So many students we have in our classrooms are diagnosed with ADHD. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to help students who are overly energetic, can’t seem to focus on tasks, or daydream during class. However, there are lots of great tools and strategies we can use to help support these students and help them find success.
Check out my tips below for how to work with students with ADHD and help them succeed in the classroom.
Go inside early
Sometimes, lining up can be a trigger for students. This can be because they are overly competitive and always want to be first. They may get annoyed if peers aren’t following proper protocols. They may have issues with personal space.
No matter what the reason, if you’re seeing that a student continues to have difficulty in the morning when coming in, after lunch, or so on, try giving them the option of coming in early.
When the student comes in early, you can use this time effectively as well.
If you’re rushed in the mornings getting things ready for the day, ask them to help you hand something out, organize computers, or another equally useful job.
If thes tudent has a behaviour issue, this might be a good time to go through daily expectations or check in with them about their emotions.
Just try not to let this be wasted time. Maybe they just need to sit quietly to collect themselves; if that’s going to help them regulate throughout the day, it’s not a waste of time! Use your professional judgment to figure out what would be best for this particular kiddo.
You’ll inevitably have at least one peer call this out as being “unfair”, but remind them that fair is not equal and different students need different things to be successful.
Give the student a job and praise
Some students have difficulty during unstructured time because there’s no purpose to it. They may get bored and create issues, they could be out policing peers, or any other less than helpful activity.
If you give them a job to do, this may help to alleviate these issues.
Of course, be sure to think about the student’s strengths and weaknesses when deciding what type of job to give them.
For example, if they have a problem around policing others, having them referee a soccer game is going to be a terrible decision. But, having them show a new student around the playground and introduce them to peers may be a good option.
Or, having them “buddy up” with a younger student and teach them how to draw their favourite Pokémon could be an option. There are tons of possibilities.
One thing to make sure to avoid is making this a punishment for them. Unless they’ve done something wrong and really do deserve an appropraite punishment, they still need to be enjoying their recess, just like everyone else.
Provide a purpose for an activity
Just like mentioned above, often students who are having difficulty in unstructured time need to have something specific to do.
If they feel like an activity they’re doing is open ended or a waste of time, that’s just asking for trouble. So, make sure you’re giving them purpose and structure when they are doing certain activities whcih may not be structured enough.
For example, you can say “I want you to get your science textbook from your locker and come right back to class. You have two minutes”.
Or, “by the end of this work period, you should finish one paragraph. I will check on you every five minutes”.
When students know exactly what they need to accomplish during a time where there is little teacher led instruction, they are much more likely be able to complete it. Additionally, if they do not, then you have another jumping off point for how to work with them.
Were they not able to do it? Did they choose not to do it? Were they distracted? These are all things you can work with the student on to figure out how to best move forward and make them more successful.
Give transition warnings and reminders
Sometimes students have difficulty moving between structured and unstructured time because they did not expect the change to occur so suddenly.
Giving students warnings when transitions are going to be happening can help them to prepare mentally for what is going to occur.
Further, reminding of them of what the expectations are during the transition is also helpful. This way, they not only know that the transition will be happening, they can prepare for all of the expectations they’ll be needing to follow.
This is easy to do before something like recess, but can be more challenging when students are finished and coming in from recess.
You often can’t, or don’t want to, have to cut your lunch hour short to track down a student to tell them recess is almost over and how to come into the classroom. Instead, when you go to collect the class from recess, just go remind the student of expectations for being in the halls and coming back into the room.
Encourage group games
This tip can go either way, depending on the student. Sometimes it can be rough if the student has difficulty playing with others, but learning how to properly play games and interact with peers is a life skill. And believe me, you know as well as I do that other kids will definitely tell them if they’re being out of line.
Group activities are often a good choice for some kids because they tend to have a clear structure and rules. There is also, generally, a purpose.
Games like grounders, tag, soccer, four square, and so on offer kids who get bored and need purpose something very clear to do.
Of course, if you have a student who is overly competitive, doesn’t play by rules, or hates losing, those are skills to work on first before thrusting them into a situation you know they’ll fail at.
Encourage participation in clubs
Some of our students who have challenges with unstructured time are not involved in any activities outside of school.
They may have trouble engaging with peers or doing things other than being on technology.
If we can get them to sign up for a school club, team, or activity, this can be a really great option for teaching them skills they may be lacking.
Some schools may be small and not have many options, but even something as simple as a “game club” where kids come in at lunch once a week and play board games is helpful. It will encourage kids to take turns, play with others, use imagination, and have fun.
Plus, a teacher will be supervising to help build these skills and nip any issues in the bud.
Structure for success
Most important, in my humble opinion, is to give students work they are able to complete. When they fail, that’s just going to contribute to the negative feelings they already have about themselves. It’s a vicious cycle these students can get into with themselves.
Start with work they can do no problem to boost their confidence. This will get them going and remind them that they can complete work and are smarter than they think. But, don’t keep doing this for too long. Not only will they start to get bored, they’ll recognize really quickly if the kids around them are doing harder work. Then, you’ll get them thinking that they’re stupid and saying things like “you give me easy work because I’m stupid”.
Instead, start to very slowly increase the level of difficulty of work you’re asking the student to complete. And make sure you’re working very closely with them as you up this level. This way, you can help them through challenges and remind them of all the past work they’ve been able to complete.
The biggest thing you want to do is ensure the student will not fail, without making them feel inferior or “dumb”.
ALLOW STUDENT TO SHOW STRENGTHS
If you always have multiple choice tests, but a student overthinks and does better writing their knowledge, switch how you test them. If they’re an excellent artist, allow them to draw you a picture with a written explanation. Do they love video? Give an assignment where they make a commercial.
There are a ton of ways for kids to show you their knowledge, so avoid always using ways which they’re weaker in.
I like to give my kids choice boards, or at least a few different options, when completing assignments or skill building activities. This way, they can pick an option which works with their unique skill set, and the whole class is choosing different options, so none of the kids feel different or singled out.
Use skills to build a success program
Just like above, if the student you’re working with is significantly behind and really struggling, it’s beneficial to program specifically around their strengths.
There are a lot of different options you can do here. Keep in mind that there are plenty of ways for students to show you what they know that don’t include what we automatically think of when we think of testing.
Students could create a photo diary, be tested orally, write music, create art, make videos, and so on. They can write about topics of interest rather than generic prompts.
There are a ton of different ways to be creative here without compromising the integrity of the curriculum. It just takes some creativity!
You can even work with the student to discuss what they’re strengths are and create lessons and assignments based on that!
Teach growth mindset
Students often come to us without a growth mindset, which can leave them stuck in a negative self worth loop.
It can be very difficult to teach our students how to think about their learning and growth, but it’s well worth it.
Start by checking in with your students while they work. Ask them pointed questions about how they’re progressing, what they’re stuck in, what they’ve been able to do, and so on.
You should start by really supporting the student with this, but before long they should be able to self-question in order to figure out how to move forward. This is an important skill because, rather than get stuck in a negative self talk loop, they’ll begin to question what they are missing and be able to find answers themselves. Recognizing their own ability to problem solve is a huge accomplishment which will help them from self pitying words and behaviours.
Whenever you see or hear the student questioning how to move forward, making improvements, and problem solving, make sure you reinforce it right away. They need positive influences to encourage their growth and let them know how smart they really are!
Give positive recognition
Finally, one of the most important things you can do with students who put themselves down is to provide them with positive recognition.
They need to really see all of the things they are able to do and how many strengths they have.
They also need to know how important trying and not giving up is.
Try to do this in front of peers as well. Not only does this encourage a positive classroom environment, when other students witness adults pointing out kids’ strengths, they’re more likely to notice that in their peers as well.
Obviously, make sure you’re pointing out all your students’ skills and strengths! The positivity is infectious and they’ll all, hopefully, begin to praise one another and try to do better themselves!
Stress fun over competition
When I taught physical education, I stressed this with every student and every class each day.
Spoiler alert: the competitive kids are going to be competitive no matter what, but you can do your best to alleviate some of your stress.
Before beginning any game, task, or son that had any kind of potential to bring out competitive energy, make sure you let everyone know that the goal is to have fun and build skills.
Also, stress the behaviours you will absolutely not tolerate and act on these. If anyone breaks them, they’re immediately out without any chances. Even if kids are still competitive by nature, they’ll at least recognize what you deem inappropriate and, hopefully act accordingly. And, all students will feel more safe and comfortable with strong rules for inappropriate behaviour and actions.
Let them see the whole game
There can be many different reasons kids can become agitated during games or sports. One of these is because there’s so much external stimuli going on around them.
Many students can feel anxious or overwhelmed if they can’t see what is going on behind them. I find this quite a bit with students who have experienced trauma in their lives, though it can happen for a variety of reasons.
If the student can see the whole game in front of them, they’re less likely to become agitated. For example, court games like badminton or volleyball are generally good for being able to know what’s happening at all angles. For sports like soccer, hockey, and so on, if they’re on defence, there’s a less likely chance that a lot is happening behind them than if they’re on offense.
Often, when too many things are going on around a student, especially if they have ADHD or anxiety, they will become highly irritated. Of course, I’m sure we’ve all witnessed these kiddos react inappropriately when this happens.
Often, using things such as noise cancelling headsets will help students. Or, working in a corner of the classroom in which other students and goings on can’t be easily seen. Working in the hall just outside of the room can also be helpful.
