ADD-Friendly Classroom Arrangements

Part I of a 3-part Series

What if ALL  your students had ADD or ADHD?

Students frequently are diagnosed with ADD or
ADHD when they are in early grades.

That may sound like a teacher’s worst nightmare—or, depending on the class, maybe you feel as if you already do have an all-ADD class!

In any case, I have felt for a long time that, whatever the reasons for recent trends of steadily-increasing diagnoses of ADD and ADHD, the fact that these students often have such a tough time in school should inspire all teachers to make their classrooms more ADD-adaptive.

I also think it is a serious mistake to label the condition a “disability,” (even if that label sells more drugs). It doesn’t have to be one. I’d rather think of it as a DIFFERENCE—a different learning style and way of perceiving the world that has characterized many of the great creative and entrepreneurial giants throughout the centuries.

Recently I sat down with my daughter Signy Gephardt, who was diagnosed with ADHD in the first grade, and who graduated from college in May. I quizzed her about “best practices” from a student’s point of view, and she shared a few ideas that all teachers may want to consider.

Suggestions for Classroom Arrangements:

A U-shaped arrangement puts
all students close to the teacher.

The ideal is to put every ADD student directly in front of the teacher—in front of his/her desk, or right in front of the podium. That would not be possible in an all-ADD class, but there are a couple of almost-as-good solutions.

A U-shaped desk arrangement around the teacher, not too many students “deep,” is a good arrangement, unless you want to show a lot of PowerPoint-type presentations—in that case, a U-shape may hinder visibility for some.

A shallow rectangle arrangement, also with not too many students “deep,” works okay, and might be better for showing PowerPoints.

It also is helpful to have desks or chairs that can be re-arranged quickly and easily. As we will discuss in more detail next time, small-group discussions can be a helpful tool for keeping ADD students engaged. Reconfiguring the room to facilitate small groups can be a great distraction if the furniture is hard to move, however.

This visually stimulating classroom would be 
overwhelmingly distracting for many ADD/ADHD students.

Walls should either be blank (Signy’s warning: “BOR-rrrring!” but at least not a distraction), or covered with RELEVANT information. To be relevant, information should be focused on whatever the topic of this lesson may be. When it is relevant, it provides something for distracted minds to “bounce against” that is focused on the learning at hand and “bounces them back” on-topic.

Irrelevant information—which is any material that provides information about something other than the lesson at hand—distracts. The more attractively it is presented, the more powerfully it distracts!

In other words, all those inspirational posters about attitude, respect, or stick-to-itiveness, while meant to motivate students, are incredibly distracting to an ADD individual, unless the topic of your class work at the moment is attitude, respect, or stick-to-itiveness.

Point desks away from the windows, whenever possible.

IMAGE CREDITS: The photo of the classroom full of children is from the Buzzle website’s page on “Hyperactive Children,” an article on ADHD. The “U-shaped” classroom diagram came from an interesting discussion of Room Layout on the Teaching and Learning website. “The classroom is a gold mine of information,” wrote the author of the cutline for the classroom with varied display of posters, etc. The photo is from the James Dinan School.