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Teaching Children With ADHD

girl in classroom 
To effectively teach a child with ADHD, a teacher must:

  • plan for success: evaluate what the child needs to learn, set goals, develop an action plan, and monitor progress
  • use effective instructional choices to help the child succeed, including the learning context, instructional language, instructional supports, and student learning strategies

Research has found that teachers can make various changes to help students stay on task and achieve academically. These include:

  • changing how lessons are delivered, for example in the speed, the type of language used, prompting, and variations in the tasks
  • giving more frequent, specific feedback
  • making sure that tasks are not too easy or too hard for the student
  • teaching specific strategies, such as note-taking and writing strategies

These steps are discussed in detail on the TeachADHD web site. Below is a brief overview.

Planning for success: the Instructional Planning Tool

The Instructional Planning Tool helps teachers develop intervention plans for children with ADHD. It includes five steps. Information from each step should be used in the other steps. For example, if progress monitoring shows that the action plan is not working well, the action plan can be changed.

Focus on the curriculum

First, the teacher must:

  • analyze what the class needs to learn 
  • identify potential problem areas

This includes both the content and the learning tasks. Students with ADHD may find these challenging:

  • new content, when the child has little or no prior knowledge and skills in the area
  • tasks that require processing of complex and lengthy language, either spoken or written
  • tasks that require self-regulation (for example, time management) and self-monitoring of output (for example, written assignments)
  • tasks that involve time pressure 
  • tasks that are complex, for example, the child needs to integrate information or keep several ideas in mind at the same time

When children with ADHD are completing these types of tasks, they may need more instructional supports or the teacher may need to modify the task.

Develop a student profile

Next, the teacher needs to gather information about the student, including:

  • academic strengths and weaknesses
  • learning skills and strategies
  • behaviour in different situations

This information may come from:

  • classroom observations
  • work samples
  • quizzes
  • formal testing results

This information can help predict subjects or situations where the student may have trouble.

Set goals

The teacher can use the curriculum information and student profile to set goals for the student. The goals should be specific and positive. Examples of goals are:

  • increased ability to work with other students
  • staying engaged for longer during written work
  • solving more math problems

Develop an action plan

Next, the teacher needs to develop an action plan. You, your child, and the teacher should work together on this, so that your child can set her own goals and you can all plan strategies to help her achieve them.

The action plan should:

  • address specific goals
  • identify specific interventions that will be used, according to the four instructional choices (see below)
  • involve behaviour support strategies as necessary
  • use positive strategies, rather than focusing only on consequences
  • involve a team approach, including you, your child, the teacher, and other students
  • include a plan for monitoring the child's progress, including who will gather the information, what type of information will be collected, and how often it will be collected

Monitor progress

Once the action plan is in place, it is important to monitor the child's progress so that the success of the plan can be evaluated. It is important to ask the following questions:

  • How well is the student meeting her goals?
  • Has the student increased her desired classroom behaviours?
  • How well has the student learned the concept and/or skill? Can she apply it consistently? Does she need more practice to help her demonstrate the skill? Does she need coaching to transfer the skill to new situations?

Monitoring can include formal and informal evaluations and self-evaluations. The results of monitoring can be used to set new goals or modify the action plan, if necessary.

 More information

Tara McAuley, PhD, CPsych

Peter Chaban, MA, MEd

Rosemary Tannock, PhD