Of course, there may also be times in which excessive external stimuli is unavoidable. This may mean a student may have to do alternative activities in alternative areas for classes such as gym, music, drama, and the like.
While some students do need these major accommodations, I find most are fine if I let them know they can take a break at any time if they just let me know they need one.
Avoid timed drills
Things such as mad minutes, or kahoot, are super fun for lots of kids (and people like me) who thrive on fun competition and can generally manage our emotions.
However, it should come as no surprise that students who are triggered by competition will not do well with timed activities. These are things which can really begin to agitate them and cause anxiety.
I have a pretty big issue with timed things in general. Being fast at something doesn’t necessarily mean being better at it, other than things like, you know, racing.
But, when kids start to equate speed with skill, that’s when major issues can start arising if they aren’t as quick as their peers. Of when competition can get out of control. Of course, students may also start to make careless mistakes because they are trying so hard to work quickly instead of accurately.
Give the student a job
Depending on the student, there are some things you’ll want to avoid. Remember to pick the role you want to give to them appropriately.
If a child has a major issue with policing others and you know they’re going to be looking to nitpick their peers, then refereeing would be a terrible choice. Not only would they ruin the game for their classmates, they’d more than likely lose friendships in the process.
But if the student would thrive in a leadership role, then refereeing or being a “team lead” may be an excellent choice for them.
For students who can be explosive with peers, something where they’re not in a role of “power” would be a better choice.
Perhaps they could be in charge or retrieving balls that fly off the field, or supporting a student with limited mobility, or be a sideline “compliment cheerleader” who calls out positive affirmations to peers.
When the student isn’t directly involved in the game, or can see the “whole picture”, it can often help to alleviate some of their competitive nature and need to win.
Have the student stay close to teacher
Sometimes, we just can’t fully trust the student yet to consistently make good decisions. When their behaviour impacts their peers, that’s when we need to step in.
During times in which the student may display overly competitive and aggressive behaviour, it can be a good idea to have them remain close to you.
This is a positive for two big reasons. First, when they are close to you, you can prevent or intervene in any behaviours before they escalate. This can, of course, keep all kids safe, preserve peer relationships, and keep the student from being embarrassed.
Second, if you are with them consistently, you can begin to notice triggers and certain behaviours the student has. This can be very useful in working with them to identify what problems they are having and strategies for working past them.
Ensure they understand
We can repeat instructions over and over again, but if students aren’t paying attention, or don’t fully understand them, that’s going to do us little good.
Is it annoying when kids aren’t paying attention? Yes. Can we always help that? Nope. Plus, sometimes our students are paying attention, they just don’t understand what we’ve said.
After you explain something, check in with students, especially those prone to competition and peer conflict about what they understood the rules to be.
They may be getting angry with peers and causing issues because they genuinely do not understand the rules and perceive everyone else to be playing wrong. Of course they’re frustrated!
Checking in, even just quickly, to see if they understand exactly how to proceed properly can be extremely helpful.
Try to delay gratification
Often, many of our overly competitive students have a hard time delaying gratification. They want to win because it’s immediate and they enjoy the feeling it brings.
To help them better manage emotions, try to support them in delaying gratification.
This will have benefits throughout many of their areas of their lives, not just during times of competition or agitation.
The way I generally do this is to provide them with rewards, then start to extend the time of the task they have to complete before getting their reward. This will look very different for each student, depending on what they’re struggling with and what type of reward works best for them.
For example, if they struggle with playing well with peers, you could start with being able to take three turns in a game without peer issues, then give them something like five minutes to read their favourite comic book.
It will likely take you a bit of time at first to figure out exactly what the “sweet spot” is with how much they can successfully handle and what type of reward they actually care about. But, once you’ve figured this out, you can slowly begin to raise expectations as the student learns new skills.
Keep in mind that time frames for increasing expectations will also vary between students. Some may be able to be challenged with harder work each week, while others could take months. Don’t give up! It’s worth it when you see these kiddos grow!
Sometimes, one of the only things we can do to help kiddos who are fixated on one thing is to try to divert their attention.
This isn’t my favourite thing to do, as I don’t feel it develops skills the same way the tips above do, but it may be our best option sometimes.
If we can tell the student is going to “blow” and we’re concerned about the other students, maintaining the students’ friendships, and not allowing them to embarrass themselves, diverting their attention can be a good option.
Pointing out a rabbit in the field, asking them how to play their favourite video game, telling them you love their new sneakers, and so on are all ways you could try this.
I don’t recommend doing this consistently because then the student won’t really be developing the skills they need to overcome their tendencies to be over-competitive and become agitated. Instead, they’ll just be learning to avoid.
I suggest talking with the student after they calm down a bit and they can, hopefully, recall what triggered them and how it made them Fermin their body and mind. Sometimes they won’t be able to vocalize or feel this, so you may have to tell them what you saw and ask them questions.
For example, you could say “I noticed that you clenched your fists when Jimmy passed the ball? Do you remember this?” This may help the student to begin to self identify their triggers and why they get upset by them.
Give opportunities to move
Whenever you can, it’s helpful to allow wiggly students the opportunity to move around. Now, we don’t want them tanning like a maniac in the middle of the room who or you teach, that may be enjoyable for some, but not others.
Instead, let them go for a drink of water. Provide break cards they can use throughout the day when they need a movement break, assign them a task like carrying a book back to the library for you.
These are all great ways to get the student up and moving which won’t distract you or the other students.
I find that if students don’t want to be singled out for being wrigglers, giving them a useful job to do is the best option. I’ll sometimes get a student to walk back and forth between my class and another teachers’ giving “important notes”.
It’s also, of course, important to build frequent time for all the students to get up and move around throughout the day. You can do this with group work, body breaks, centres, allowing them to do independent work in different areas, and so on.
Allow space for movement
If you know a student is a fidgeter, don’t jam their desk into a tiny corner or push them right up against other students’ desks.
Instead, make sure they are in an area of the room where they can move their legs and arms without annoying anyone else.
Now, I know some teachers like to create “islands” for some of their more active students, but I tend to advise against this.
Putting the student by themself in one area of the room while everyone else is together is not okay. They are going to feel isolated, weird, and different.
This can have a pretty traumatic impact on a kid. Not to mention, if they feel like they’re singled out, their behaviour may actually get worse. They may think “we’ll, I’m already a ‘bad kid’, I may as well act bad”.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is extremely common and varies from student to student, don’t punish a child by isolating them simply because their mind works differently than others’.
Arrange a cue with the student that acknowledges their need to go for a walk, take a drink, and so on.
Students often do not want to be singled out as being different from their peers, so asking them if they want to take a break is not always a great idea.
Even if you do this quietly, they may still be uncomfortable thinking other kids can see them and will think they’re “weird”.
Instead, try to create a system you can use with the student in which they can signal to you when they need to take a break. They could use a card, a hand gesture, or so on.
Sometimes, I’ll have the student give me a peace sign and then I’ll know they need to go for a walk. Or, they may have a small card in their desk, and when they put it on top it means they would like a break.
This can alleviate any fear they have about looking different and still allow them the opportunity to take any breaks they feel are necessary.
Break tasks down
Sometimes our wiggly kids are unable to sit and focus on a task. They get easily distracted, or bored, or feel uncomfortable sitting for extended periods of time.
In an attempt to make school work easier for them, try breaking the task into smaller chunks.
This can help the student because the assignment won’t seem as daunting and large. Additionally, you can build in body break time for them.
For example, after they answer one question, they can go for a walk. This helps to both give them a small reward for completing a task as well as providing them with a movement break.
Make sure you also praise them when they complete these smaller “chunks” of work. Letting students know that they’re doing well, trying hard, and that you recognize their accomplishments generally work to make them want to continue doing well.
Allow alternative movement
Sometimes our wiggly kiddos can’t really control their wiggles. Maybe you’re leading the class in a body break and some of your AHDH students just can’t seem to follow along with the whole group.
Sometimes, you just need to let this go.
For example, if you’re doing Just Dance with the group, who cares if little Freddy is doing a foot jiggle instead of a butt wiggle? It’s not hurting anyone, and he’s still moving. If that’s going to help get him to regulate, fantastic!
Sometimes our students need to move in a way which seems atypical. While they may be okay going for a walk through the hallways occassionally, other times they may need to jump, kick, or dance. If this is what they need, find a space that works and let them take a break there.
Whatever works to help our kiddos regulate is alright by me!
Give challenging tasks
We don’t ever want our students to be bored during class. This can definitely lead to restlessness and excessive fidgeting. Sometmes or kids fidget a lot because they’re early finishers or they aren’t feeling consistently challenged.
To keep students from becoming bored or restless, make sure you provide them with things to do which challenge them.
These can be both mental and physical tasks, depending on the student. Also, keep in mind that what is challenging will vary from student to student.
One kiddo may find long division easy while another may enjoy the challenge. A student who excels at basketball isn’t going to find it very hard to dribble for a minute.
Also keep in mind that you want tasks to be challenging, but not frustratingly so. If a student is unable to complete the task you’ve given them, they are going to get upset and discouraged.
Make sure that you also vary the tasks you’re giving to the student. They’ll get very bored very quickly if the only thing you continue to give to them is word searches (for example).
Give students a fidget
Letting students use a tool to help them regulate is a great idea.
As long as they are not distracted and are not distracting others, a fidget tool is a great idea for while you’re speaking, while they’re watching a video, or while they’re listening to something.
