Part II of a 3-part Series:

Recently I sat down with my daughter Signy Gephardt, who was diagnosed with ADHD in the first grade, and who graduated from college last 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, if they hope to help their more distractible students succeed.

This is Part Two of my notes from that discussion.

How does your class start an early day?

Keep it interesting!
If you have a really early class (8:30 counts as early), some incentive needs to be available as an added reason to show up and tune in: take up a collection for coffee and bagels, or something (decide as a class). However, don’t allow refreshment to be more of a distraction than a help!

If you have to take attendance, ask an engaging question—requiring responders to answer with comments about personal experiences or opinions, but with no “right or wrong” answer. Students answer the question as their check-in, for a much more interesting class-opening than listening to students rattle off “here!” repeatedly.

Keeping your classroom and your routines well-organized will help
all your students, especially those with ADD.

Organize for success
Do all you can to help students not to feel stupid. With their wandering attention spans, ADD students frequently do feel embarrassed when they are caught being distracted, and are unsure what you just asked. Consider this when you structure questions, and find ways to help them “find their place again” without losing face.

ADD and ADHD students have a lot of difficulty organizing themselves, because their minds are pulled in a million different directions all the time.

Structure your class routines to help students stay organized: use regular, predictable routines, explicitly teach age-appropriate organizing skills (sequential processes for younger students, how to use time management and scheduling tools as they grow older, etc.), and allow time for students to file notes, gather homework, make sure they turned things in, etc. As appropriate, encourage parents to help with similarly organized structures at home, or offer older students tips for keeping themselves organized.

The teacher in the kimono-looking Yukata, presenting a PowerPoint to his class, is
Martin Boyle. He was student-teaching under the supervision of Judy Flamik in 2010,
and talking about Japonisme to a high school printmaking class in Ohio.
He is doing many things “right” for any of his students with distraction issues.

Presentations that hold attention
Remembering their distractibility also is important when you structure presentations. If a presentation approach is too simple-minded, ADD students’ attention will quickly wander. These guys can double- or triple-track with ease, and they can’t abide boredom.

Making PowerPoints available at least 24 hours ahead of time to college students, to download, print, and bring to class, or just providing printouts of them to younger students, is extremely valuable. Students can make handwritten notes on the printouts, and they’ll be sure of having all the information they need.

Taking notes on a computer may be a good focusing tool–or it
may open a world of distractions. Handwritten notes also may
be a good idea, or create problems.

Computers: good and bad
Computers are an extremely mixed blessing. They are a powerful tool and an indispensible part of modern life—but the Internet is also a powerful distraction. Know for an absolute FACT  that if your classroom has Internet access and you do not have “master control” over your students’ computers, many students will be shifting from tab to tab during any class activity, and they’ll have several programs and websites open simultaneously.

There will almost always be some students who really do have only their notes up, and who are paying attention.  Others will only have notes up, but will be texting or playing a game on their phone (computers aren’t the only electronic distraction!), or just simply spacing out.

Taking notes on a keyboard may be a good focusing tool for some, depending on several factors—especially if they type well, and can type faster than they write by hand. Some students’ penmanship is so bad they can’t read their own handwriting, so the ability to type their note is extremely helpful.

Taking notes by hand can be a good “focusing approach” for many ADD students, however, especially for “fact-heavy” classes, as long as you allow them to doodle in the margins as a self-quieting aid.

In Part III, we’ll examine Signy’s advice for teachers of specific types of classes.

PHOTO CREDITS: The coffee-and-bagels photo is from the Castle Braid website. The organizational aids for the classroom are from the “Classroom Options” page of the Innovative Literacy website. The photo of Martin Boyle giving the PowerPoint presentation is from Boyle’s blog, “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mannequin,” copyright 2010 by Martin Boyle, and is used with his permission. The photo of students taking notes—one with a computer, while another takes notes in handwriting—is from the blog Chron (Houston Chronicle online), specifically an article by Gina Carroll, on the relative merits of handwriting versus technology for note-taking.