, they’ll likely want to continue to please.
Now, this isn’t to say that disciplining students should fall by the wayside. Negative feedback, where appropriate, can helpful for creating clear boundaries between the good behaviour you want your classes to exhibit and the bad behaviour you want to avoid.
The important thing when delivering discipline, especially when it’s with students who have ADHD, is to make sure you establish rules and follow them. Ensure all your pupils understand what is and isn’t permitted when inside the classroom, and be consistent with any rewards or punishments given.
4. Give plenty of breaks
Allowing plenty of breaks during the school day can help children with ADHD to focus better. Those who struggle with ADHD symptoms tend to be physically restless, so they need breaks that involve plenty of movement. Consider planning active breaks or competitive classroom games to let students burn off energy and return to the classroom ready to work.
This could be a simple game of tag out in the playground or a set of star jumps at the student’s desk. Alternatively, if you haven’t got time for a game, you could ask your students to carry out a physical task such as collecting work from the class or cleaning the whiteboard.
You can also use the interactive whiteboard to plan out brain breaks – a fun activity that gives children a chance to focus on something else aside from what they’re learning. These interactive whiteboard activities can be great to signal a change in topic, or if you sense energy levels in your classroom dwindling.
5. Learn more about your students’ ADHD
There are three types of ADHD: Predominantly Inattentive, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive, and Combined Hyperactive-Impulsive and Inattentive.
Students diagnosed with Predominantly Inattentive ADHD tend to be easily distracted, forgetful, and prone to boredom. Those with a Hyperactive Impulsive diagnosis are generally highly talkative and prone to fidgeting. Lastly, those diagnosed with the Combined Hyperactive-Impulsive and Inattentive form of the disorder experience elements of both sets of symptoms.
If your school has a Special Education Needs (SEN) teacher or assistant, you’ll be able to learn the differences between these types and how best to accommodate the student’s individual needs into your lesson plans. They may also be able to advise on any additional interventions that could help, such as cognitive behavioural therapies or medications.
6. Be prepared to make extra allowances
Depending on the exact nature of your student’s ADHD, certain allowances beyond those offered to other children may be needed.
They might require extra time to complete homework assignments or long tests, help with remembering important dates and deadlines, a special quiet area where they can go to get away from any distractions in the classroom itself, support to develop their social skills when interacting with their peers, and other input from professionals.
Incorporating a range of sensory elements into your lesson plans will also help when teaching students with ADHD. To split up longer lessons in this way and avoid mindless note-taking, you could include a video presentation on your interactive whiteboard or play music during tasks.
In order to support children with ADHD, there should also be plenty of communication with their families. Teachers should work proactively with the parents and carers of their students if they are to succeed in creating supportive learning environments that nurture growth.
Parents will play a key role in reinforcing the teaching strategies used in class, which, in turn, will make things easier for you!
7. Incorporate the latest technology in your classroom
Students with ADHD tend to become more engaged when they’re presented with exciting new technology. The Promethean ActivPanel, a type of interactive display, can transform your classroom environment through interactive learning. Share your screen with your students and engage them through bright animations, images, and videos.
The ActivPanel features an infinite canvas that allows you to get creative with classroom challenges. It even works as a platform to try out the ADHD strategies highlighted in this guide, with a timer feature included. Using the ActivPanel with students with disabilities or other educational challenges is something we actively encourage teachers to try.
Request a demo today to see if the Promethean ActivPanel can help your students with ADHD to engage more in their lessons.
What is the best learning style for students with ADHD?
Students with ADHD often need visual aids, rules, and praise to stay focused in the classroom. It also helps to give them only short-term goals, as opposed to long-term ones. It’s easier for students with ADHD to focus on one single thing at a time. Presenting them with many tasks at once could overwhelm them.
What’s the best activity break for students with ADHD?
Ideally, activity breaks should be as physical as possible. Students with ADHD may need a physical outlet to stay focused long-term. This outlet could be a skipping rope game or a challenge involving a bouncing ball. Anything that gets the students with ADHD up and moving around would be a positive way to spend break time.
If you don’t have time to offer a physical release, try doing frequent short quizzes or games using the class interactive whiteboard.