Having something to do with their body or hands while they listen is a great way for many students to pay attention. It may sound contradictory, but it’s actually extremely helpful.
It’s amazing to watch a student look as though they’re in their own world, doodling, or playing with a fidget, then asking them what you were talking about and have them rattle it all back to you near-verbatim.
Depending on the student, the tool that works best for them will differ. Some may like a fidget tool, others will like a wiggle stool, some may need to be able to stand while you’re teaching, others may doodle, and so on. In fact, some may need a combination of these.
Try to chat with the student and observe them during the day to see what tools will work best. And, of course, make sure they’re aware of all of the rules around these tools. Remind them that they’re tools, not toys, and tehy should be used as such.
Any time a student is distracted or is distracting others, they’re using the tool inappropriately!
Make sure that when you have students transition, you are also supervising the process. Don’t just call out from your desk “time to clean up and pull out your math binder!”
If you aren’t present during the transition, there’s a good chance kids are going to make choices that are less than optimal.
Instead, ensure you are walking around during the transition and giving gentle and kind reminders about acceptable behaviour and what students should be doing.
Make sure you are doing this in a kind way with students, if they make a mistake, trust that it was unintentional and give a gentle reminder. Now, if the behaviour persists and becomes clearly intentional, then you’ll need to intervene and speak with the student.
Of course, depending on the severity of the behaviour, discipline appropriately and then work with the student on ways to improve transitions. Perhaps it will be better to improve this with them alone or with a small group; being around other students will give them an audience which could trigger inappropriate behaviour or make them emotional.
Give advANCED warning
It isn’t only students who struggle with transitions who appreciate warnings when a transition will be taking place.
It’s beneficial to let the whole class know that they should be finishing up what they’re working on. This way, all of them will start completing work and finishing up around the same time.
Let them know the amount of time they have left, what they should finish, and what they’ll be moving onto next.
Make sure you repeat these and go slowly. If you list three things students have to do, there’s a very good chance kids will miss some of this or forget by the time they’ve finished the first step.
So, remind them in a kind way of what you’d like them to complete and when.
For example, after you’ve given the full instructions, praise students who have started to finish up. Say things such as “Lisa, great work finishing that sentence, you can start to pack up your pencils now.” Or, “so many of you have cleaned your art up, great work! You can get your social textbooks now.”
Transition warnings are great for everyone, but they’ll really help support any students who have trouble during transition time because they have time to process what will be happening and planning in their mind how they need to behave and what they need to do. This can alleviate any anxiety or unintended behaviours.
Transition routines may need to be repeated many times before they become routine for a child with ADHD
For many students, for example those with ADHD or memory issues, they are not going to be able to practice appropriate transition protocols once and be able to successfully do it without support.
It’s always best to treat these kiddos with tons of patience and kindness as they learn routines.
Keep in mind that they will likely need a lot of verbal reminders to know what to do. Make sure that you are reminding kindly and are not assuming they’re purposefully not following rules.
You are also going to have to remember that these kiddos will likely need a lot of visual and hands on reminders and practice.
Thankfully, other students correctly following routines will provide plenty of visual support for struggling students. They will also be practicing daily themselves for hands-on practice. Just always keep in mind how much longer it may take some students than others.
Patience is on your side here; you don’t want to impact your relationship with the student if you begin to get irritated or short with them.
Use visual schedules
Visual schedules are a must in all classrooms. They help out so many students for various reasons.
Any student who is having trouble with transitions can easily look at the schedule throughout the day to see what is going to be happening.
Ideally, you will have a visual schedule at the front of the room which works for all students. In some cases, you may also need a schedule directly on a student’s desk. There could be several reasons for this to be necessary.
Perhaps the student has a different schedule than the rest of the class. They may have a diagnosis or other need which requires them to be on a different program. Therefore, the whole class schedule isn’t going to be much good for them if they are working on something else.
They may have a shorter attention span and have to have tasks broken into smaller chunks. While the whole class may be working on one thing for 45 minutes, another student may have things broken down into ten minutes with brain and body breaks included.
Some students also need to know exactly what they’re doing in each subject. So they may be able to look at the class schedule and see that social is coming up, but they may also need a desk schedule which breaks down what’s happening in social. For example, it may include “class discussion about current events, read textbook, answer questions” and so on.
For some students, these desk schedules can also act as tools for rewards. You can include “when/then” or “if/then” and give them a reward for each task they complete or after they do a certain number of tasks. That way, students can see their progress right in front of them. It’s also not broadcasted to the entire class, it can easily be used quietly and discretely.
state and display materials needed
Students who have difficulty transitioning often have difficulty remembering which materials they will need for the next task. This can be frustrating for you, peers, and the student themselves when you begin teaching the next subject and a forgetful student keeps having to pop up and grab forgotten tools.
While the students all learn new routines and expectations, it’s very helpful to post necessary materials for each activity up in the board.
I use images of materials with names written underneath and put them up on the board for each transition. This is easy to do and ends up saving you and the kids a lot of time. It’s also helpful for all kids as they can both see and read the materials, so kids who are behind in reading or are learning English can still see what is needed next.
When I give the kids my first transcription warning, I put up the next necessary material images on the board. Then, when I give their second warning I point out what materials they will need next, so they are prepared to get them and have enough time to clean up and prepare for the next activity.
Have locations for all materials
In your classroom, it’s highly beneficial to have all things located in spaces that make sense and are easily accessible for you and students.
For example, it makes sense to have all art supplies together. I keep all fidget tools, disco sits, and other tools my wiggly kids need together. Duotangs are all in the same location.
When you set up your room this way, kids know where to find things consistently.They also, generally, don’t have to travel across the room to various areas to find the things they’re looking for. Instead, everything is in one, common space.
This can also help ease transition times because, when all things are together, students can help one another out. For example, if all of your scissors are together in one bin, a student can just grab the bin and pass them out to everyone before an activity.
Not having to spend time searching, and not having peers around them searching, can ease a lot of students’ anxiety or restlessness and help significantly with transitions.
List steps necessary
Many of our kids struggle with transitions because they haven’t completed their work or are confused about where they should be. The idea of switching to something else can be frustrating because they not only haven’t finished what they were working on. They also may not know what’s required of them in the next task.
If you break an assignment or task down into simple and attainable steps, then list these for all students, it can be much easier to follow along with what to expect.
You can also break assignments down into what should be done and when. If you have a lot of anxious kiddos, only put up the steps you know they’ll complete in the time given. If you put all the steps on, they could get upset if they don’t finish them all.
I also always remind students as we transition that it’s okay if they’re not completed. Let them know about time they have during class to complete it, or if there are options at lunch, recess, at home, or so one to complete work if this was your last period. Just make sure you don’t present this as a punishment if they are not complete (unless, of course, they were being silly with their time).
PROVIDE an organized peer helper
If you have a student who continues to struggle with transitions, it can be useful to have another peer help them out.
You have to do this in a way in which both students are okay with it. You don’t want the student who “needs” the helper to feel lesser than, and you don’t want the helping student to feel like a babysitter.
Ideally, the students will be friends who genuinely want to help one another with things one is naturally stronger in. While one student can help out with reminding what to do during transitions, the other may be able to support with spelling, or something else.
As long as your peer dynamics work, this can be an excellent strategy for students struggling with transitions.
Use tools to enhance memory
If we are just speaking or having students read and expecting things to “stick” in their minds, it’s just not going to work. I mean, this is hard enough for our “regular” students, let alone any who have memory issues.
Providing students with more tactile tools to help them memorize things, they’ll have something more concrete to help them with recall.
Things such as manipulatives can help support kids because they’re using their hands while working. This can help them to make sense of the information. Allowing students to use manipulatives while completing work and on tests can help provide them with physical tools to help recall what they have been learning and working with.
Another tool which may be helpful is recordings. For example, audio recorded books are helpful for students who may not have remembered what happened in the novel being read in class. If they have more time to listen to it and follow along in their own time, that may help them to better understand and remember what happens.
Visual supports can also help support students. Things such as photos, graphs, comics, and so on provide another modality for them to intake the information. Visuals can help them to recall information as they think back to when they first learned it.
Of course, all of these tools depend on the student themselves and how they best learn. Every additional tool which can help them to “stick” information to past knowledge is helpful to support memory.
Teach memory techniques
Many students have never been taught any type of memory strategies which can help them with recall. Therefore, it can be very helpful to teach all your students different types of memorization techniques. This will be helpful for all the kids, but especially those who struggle with memory.
Mnemonics are an excellent tool to help students remember things. For example, I still use “never eat shredded wheat” to remember North, East, South, and West. And I’m in my mid-thirties! Share any of these you know with your class and encourage them to share with one another as well!
Other tools which can help are things like visualization or repeating things orally. Sometimes the best way to remember something is to literally repeat it so many times that you couldn’t forget it if you wanted to, like Call Me Maybe or Never Gonna Give You Up.
Give all your students time during class to practice memorization tactics with one another. They can give each other tips and practice things out loud if they need to. This is a great way to let them know that everyone struggles with memorizing things sometimes and it’s okay to work with peers to support one another.
Provide study guides and models
Sometimes students will require more support about what exactly to study and how. Providing study guides and tips is very useful for this.
You may not provide these to all students, but an accommodation for a student who struggles with memory can be to provide guides, models, and tips.
