My daughter has ADHD, recently diagnosed this year. In a way, I’ve always known that she might have it, even as a child. But as a parent, we often put our heads in the sand about learning disabilities – not wanting our child to be labelled. So we battled on for years and she did too for many reasons – namely the difficulty in getting her the professional diagnosis she needed, and the pandemic certainly made it much worse! I’m a teacher and well-informed and was also able to pay for a private, online psychiatrist to make the diagnosis, so imagine how difficult it is for parents who don’t have that access or can’t pay for a diagnosis! Aside from the issue of inequitable access to medical help, there is also the education side of things. How, as teachers (and to some extent, parents) do we facilitate learning for our kids with ADHD? Granted, most of the techniques I’m about to mention are for teachers who plan lessons, but the ideas below can also be implemented by parents at home.
So let’s dive right in to the 5 Best Ways to Create Lessons for Kids with ADHD:
1. Keep lessons short and structured: The ‘AD’ in ADHD stands for Attention-Deficit, which means that children with ADHD often have difficulty focusing for extended periods. The solution for teachers (and for parents at home doing homework and study with their kids) is to break lessons down into smaller, more manageable segments. Our lessons at Voyager School are presented in video-recorded PowerPoint lessons. Each PowerPoint lesson is about 12-20 slides, which equates to a 15-30 minute, recorded lesson. Lessons in a classroom are typically an hour for high school students, so when kids hit high school, this is typically when their ADHD starts to show more clearly. They have to concentrate in hour-long blocks, whereas in primary school, lessons were much shorter and kids often had a play break in between. In high schools, kids must move quickly from one hour-long period to the next.
2. Organize your lessons in a structured format, such as with bullet points or numbering, to help them stay on track. – One of the best pieces of advice that my psychologist gave me to help my daughter focus, was to visualise EVERYTHING. If that means, put coloured post-it notes on her mirror or above her study desk to help her, then so be it! As a lesson strategy, visualization means using bullet points or numbering. ALL of our lessons are bullet-pointed or numbered! There’s nothing worse than presenting kids with a whole bunch of text to sift through. This strategy is also helpful for students with reading difficulties or dyslexia. Our lessons also contain plenty of images, drawings, diagrams and charts/graphs to help encapsulate and explain large amounts of information more easily. It’s easier to remember the information from an image than to read about it in a block of text! Teachers use graphic organisers for this purpose and they’re another great tool!
3. Use a variety of teaching methods – Kids with ADHD may respond better to certain types of teaching methods than others. Use a variety of methods, such as hands-on activities, visual aids, and interactive games, to keep their interest and engage them in the learning process. As an online school, we approach this a little differently; we use interactive games and visual aids (such as mind maps), quizzes (which include a variety of question types such as multi-choice and matching), and something called the ‘Leaderboard’. This is a special feature of our learning management system – at the end of each completed quiz, students can opt in to have their user name and score displayed on the ‘Leaderboard’. It can foster a healthy sense of competition amongst our students, but it’s not automatic – kids DO have a choice to participate if they want to! Finally, we also use YouTube videos in our lessons (don’t worry – these have been vetted for suitability!). YouTube videos are great for introducing a new topic, reviewing a topic or just for adding a little fun break into a lesson. Research shows that kids with ADHD are ‘right-brain’ learners and thus respond really well to visual learning techniques – that’s why pictures and videos are so useful! The website ‘ADDitude’ has some great advice for parents on how to employ visual learning and study strategies into your child’s after-school routine.
4. Provide clear instructions and expectations: Kids with ADHD may have difficulty processing information and understanding what is expected of them. Provide clear, concise instructions and expectations to help them stay on task. – Our lessons at Voyager School contain clear learning objectives and a starter activity at the beginning of each lesson which recaps what was learned before and tests how much the student has retained. This activity can be a ‘Fast Five Quiz’, a ‘True or False Quiz’, or a matching activity with pictures and captions.
5. Use positive reinforcement: Positive reinforcement can be a powerful motivator for kids with ADHD. Offer praise and rewards for positive behavior and accomplishments to help build their confidence and encourage them to stay on task. – As mentioned above, our positive reinforcement strategies at Voyager School include, lesson quizzes with answers, suggested models for writing tasks, End of Unit Quizzes with feedback, the ‘Leaderboard’, Quiz Completion certificates and Quiz Certificates if the student gets at least 50% correct.
Well, I hope as a teacher (or parent) you have come away from this article with some ideas on how to help a child with ADHD, with their learning. As a parent of a child with ADHD, I know that it’s important to be well-informed and have some great strategies under your belt to deal with any learning problems they may have. As they say, ‘Fore-armed is fore-warned!’