In some classes I’ll provide all students with an intricate study guide, and in others I’ll provide some students with guides which are more intricate and supportive because I know they need a bit more to be successful.
In classes with a lot of memorization, like biology, you can provide graphs and illustrations kids can study from and complete. For classes like math, you can provide examples of how to solve equations and plenty of practice questions for kids to do at home.
Of course, these guides and models will look different for different classes, ages, kids, and so on. Just use your professional judgement to provide your students with what they need.
Allow use of technical aids
Many kids will need to use other tools during tests and assignments to be successful. There’s nothing wrong with this. I mean, we use Google search all the time in “real life”, and isn’t that what we’re supposed to be preparing our students for?
Providing students with things such as calculators, computers, iPads, voice recorders, and so on, is a helpful way to provide them with an extra aid for recalling information learned in class.
Make sure that the tools you provide for students don’t just give them the answers, but rather allow them to find the answers on their own, but with a bit of support.
For example, calculators are useful for finding answers to long equations, but if you’re allowing one on a test that’s just answering simple addition and subtraction problems, why even have a test?
Allow time to process
Often, students need a bit longer to answer questions than we may think. This can be both in class when we’re asking questions as well as on tests and assignments.
It can be beneficial to give students extra time to complete tests and assignments. They may need this time to use the tools and strategies they’ve learned to recall information.
In class when you’re asking questions and giving work time, keep in mind that many students will need longer to really process what you’ve asked and think about their answers. Don’t jump to the next student too quickly, assuming a child doesn’t know the answer, instead give them some time to think and form a response for you.
To save any type of embarrassment, let the student “pass” if they don’t want to answer, or give them gentle hints.
seat them close to the teacher
Many students with ADHD should be seated close to the teacher or another adult (like an educational assistant) in the classroom.
If a student is seated close to you, this can often help them to not speak out of turn. Just the physical presence of the teacher can help to alleviate calling out or attention seeking. If they are about to speak out and see you, they may be able to catch themselves and stop.
Alternatively, if you are near to them, you can give them gentle reminders to stay quiet when they speak out of turn.
Being near these students may also help you to see smaller behaviours you didn’t catch before. Small things like kicking a classmate’s desk or tapping a pencil could occur before more inappropriate and disruptive behaviour does. If you catch these, you can give a reminder or offer a break to the student before it escalates.
Reward appropriate behaviour
Make sure that you are catching students being good. There are a lot of things I wouldn’t do as an adult if I wasn’t rewarded for them (like working or eating my vegetables), so don’t underestimate the power of rewards.
A lot of the time, our students who have difficulty with speaking when they’re not supposed to, hear primarily negative comments from their peers and teachers throughout the day. Consistently hearing people asking them to stop what they’re doing or telling them to be quiet. Obviously, that doesn’t feel great, so if we can boost their self esteem, that’s fantastic.
Therefore, it’s very important to make sure all positive behaviour and actions we can catch are acknowledged and praised. If you can create a rewards system for these students as well, it’s an excellent way to reinforce good behaviour and let kids know that their hard work can pay off. It may be challenging for them, but the reward is worth it.
Use a study booth
Sometimes students are unable to focus and complete work because there’s so much going on around them. Let’s be honest, talking to your peers is probably more fun than a history project.
In some instances, using a study carrel can be really helpful for those students who get easily distracted. Being able to physically block out outside distractions can help keep a student focused. When peers and other distractions are out of the student’s view, then they won’t necessarily be as likely to be off-task.
This is something you need to be careful with because you never want it to feel like a punishment. I like to set up a “focus corner” in my classroom which any student is allowed to use when they feel it’s necessary. I may suggest a student use it if they seem distracted, but I never force it.
The last thing a student wants is to feel like they are being punished, as if they are being isolated from the group, or like they are different from their peers. Forcing them to consistently work in an isolated area will definitely cause this and could cause some trauma and could make behaviours worse.
Provide something to chew
Offering students something to do with their mouths, other than call out when they shouldn’t, can help them with inappropriate talking.
For some younger students, or students in special education classes, I’ll offer “chewlery”. This is specifically made for kids to chew on as an “oral fidget” of sorts. However, I personally find chewlery disgusting and age inappropriate after about second grade.
Instead, offering students things such as gum will help them not to stand out from their peers and to begin using a tool they can take with them through their lives. Things such as hard candies or chewy candies can work as well.
For students who need a little bit more than just chewing, they can use straws. Rather than just giving students a straw, suggest to parents that they purchase the style of water bottle with a straw attachment. Then students can chew the straw in their water bottle and not “stick out” from their peers.
Make sure you go over rules around this with students. They need to know that this is a tool and they shouldn’t be bragging about it with other students, spitting gum on the floor, or so on. Otherwise, they’ll lose their privilege.
Model appropriate behaviour
Many times we have students who call out or otherwise act inappropriately, it’s because they don’t know how to get attention otherwise.
Perhaps they haven’t been taught this at home, or they had a past experience where the only way to be heard was by acting out. There could be many reasons for the behaviour, but it doesn’t mean they need to continue with it.
Go over how to positively, kindly, and respectfully talk with other peers and adults. You can literally act this out in front of them, have a class discussion about expected and unexpected behaviour, and kindly call out inappropriate behaviour when it occurs.
If you can, talk to parents about what you’re seeing in the classroom and ask if they see it at home. If you can get on the same page about behaviour, then school and home will both have the same expectations, which will help kids learn expected rules faster.
Of course, parents may not always be able to do this at home. They may work several jobs, have several people in the home, or so on. That’s okay, though, we can still work with kids on what we expect at school and continue to model and promote appropriate behaviours.
Ignore minor behaviour issues
If we call out every single mistake a student is making, we are going to not only irritate the heck out of them and potentially ruin our relationship, we’re also going to be exhausted!
Don’t waste your time calling out every little thing. Instead, let minor issues go and just focus on big ones. The student needs to feel like they’re (mostly) being successful at school.
If you set up a rewards system for them, makes sure you’re setting them up for success. Start very easily and then begin to challenge the student more. If you can, ignore the small mistakes you notice, praise them for little wins, and only call out major behaviour issues.
As the student begins to improve, then you can start calling out more minor behaviours because, ideally, the major issues will have begun to improve so much so that they hardly exist.
Of course, this can take a lot of time, depending on the student and their needs. Don’t be discouraged if the steps they are making seem to be infinitesimal. Sometimes the things we do for our students won’t be seen for years and we may never even know about their successes; but they definitely exist!
Teach hand signals
As I noted above, often a student who has issues with calling out during class may hear primarily negative feedback throughout the day. Keep in mind that their peers also hear this and could begin to see them as a “bad” student. Obviously, we know this sin;t the case and want to ensure all our students enjoy coming to school and are happy when there.
To alleviate having to continually call out the student’s negative behaviour, come up with a hand signal or gesture you can use with them to let them know their behaviour needs to be altered.
For example, if the student is calling out, rather than telling them in front of the whole class to be quiet, you can simply put a finger on their desk, or give them a look and give a “stop” signal with your hand. This will let you continue speaking to the class and stops everyone from hearing them get in trouble. Talk about cuddling two birds with one cuddle!
Of course, technology is one of the very best things we can offer to students who have messy work. Unless they choose some wonky gibberish font, we can actually read it!
I personally love using Google read and write, or similar technology because it allows for speech to text and text to speech.
Our students often struggle with getting their ideas out because they just have so many! So letting them speak their ideas out and have the computer pick them up is fantastic!
The text to speech is also great because students can hear back what they’ve written to see if it makes sense. Because let’s be honest, if they’re just blurting out ideas, they may not make the most sense!
Giving students this opportunity to edit and figure out how to make sense of ideas is an important skill to work on. For many of our kids, this can take a lot of practice, but it’s well worth it to become adept at technology they’ll likely be using for years to come.
PROVIDE COPIES OF NOTES
If a student’s notes are extremely messy and disorganized, it will be very difficult for them to refer back to them for practice or studying.
If you’re able to, provide them with types notes of what you’re learning in class. Then, these will already be organized in a logical order and students can simply write their own added notes directly onto them.
I do this for all students when I create any type of power point presentation. I ask them who would like a printed copy of the slides, then I just print out that many and give them to those students before we begin. I also give them the option of having me share a copy of the slides with them; then if they’re more tech savvy they have a digital copy.
If you are teaching some classes with heavy lecture components, I provide all students with typed notes beforehand, then they can actually spend time listening, asking questions, and we can have class discussions. This is much better for them to remember and intake the information rather than madly copying notes off the whiteboard.
REDUCE WRITTEN WORK
In some classes, we require a lot of pen to paper written work as assignments for students. This can be extremely challenging for students with messy and disorganized work.
Not to mention how challenging it is for us to actually read and grade it!
If there is another way for students to show you what they’ve learning and that they’ve met competencies you’re looking for, allow them to do this.
For example, rather than writing a full paragraph, they could draw a picture and give you a few sentences. Or they could explain work orally. Videos are also a great way to demonstrate knowledge.
Of course, this can’t always be done, especially in English language arts classes. But, do what you can to work with the student. If the amount of written output isn’t the thing being assessed, let them demonstrate how much they know without the extra struggle of writing thrown in there.
TEACH ORGANIZATIONAL SKILLS
Many students have never learned how to be organized and don’t know where to start. This is a skill which comes very naturally to some, while others couldn’t care less.
Many times, though, this is a skill that can be learned and honed with practice and repetition.
With support from a teacher, an organized peer, or another adult, such as an educational assistant, students can learn how to be organized.
When I’m teaching elementary, I like to start out the year with a cleaning and organization day once a week. Usually on a Friday or a Monday we’ll clean out our desks, cubbies, binders, and so on. I will explicitly teach students how to organize their papers, books, binders, desks and so on.
When students need a bit more support with this, I will sit with them and we work together. In junior high, I do this every couple of weeks or so with my homeroom. Again, if a student has significant trouble in this area, I will check on them more often and give them hands-on support.
The more support students get from an adult and when they are taught these skills, the easier it is for them to grow this skill in themselves as time passes.
GIVE REWARD POINTS
If students need a bit more of an incentive to stay organized and keep their things clean, try to reward these skills.
You can have a notebook check once a week, once a month, or so on at your own discretion. This can be counted toward their work habits/organization grade, if you have an organization unit in Health, or so on. If there’s nothing you can correlate this to for actual grades, you could create a reward system of your own or incorporate these into one you already have.
For example, I know a teacher who uses fake money as her classroom reward system. Once a month she creates a “store” in her classroom for students to buy things. Having an organized desk, notebook, or so one could grant a student a dollar or two for a reward.
USE RUBBER GRIPS
Sometimes students’ work is messy because they have difficulty with fine motor skills and handling tools such as pencils and pens. They may find it uncomfortable to hold a pencil, or their joints may tire after an extended time.
Something such as a rubber or squishy pencil grip can help this quite a bit.
There are a lot of different types of pencil grips which you can use, from the simple, cheap squishy ones, to more intricate ones with specific spots for each finger.
Give students a few different styles to try out and see which one they prefer. They may need to try out quite a few to find one that works for them. And, hey, maybe none will work, as long as you try to see if there is something you can do to support them.
ALLOW USE OF A SCRIBE
I avoid using a scribe when I can, because I feel like students are missing out on building organization and editing skills. However, sometimes they’re the best option.
Many of my students don’t have the articulation skills to use speech to text, so a scribe is a better option for them.
Be careful about using a scribe because students may become too reliant on them, and if you are not the person scribing, you don’t necessarily know how much support the scribe has given them.
This is a tool which will require you to use a lot of judgement for how much and how little support to give. You never want to deny a student a support they need, but you also don’t want to over-support and have them learn any type of helplessness. I suggest always being the scribe when you can, and don’t scribe for a student unless they absolutely need it.
As a child becomes more independent, I will often start their sentences for them, but then let them finish it, until they can eventually write primarily on their own. Of course, this will look different for all students, and some may always require the use of a scribe, depending on any learning differences they may have. Use your professional discretion as you provide this support.
GRADE FOR CONTENT
Make sure that when you are assessing student work, you are not docking any grades for work that is messy. Even when we have the full intention of only grading for content, we can sometimes subliminally grade messy work lower simply because it appears “worse”.
Try to be very cognizant of this bias that you may have while grading and ensure you are looking specifically for content.
Of course, there are some subjects, like art where this isn’t going to be as easy. If you’re assigning something like a poster project for Science, try to focus primarily on the actual content included and if there are any diagrams, drawings, or so on, look for what they’re telling you instead of what they look like.
If you can, try to allow students to not have to print or draw on some assignments, especially those with a visual element. This will help to focus specifically on content.
USE ALTERNATIVE ASSESSMENT
I mentioned reducing the amount of written work required for some students above and touched on utilizing alternative assignments and tasks for showing competency.
Unless you are specifically grading organization and the aesthetics of an assignment, there are many ways you can assess a student without having them have to physically write.
Try having students tell you what they know orally, or create something like a radio advertisement or a podcast. Then, you can tell if they know the content without having them writing it out.
Students can create a presentation or a play. Or, if they’re nervous to present in front of the class, they can record and make a film, commercial, trailer, or so on.
You could allow students to take photographs or find them on the internet rather than drawing. They can type versus use pen to paper. They can use graphic organizers to help organize.
There are so many possibilities.
Of course, remember that we don’t want to over support. These can be used until kids start to develop their skills. If we’re over supporting, they may take much longer to develop skills like organization and editing.
DO NOT PENALIZE MESSY WORK
If a student is having a hard time with messy work, they may start to feel badly about themselves and avoid work.
Or, if it becomes physically painful for them if they have a diagnosis such as DCD, they may again avoid work.
Don’t get obsessive about how their work looks. Instead, praise any output they are able to make. And, as they begin to improve and write more and more, continue to praise them and point out their growth.
Students may mix up cursive and printing, they may write letters backwards, they may skip lone, or write right over them.
There’s lots of silly, messy errors that we could penalize and point out if we wanted to, but that’s not something to focus on as they begin to emerge as writers. Let them begin to get more comfortable with writing, then start to add on extra skills they can begin to work on.
If we focus too much on what they’re doing incorrectly, they’re not going to want to write at all, and then we’ve got a bigger problem on our hand than messy work!
ALLOW SHORTER ASSIGNMENTS
Having to write and produce long assignments can be very tiring and overwhelming for a student who is messy and disorganized.
They may not yet be ready to produce work that’s as lengthy as their peers. That’s okay, as long as they’re still working toward building those skills.
While you have the whole class write a five paragraph essay, you may have another student do a three paragraph one, focusing on just one point, an introduction, and a conclusion.
As they build up the skills and knowledge around how to defend a point, open, and close an essay, then they are working toward eventually adding more supporting paragraphs.
If you’re providing this support, make sure you are still having student build necessary skills and create quality work. Just because something is shorter doesn’t mean it should be “worse”; they still need to focus on content and shouldn’t be given dumbed-down work.
PROVIDE EXTRA TIME
Finally, many students may need extra time in order to create work that is more legible and organized.
If and where you can, provide these students with extra time to complete assignments, tests, projects, and so forth.
When these students receive extra time, they still need to be using it wisely. They may need support from an adult or another organized student. And if they’re not using time wisely, make sure you let them know that it’s a privilege to be getting extra time during class. You can easily take it away and have them complete their work at recess, during lunch, or at home.
I personally feel that the most important thing we can do for students who have a hard time following steps and sequencing appropriately is to break tasks, assignments, and projects into chunks.
It isn’t only students who have difficulty completing work who struggle with this, it’s most kids.This is a skill that they need to be explicitly taught. There are very few kids who have the natural ability to just dive right in and follow all steps smoothly without direction and on time.
We can’t just expect to assign a large project, say “go”, and think students will know what to do.
Instead, we have to map out exactly what the project is and all of the explicit steps necessary to finish it. Depending on the student, these steps may need to be broken down even further.
For example, some students will easily be able to follow the step “write a paragraph about the main character”, while others will also need all of the steps necessary to write an effective paragraph.
When things are broken down into steps, they don’t appear as daunting and kids have a starting point, which is extremely helpful for those who feel so overwhelmed they have difficulty even starting.
It may take a bit more work on your end, but providing a sample of completed work is a must for students.
If this is an assignment you’ve never done before, you will probably have to create the exemplar yourself. Yes, this is time consuming, but it will save you a headache when it actually comes time to teach it to the class.
Ideally, as you continue to teach and reuse and revamp your lessons and assignments, you can collect well-done student work to use as exemplars in future years.
When students have an idea of what it is they’re expected to do and what your expectations for the assignment is, they have a much better idea of how to proceed.
Of course, some may still need a lot of chunking and explicit steps to follow in order to effectively complete the assignment. Some students, however, will be able to look at the finished product and be able to map out how to complete the steps in their own way.
It all depends on the student, but exemplars are an absolute must to set standards.
AVOID OPEN-ENDED ASSIGNMENTS
Some students really thrive with freedom and will get very excited with an open-ended assignment.
For these kids, they love the opportunity to be creative and explore various options and ideas.
However, for students who have difficulty following through and completing work, this is a nightmare. They may become extremely overwhelmed with choices and not be able to make a decision. Or, they won’t really understand what to do and will have no idea how to start.
If you’re offering something like a “genius hour” where kids are allowed to choose their own adventure, so to say, you may have to change this up for some students. Instead of giving them a ton of options, give them one or two choices and help them actually map out exactly what to do right at the start of the project.
If you don’t support them in this way, there’s a very good chance they won’t finish or will complete something completely off-base.
AVOID DISTANT DUE DATES
Just like avoiding open-ended tasks, you also should avoid giving assignments that are not due for a very long time.
For a student who struggles with completing work, a due date that’s extremely far away is going to seem infinite. If they’re prone to procrastination, there’s no way they’ll start it in time.
Even if they aren’t procrastinators, when something seems that far away, they won’t properly know how to break down the work into steps because they don’t have an adequate sense of time.
For students who struggle with this, it’s our responsibility to break down things and help them through it, so if your due date really is quite far in the future, instead of telling them that, tell them the due date for each small chunk. This will work much better to hold them accountable and keep work coming in on time.
Students who can’t complete work often tire or get bored of a task. They may get easily distracted, they may have something like DCD which literally will tire them physically, they may get bored, and so on.
Whatever the reason, don’t push a student to keep working when they clearly are struggling. Their work won’t be done well and they’ll resent you, so you may as well just let them take a break.
I like to coincide breaks with the steps I’ve broken down for the student. So, I will let them know they can have a break after they finish writing five sentences, then they can have another after they draw a picture, and so on.
The biggest thing I always promote with my kids, no matter the age, is that I trust them. If they tell me they need a break, I believe them and let them take it. Basically, I trust them until they lose my trust. So, if they are continually taking breaks and not completing work, then I step in, let them know what needs to change, and alter the types of programming and accommodations I’m providing.
USE A REWARD SYSTEM
If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a zillion times: everyone works for rewards. I mean, I love my job, but I wouldn’t be showing up five days a week at 7:00am if I wasn’t being paid. Maybe I’d roll in around 11 once or twice a week for an hour or so, but let’s be real here.
There’s nothing wrong with giving rewards to kids for doing good things.
Some kids may be easily able to follow through with tasks once you’ve broken things down for them and gotten them started. Others may still be avoiding work.
In that case, I suggest setting up a rewards system. Every time a student completes a task, give them a reward or a tally toward a reward. As their skills increase, make it more and more difficult to gain a reward until they no longer need the system at all.
If you also use a tracking sheet, then you’ll see exactly how much they’ve progressed when you look back on it. This is great to show the student and their parents to celebrate how far they’ve come!
ACCOMMODATE WORK LOAD
Finally, make sure that you’re not giving a student work that they’ll never really be able to finish. If they’re always behind their classmates and starting to have to complete work at home or during recess, it’s time to assess how much they’re being given.
If necessary, it’s totally fine to reduce their workload.
While the whole class is completing 10 math questions, a student who is much slower and has a harder time completing work may only be able to complete 6 questions.
The biggest thing to consider is whether they are still learning all they need to learn. For example, we provide students with math problems to solve to gain practice and repetition. If we reduce their workload so dramatically that they aren’t gaining the same skills as their peers, then that’s a major problem.
Find a happy medium to ensure the student is able to complete their work and still learn everything they need to learn.
REDUCE EXTERNAL STIMULI
There are a lot of external stimuli which could distract all our kiddos, let alone the easily distractible ones!
Both visual and noise stimuli can be major issues in a typical classroom.
To minimize visual distraction, try to ensure that there is not a lot of clutter at the front of the room, where you are expecting students to look. If a student is very distractible, you will also want to minimize distractions throughout the room, as they will be likely to look around and become interested in things on the walls, floors, and so on.
You can try to provide students with tripods or study carrels to work in as well. These will ensure they can’t see outside distractions and can focus on their work in peace. Be careful with these, though, you want to let students know it’s a tool to use and never force them to do so. If you tell kids they have to work in an isolated area, they may consider it a punishment and feel left out from the rest of the class. You never want kids to feel like they don’t belong with everyone else.
For noise stimuli, do your best to make sure things which can be noisy in a classroom are muted as best as you can.
For example, you can put felt or tennis balls on the bottom of chair and table legs to avoid noisy scraping. Allow students to listen t music while they work on their own headphones, rather than play music for the whole class.
Using an FM System when you teach is a good way for students to hear your voice over noises outside the classroom. Noise cancelling headphones are a great way for students to block out outside noises while they work independently. You can also allow students to work in various areas that they find are less distracting.
All of these are great ways to provide students with a less distracting environment.
CUE STUDENT BEFORE GIVING DIRECTIONS
Sometimes students are off task or not paying attention because they missed directions. This can happen a lot if they have ADHD, if the classroom is noisy, or if you are giving instructions while students are not listening or are talking (big no-no).
To help with this, make sure you specifically cue students known to miss directions before you begin.
Depending on your teaching style, your relationship with the student, and how they feel about being “called out”, you can do this in different ways. You might want to just outright ask them if they’re ready, you can quietly walk over to them and tell them you’re about to give directions, you could come up with a gesture together, or so on.
Ensuring they’re paying attention is a good way to ensure they will actually listen to instructions and any teaching you do, which will help them focus when it comes time for independent work.
HAVE STUDENT TO REPEAT INSTRUCTIONS
Another trick when it comes to giving directions is to make sure students actually listened and understood what you said.
The best way to do this is to have them just repeat what you’ve said.
I will often do this as a whole class, so I will “randomly” select one of my students who tends to forget what to do and ask them to repeat what we’re supposed to do for the whole class.
I pose this as them helping us all by reminding us what to do, but I’m cuddling two birds with one hug, because I’m also making sure they know what to do.
If this is something you don’t think would work in your class or with the personality types of your students, you can just check in with them right away when you’re done speaking to have them share with you what they heard. This way, you’re not putting anyone on the spot.
ACTIVELY INVOLVE STUDENT
If a student has the opportunity to get bored or distracted, they’re going to take it.
One of the best ways to help this is to ensure many of your lessons are hands-on and exciting. If a student has to actually stand up, move around, and work cooperatively with peers, they have to stay focused.
Working in group projects where everyone has a specific role is good for this, having discussion groups can help, doing hands-on activities like Science experiments are always a hit, having students walk around the room and ask one another questions, and so on are all great ways to get kids moving.
You really want to avoid doing the same old “boring” things each day which can cause kids to become bored. It won’t necessarily result in more work for you. For example, centres are a great way to have kids doing something new each day, but you only need to set them up once and then rotate every few days, weeks, units, or so on.
There are times when we’re teaching that we can’t really get away from lecture-style classes. Obviously, we try to avoid this because we know kids get bored and, hey, I hate listening to myself talk for a whole class period, too!
Whenever you’re able to, try to make the information you’re talking about more exciting to kids.
You can dramatize in many different ways. I mean, you don’t have to put on a costume and recite a soliloquy, but you can if you like.
Dramatizing information can be as easy as creating slideshows with memorable memes or GIFs that students will like. You can also call up volunteers to help show information.
Drawing pictures, showing videos, playing music or other audio, and bringing in models or artifacts are all other ways to dramatize information.
When you can present information to your students in a more interesting way, there’s a much higher chance that they’ll pay attention during class and will be less likely to get distracted.
REWARD PAYING ATTENTION
Remember to always be looking for things kids can be successful at. Even the smallest amount of focus should be rewarded, because for many of our students, even that little bit is extremely difficult.
Every time you catch a student who is often distracted paying attention and remaining focused, make sure you praise them. Let them know you’ve seen their effort and you notice how much they’re trying.
If you think it will work better, you can also formalize this praise into a reward system with the student. You can organize this according to how many tasks they are able to complete, how long they can pay attention for, or how many time you catch them being good.
Of course, make the reward something that is going to work for the student and slowly start to make their challenge more difficult, hopefully improving their ability to focus over time.
BREAK ACTIVITIES INTO CHUNKS
If an activity or a lesson is too large, a student with issues focusing is going to get extremely overwhelmed and begin to lose attention.
If you’re asking a student to begin a project, task, or activity, then help them with breaking it into chunks. Ideally, you should do this with the whole class, letting them know what steps to complete in order to finish. Then, any students that need a bit more support can get further help from you in breaking down steps even further or helping them get started.
If you’re teaching a lesson, break it into segments as well so that students don’t spend the whole period doing one thing. If they’re expected to sit and read, or listen to you, or answer questions, or so on for 45 plus minutes, well, they’re going to get bored.
Break your lessons into direct teaching time, individual work, group work, class discussions, and so on. If you’re doing several different activities and students are interacting with the material in a variety of ways, there’s a significantly lower chance that they’ll get bored and distracted.
USE PHYSICAL PROXIMITY
Sometimes, having the teacher nearby can help a student to stay focused. If there’s a fear of getting in trouble, or if your voice coming closer cues their attention, kids’ ears may perk up a bit.
Try to walk around the class while you teach and while kids work.
As you move around, you’ll easily see if your easily distracted kids are working or are beginning to lose focus. You can come around and just place a hand on their desk or shoulder to remind them to get back to work.
You can also check-in with them to see if they need to grab some water or take a body break. If you notice many students beginning to get wiggly, it’s probably time to move onto a different activity or check-in with the entire class to see how they’re doing on an assignment.
ALLOW EXTRA TIME
Of course, one of the best things we can do for students who struggle during tests is to provide additional time.
There are many reasons this is an effective support. It can take some students longer to remember the information they know, some students are slower at writing or typing than their peers, many students need extra time to organize their thoughts and ideas before writing, it’s important for many students to check over their answers at least once, and so on.
It’s fairly standard practice at this point to allow students the time they need, but make sure you’re taking advantage of this and letting kids know when they can have extra time.
I find that reminding students several times before we begin a test that they can have extra time helps to alleviate (some) of the anxiety that many students feel around tests.
TEACH TEST TAKING SKILLS AND STRATEGIES
Many of our students have never explicitly been taught test taking skills. Whether or not we like it, these are skills they’re going to need through their academic careers. So, we may as well teach them!
I suggest teaching these to the entire class, then giving extra support to the students who continually seem to struggle during tests.
There are a lot of different types of tests and test questions, so there may be several different reasons why a student is struggling.
If you can pinpoint specifically what types of tests or questions a student has trouble with, you can plan your support specifically for them.
For example, they may get overwhelmed with the length of an exam, so you could work on breaking it into sections. They may overthink multiple choice or get very confused by “best option” when more than one choice work.
When you can work directly with a student to support where they’re getting stuck, you can really help them improve their test scores.
USE ALTERNATIVE TEST FORMATS
Often, students do poorly in tests because they are being assessed on a format they struggle with.
If you’re able to, using a format which works with their skill set is an awesome option.
Keep in mind that just because traditional pencil to paper tests are how we tend to assess, it doesn’t mean they’re the only way to check students’ skills and knowledge.
For example, if you’re assessing if they know all the planets and their order from the sun, that’s something they can orally tell you, they don’t have to do an exam.
Break the actual content away from the idea of tests and you’ll find innumerable ways to check what students have learned.
LET STUDENTS USE TOOLS
If necessary, some students may require tools such as reference charts or calculators when completing tests.
These are helpful for things where you are testing students’ ability to utilize their reasoning or critical thinking skills, but don’t really need to memorize certain things to do that.
For example, if you want to see if a student knows how to follow the steps to solve an equation, you don’t really need ot have them spend unnecessary time solving simple addition questions. This is because you assume they do already know how to do this, and maybe they have issues with time.
Or, if you want them to be able to solve a complicated word problem in physics, you can just give them the equations they need; what you’re really testing is that they understand what they are looking for and how to get to the final answer, not that they can memorize all the equations.
I mean, if they grow up to become an engineer, they’ll have access to Google anyway (believe me, basically everyone I know is an engineer and they use Google for equations all day long).
USE CLEAR AND UNCLUTTERED TESTS
If a test is too cluttered, it can be overwhelming and confusing for students.
I actually started “decluttering” my tests when I taught a class one year with two visually impaired students. They were unable to focus on what was actually important if a test was too cluttered with unnecessary things or used fancy fonts.
In supporting these two students, I found that many other students benefited as well.
When you have students who genuinely cannot see as well as their peers, you begin to think about every little thing to ensure that they are being accommodated for. This supports not just them, but other students as well.
Any line for “matching” questions that was just a little bit off, or an A that looked kind of like an O, or a border that was super cute, but maybe distracting, were all fixed. Having students be able to focus just on the material being tested, and not being distracted by anything else, or confused by what something is, is extremely beneficial.
Using tests which are clean and uncluttered are a good way to ensure students are not distracted or overwhelmed by anything on the page and can focus solely on showing their knowledge.
PROVIDE EXTRA SPACE
Many students need a lot of space and/or time to plan, sketch, solve problems, and so on.
Make sure that your tests have enough room for students to plan out their response as well as to actually write out the final answer.
This may mean you have to provide them with “scrap paper” or include space in the actual test to provide places for students to write. I know lots of teachers who always print their tests (if they’re pen to paper) single sided. That way, students will always have the back side of the page to write on if necessary.
Personally, I’m a bit of a hippie and don’t want to waste any paper if it’s not necessary. So, I always have three piles of paper at the front of the room when I’m giving tests: scrap paper, lined paper, and blank paper.
I do this whether the test is pen to paper or online.
The scrap paper is always old paper, maybe something that printed wrong, or worksheets that didn’t get used. The kids can use blank spaces or the back of it to do things like solve equations before writing their final answer on the test.
Lined paper is for students who need a bit more structure than scrap paper can offer, especially for those very anal about math equations (like me). It’s also for students who need more room for written responses. They can just add the extra pieces of paper to their exam, and I don’t need to print off extra that isn’t used onto everyone’s exams.
Finally, the blank paper is for responses that require a chart, diagram, picture, or so on. Once kids start getting used to me and how I test and teach, they will often draw me pictures, even if I don’t directly ask for them on the exam. This is because I really drill it into their heads that I want for them to show me their knowledge, in whatever way they feel most comfortable to do that; if it’s a weird picture of some sort, so be it!
ALLOW FOR USE OF A SCRIBE
If a student has a difficult time with processing speed or getting their ideas out as fast as they think, a scribe may be a good option.
I’ve spoken before, even if briefly, about how a scribe is not my favourite option.
I do feel that it takes away a lot about what we can assess in a student’s progress. For example, we can’t really see a lot of their organizational or grammar skills.
I do find that, as students age up, they do want to move away from scribes in order to appear more “normal”.
However, in younger years, if scribes are offered too often, they can become a major crutch for students and some basic fine motor, grammar, and organizational skills may be lacking.
That being said, if a student is extremely low and using a scribe is the only way to get them to produce any work, then it’s the obvious choice.
If you’re grading something like social studies or science, then grading from a scribe, where you;’re just looking for content, will be no issue. However, if you’re teaching something like language arts, you’ll need to only grade content and continue working on organization, spelling, and grammar with the student. As long as you make sure this is reflective on progress reports and parents know what’s going on, there shouldn’t be many issues around this.
WRITE IN A QUIET ROOM
So many of our students are easily distracted at the best of times let alone during tests. To provide the best opportunity for these kiddos to do their best, make sure they have the opportunity to write in a quiet and distraction free environment.
Of course, your classroom is likely going to be very quiet any time there is a test going on.
However, even in a quiet space, some students may be distracted by little things you wouldn’t even think of.
For example, just being in a crowded room may be distracting. Or, in a quiet room, listening to others breathe can be distracting. It sounds bizarre, but it’s a real issue for a lot of students.
Have you even noticed that when you’re working in a quiet library, the smallest sound of a shoe scraping sounds infinitely louder? That can be extremely irritating and distracting for some students.
If you can, let some students write in an alternate classroom, just out in the hall, in the library, or so on. Just this simple change can be extremely helpful for them.
TEACH ORGANIZATIONAL SKILLS
Many students do not know how to properly organize their tasks, projects, and assignments. They just look at it and have no idea what to do, becoming overwhelmed and frustrated.
Sit down with students to talk about the different steps they’ll need to do in order to complete their work. Then, discuss how long each step will realistically take.
From here, you can work with the student to begin breaking the assignment into chunks, allocating time for each, and figuring out materials needed to complete each step.
As you continue to work with the student on this for various assignments, they’ll continue to improve. As their organizational skills improve, you’ll be able to ease off with your support and have them do more independently.
TEACH TIME MANAGEMENT SKILLS
Just like it’s important to teach students how to organize and break up their work, it’s also vital to teach them time management skills.
Many students have never been taught how to prioritize or how to plan their time effectively.
One way to help students with this is to have them start with a list. Depending on what it is they’re planning, they should either write a list of the steps necessary to complete a task, or all of the things they have to complete.
It depends if they’re listing things which have to be done in a particular order or not.
If students are completing work in which specific steps are necessary, teach them how to think ahead and recognize each step necessary. Then, have them begin to think about how long each step will take.
Understanding how long things take to complete takes a lot of work. Even many adults have no idea how long certain tasks will take (we all know those people who are perpetually late for everything). Start by having students estimate how long things will take and then begin to time things.
The more they start to notice how long things take to complete, the better they’ll get at estimating how long specific tasks will take. Hopefully, they will also begin to get better at seeing what they wastec time in and how they can get faster at completing work.
For more of a “to do” list which includes things which need to be done, but not in a certain order, teach students how to prioritize.
Ask them what the most important things they have to do are. To have them start thinking about what makes something important are, you can ask questions like “how much is this assignment worth?” “When is this due?” “Are people relying on you to finish this?” And so on.
Many students have a difficult time figuring out what things should get the majority of their time or that they should do first. Asking them pointed questions will help them start thinking about these things and recognizing what makes some things more important than others.
ASSIST WITH BEGINNING TASKS
Many of our students have trouble following plans because they don’t know how to start.
When they think about the entire project and everything that needs to be completed, they get confused and overwhelmed.
To help curb this, start helping these students begin the assignment.
As I spoke about above, a great way to do this is to help support kids with breaking the task into steps and working on time management skills. When you can help kids with these right from the get-go, they’ll be better able to follow all the steps and timelines set for them.
Further, as you continue to do this, they’ll start seeing patterns and strategies in how to begin assignments and will be able to start begin independently.
PROVIDE CONSTANT MONITORING
Monitoring how students are progressing will ensure thye don’t slip behind or that a due date approaches and only then do you realize they’re far from complete.
When students are working in class, make sure you check-in with them to see how much they’ve completed, if they have any questions, or if they’re “stuck” on anything. This way, you can address any concerns as soon as they come up and students won’t feel behind or lost while their peers continue to work.
If students are having trouble feeling motivated, make sure that you are consistently utilizing positive reinforcement. A tracking and rewards system may also be helpful in supporting their progress and ensure they know that you are noticing their improvements.
TEACH REMINDER CUES
As students are working, they may becme distracted or unfocused. When this happens, it’s best to have a small reminder to let them know you want them to get back on track.
If you try to remind them in a way which causes too much attention from other peers, then they may feel embarassed and/ or upset. We obviously never want to do this to a child.
So, it’s a better idea to create a small cue they can understand and notice when you utilize it.
Something such as a small hand gesture, your hand on their shoulder, placing a finger on their desk, or so on, are all great ways to let the student know you’re monitoring them without calling attention to their lack of focus to the rest of the class.
Many students have trouble following through with a plan or assignment because they don’t exactly know what to do.
Having exemplars for students to reference is a must for students who have difficulty following a plan. They will have a clear cut expectation and can consistently reference the final product as they work.
Make sure that when you provide students with models and examples, that they understand what to do. Simply showing them a final product won’t work if they still don’t know how to actually get there.
So, ask them how they’re planning to compelte their work and if they have any questions. Check to see if they know what to do for each step required. If there are any concerns, you can work with the student through them.
USE A QUIET WORK AREA
Many of our students lack focus, and working in a classroom with plenty of distractions is certainly not gain to help this.
If you know that the classroom will be too noisy, or have too much visual and noise stimuli, do what you can to provide the student with an alternative work space.
If the school library or an unused classroom is available, those are great options. Even simple working out in the hall can be helpful for many students.
If it’s still not quiet enough, you can offer the student use noise cancelling headphones, which often help with blocking out things which distract them from focusing on their work.
HAVE ALTERNATIVE EXPECTATIONS
Many of your students who have difficulty following a plan are likely not going to be able to meet the expectations that the rest of the class is able to.
Until they are able to progress and do more difficult work, you may have to alter what you are expecting them to be able to do.
You may have to lessen the amount a student has to do. For example, a three paragraph essay versus a five paragraph, 10 math questions instead of 15, two sentences instead of five, or so on.
Until a student is better able to complete their work and follow the plan the whole class can, this can be a good way for them to find success. They’ll still be doing enough work for you to assess them on and to be gaining knowledge and skills. Plus, they’ll recognize that they are able to complete work. This will be very successful as you “up” the challenge.
PROVIDE A COPY OF NOTES
Oftentimes, students have trouble with written material because they don’t know how to read for important information. When they can’t figure out what’s important, everything is important, and they aren’t able to read into specific details or pull out main information.
If you’re able to, it’s very helpful to highlight what is important for them.
For example, you can provide them a copy of a textbook page, worksheet, or other written material with highlights already on them.
Of course, being able to read for important information is a skill we want our kids to learn, so we can’t do this for them forever!
I suggest taking them time to talk to kids about why the highlighted information is important.
Try to get your students to see why some things matter more than others and what types of “tricks” they can use to figure this out themselves. You can also turn this into a partner or small group activity where kids all work together to figure out how to pull out important information.
PROVIDE AUDIO OF THE TEXT
It can often be helpful for students to hear material to help them to really understand what they’re reading. Some kids understand material they listen to better than material they read. Others may just need to intake it in various ways to really understand it.
Depending on what you’re teaching, there may already be audio available.
For example, there are several novels with read-alouds, or with chapters read on YouTube. If you have a digital copy of textbooks, stories, worksheets, and so on, they can be read out loud through Google Read & Write if you scan them through a text reader.
The student may like to just listen to the audio to help them, or to read along with the written material while they listen. Ideally, If it’s being read by a real human and not through text-to-speech software, they may also be able to understand intonation and be able to infer important points.
ALLOW PEERS TO SHARE NOTES
Allowing peers to collaborate and work together is a great way for them to all share their talents and strengths.
Those students who are not very strong with understanding written material can receive help from peers, while being able to support in an area they have more skills in.
Additionally, peers can share with one another the tips and tricks they use to find important information or remember what they’ve read. Sometimes students will have techniques we never would have thought of and which other students may relate to.
This can be a great support for students who have difficulty with the material, not only do they get to discuss the information with peers, they may learn some additional skills for future tasks as well.
PROVIDE GRAPHIC ORGANIZERS
Using graphic organizers are a great way to have students organize their ideas. When the organizer itself prompts students with questions and outlines what to look for, it saves them the burden of having to figure it out.
Often, it’s this trying to figure out what to pay attention to and what is important that students have the most difficulty with.
Teaching students how to use various graphic organizers is great practice for pulling out what is important and having it all on one page. Depending on the task, you can basically find graphic organizers for everything!
It’s also great to have students complete or go over their organizers in partners or groups to support one another. Learning from peers is a great way to share insight and respect one another’s skills. I also always go over graphic organizers as a class. It’s a great way for students to share things others didn’t think of, have class discussions about what is correct, and let students fill in anything they’ve missed.
The more practice students have with using graphic organizers, the better they’ll become at reading material and picking out points of interest.
USE VISUAL AND AUDITORY CUES
If you’re reading out loud or listening to audio while students read aloud, don’t ignore the power of intonation and visual cues.
Of course, if we are the ones reading aloud, it’s easy to emphasize certain things. We can also literally stop reading to let students know something is important, ask a question, point out an answer, or start a class discussion.
Depending on the students you’re teaching, pick what works for your group.
If you’re listening to audio, you can also pause it to do any of these as well, making sure students don’t miss something important.
While listening to audio or someone else reading, you can also use visual cues and not interrupt the reading. I’ve known teachers who’ve made minute signs with things like question marks, hearts, and exclamation marks to raise when they find something important.
You can also make facial and hand gestures when something is important, interesting, or so on.
All of these will help kids who aren’t quite able to pick these up on their own yet.
TEACH AND EMPHASIZE KEY WORDS
Teaching specific academic and unit words which are important is a great way to help students know what material is important or what they should be looking for.
Words like “compare”, “contrast”, “example”, and so on are important academic words which will give a lot of insight into what something is about and/or what they should be looking for.
If you’re on a certain unit in, say, Science, students may want to be looking for words like “space”, “planet”, or “stars”.
Point these out to your kids to help them search for these themselves and pull out what’s important.
ENSURE THE CLASS IS QUIET WHEN GIVING INSTRUCTIONS
This seems super obvious, but I’m always shocked at how often I see fellow teachers giving directions when the class is still talking.
Usually this happens with beginning teachers, who haven’t quite found their groove yet.
I think this often stems from becoming impatient and worried that they’ll run out of time to complete what they’ve planned. With students who have trouble following directions, you have to make sure there is as little outside distraction as possible.
Students who have ADHD can be easily distracted and if there’s other noise or activity in the room, it’s more than likely going to hold their attention more than you are. Depending on your teaching style, waiting at the front of the room for silence generally works.
I definitely prefer waiting for silence rather than calling out for quiet. Not only does it save my voice, I don’t like adding extra noise to the room.
ENSURE THE STUDENT HEARD YOU
When working with kids who have trouble following instructions, always make sure that they have heard you and that you have their attention before giving any directions.
As teachers, we usually naturally do this. It may take a year or two, but we figure out pretty quickly that we end up repeating things eight zillion times if even one student isn’t listening the first time we explain things.
In order to ensure a student has your attention, you can either call them out directly, use a cue, or look to see that they’re paying attention.
The way you actually ensure this will be up to you and highly dependent on the student and your relationship with them.
For example, you certainly will not want to call out a very shy student in front of the entire class as it will cause them massive amounts of embarrassment and potentially harm your relationship. However, this may be a great choice for a jovial, popular student who you and other students often joke around with.
However you choose to do this, it should be highly successful in ensuring the student is ready to listen and follow along.
USE CUES TO ALERT THE STUDENT
Sometimes, students who have trouble following instructions are often lost or confused during class. This can be both when they’re actually listening to instructions, as well as when they’re supposed to be completing work.
To ensure the student is actually listening, or actually working, make sure you utilize plenty of cues.
These can be things you’ve sat down and talked with the student about beforehand, or they can be commonsense cues the student will naturally understand.
If it’s time for them to pay attention to you again as you begin teaching, you can give them a cue to alter their attention. Or, if you notice that they are distracted when they should be listening to you or working on a task, then you can use a cue as a reminder for abt they should be doing.
REPHRASE AND REPEAT
Sometimes a studnet may not completely understand what you’ve said the first time you say it.
You may have used vocabulary they don’t understand, they may not have been fully paying attention, or they may have partially understood what you said but are still a little bit confused.
Rephrasing and then repeating what you’ve said can really help these students.
First, it ensures they’re now fully paying attention and are really listening to what they’ve said.
On top of that, they now have a little bit of background knowledge based on what you originally said, and can now build on that with different vocabulary they may understand better.
I find it good practice in general to repeat important points or instructions twice in two various ways. It can be very helpful for many different students who didn’t fully understand what you said the first time around.
ALLOW TIME FOR THE STUDENT TO PROCESS
Many students have a slower processing time than we assume.
This could be for many reasons. They may be learning English, they could have trouble with inattention, they may have slow processing time, or so on.
Stop, slow down, and be very patient when you’re waiting for a student to respond or begin a task.
Let what you’ve said “sink in” with the student. This may take some time as they try to fully understand what you’ve said. Then they’ll need to spend more time thinking of their answer or planning what to do.
Obviously, this can take some time. So be as patient as you can be and wait longer than you think you need to for some of your kiddos.
GIVE INSTRUCTIONS ONE AT A TIME
If you’re giving too many instructions at once, it’s very easy for students to become confused or forget what you’ve said.
Even “regular” students can have this problem, let along those who struggle with following instructions.
If you are giving instructions all at once, make sure you write all of the steps out with visuals as well. You can put these on the board or on a sheet for students. This way, they can reference them as they work.
Additionally, if you have given instructions all at once, make sure you reiterate what the first step is and what students should be working on. Then, as you see them progressing, you can start to reiterate the next step.
This should keep all the students on track and keep them from becoming confused or overwhelmed about what they are supposed to do.
QUIETLY REPEAT INSTRUCTIONS
If you know a student tends to have more challenges than others with following directions, you can check in with them right after giving full class instructions.
You never want to single them out or make them feel inferior in front of their classmates, so doing this quietly and discreetly is your best bet.
Simply approaching them quietly and asking if they’ve understood what to do is kind and non-invasive.
They may simply say “yes” that they get it and try to wave you away, so also asking them to repeat back what to do is an effective way to check for understanding. Then, you know if they cannot properly tell you the directions that you need to explain again, and possibly in a different way.
Well, what do you think about these strategies? Are they effective? Do you think they’ll be useful in your own classroom? Let me know!
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