Pupils with ADHD in your classroom: Suggestions for teachers working with them

David A. Hill M.Phil (Exon) & Katarzyna Maria Bogdanowicz, PhD

ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or hyperkinetic disorder, is a set of symptoms, the most important of which is the inability to focus attention. Additional, frequent symptoms include hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Biological factors are the source of ADHD symptoms; their occurrence does not result from the parenting style, pedagogical methodology, or the environment in which a child lives. It is generally believed to be a genetic issue related to structural and functional changes in brain.

Pupils with ADHD often behave in the classroom as if they are absent, or as if the teacher is absent. Her/his thoughts are focussed on something completely different from what the teacher is talking about. The ADHD pupil will exhibit some of these behaviours: s/he wriggles or walks around the classroom, talks and disturbs other pupils, plays with something, hums (unaware that s/he is making a noise) and fails to follow instructions. When s/he does concentrate on the topic of the lesson for a short time, s/he often shouts answers to questions or answers before a question is completed and answers invited. S/he is impatient and thus cannot wait for her/his turn and cannot defer gratification. S/he requires the teacher’s constant attention. If the teacher is relaxed with her/him, the ADHD pupil may dominate the teacher, but if a teacher is strict this is perceived as being unfair.

A pupil with ADHD is difficult for the teacher, but is also difficult for the child concerned. The teacher must bear in mind that neither the child, nor the parents, nor the teacher are to be blamed for this behaviour. In spite of difficulties, such a pupil may also have a positive impact on the class’s functioning as well as a negative one.

Conclusion 1. Do not blame yourself or anyone else for the behaviour of a pupil with ADHD. Rather than challenging their behaviour, use it to the advantage of the class.

A child with ADHD may be taught and their behaviour ‘harnessed’. I have used the word ‘harnessed’ on purpose, in order to emphasise that any impact may be effective only here and now. It means that if in one lesson the teacher manages to achieve a situation where this pupil is listening, it does not mean that s/he has been taught to listen, only that in this specific case the conditions which are favourable for listening have been provided. A pupil with ADHD often knows the rules, and right after breaking them knows that s/he has behaved badly, but cannot control her/his behaviour. S/he really wants to behave differently, but cannot.

What conditions lead a pupil with ADHD to disturb the class and the teacher less?

  1. If s/he knows exactly what is expected from her/him. Clear rules should be applied in the classroom, written down, hung up and pointed out regularly.
  2. Compliance with rules should be praised and rewarded.
  3. Consequences of breaking the rules should be known and thoroughly defined.
  4. Both rewards and negative consequences should be applied in accordance with an agreement, without exception (e.g. if we agree with a pupil that if they do their homework all week, then on Monday next week they shall have no homework, they must receive that reward –regardless of their good or bad behaviour in the classroom on Monday – as they have carried out their part of the agreement).
  5. Praise should be specific, immediate and frequent.
  6. Other children should be rewarded for not paying attention to improper behaviour by a child with ADHD. When a child with ADHD does something incorrect, it should never have an ‘audience’ so that such behaviour is not reinforced. The teacher must make every effort to ensure that it is ‘more profitable’ for other pupils to listen to and look at a teacher, rather than the badly behaving child.

Conclusion 2. Do not try to change the behaviour of a child with ADHD permanently. Instead, try to provide the conditions which enable the pupil to function as well as possible, learn and acquire new skills, so that s/he does not disturb anyone during the lesson.

A child with ADHD often does not follow the teacher’s instructions. Research into ADHD shows that s/he does not carry out them not because s/he does not want to, but because orders for a group often do not reach her/him or do so only partially, due to the inability to focus attention.

What should be done to help a child with ADHD carry out the teacher’s instructions?

  1. Seat the pupil with ADHD close to you.
  2. Before you give an instruction, look at the pupil and make eye contact with her/him.
  3. After giving an instruction to the whole group, repeat the key part to the child with ADHD.
  4. If s/he starts working, praise her/him for starting.
  5. If s/he finishes carrying out a part of an instruction, praise her/him again, and then provide a further part of the instruction or another instruction. The child with ADHD should have tasks divided into parts, so that s/he can end one part and see a positive result from her/his work.
  6. If s/he interrupts her/his work before finishing a given activity, remind her/him quietly (so that the class does not pay attention to this) what s/he should do. Sometimes it is enough to slightly touch the child so that s/he starts work on an interrupted task.
  7. You may arrange some signal with the child to indicate the need to get on with her/his work. This signal should be discreet enough not to attract other children’s attention.

Conclusion 3. Do not blame the child for not carrying out an instruction; just create the conditions in which s/he will hear and remember your order.

Some children with ADHD (mainly boys) often disturb an activity in the class through their movement, talkativeness and loud behaviour. Sitting motionless in one place for 45 minutes is impossible for a child with ADHD. Unfortunately, when one child stands up from her/his desk or behaves loudly, other lively children often respond to it. Consequently, most attention is focused on this pupil and the lesson cannot be continued. If the teacher frequently reprimands the pupil to sit quietly, it focuses attention on this pupil. The teacher’s attention constitutes reinforcement. In the case of a child with ADHD, the teacher’s remarks strengthen the child’s natural tendency to wriggle or walk around the classroom. How can one deal with the movement of a child with ADHD?

  1. ‘Develop the motion’ of the child. The pupil with ADHD should get many tasks that require standing up from the desk and walking about (e.g. cleaning the board, distributing handouts to its peers, throwing away rubbish).
  2. Let the child move at a desk (e.g. sitting on a    pilates ball may be suitable for this).
  3. Establish clear rules concerning where and when    the pupil is allowed to move, where and when it is allowed to run, in what situations it is required to stay on the spot (e.g. several times a lesson the child is allowed to walk around the classroom or jump next to its desk). Such a procedure during the lesson changes the child’s movement from an uncontrolled, rule-breaking activity into an activity that occurs under the teacher’s control and with her/his approval.

Conclusion 4. Do not try to stop the movement of a child with ADHD; just use it.

Some children with ADHD disturb other children to such an extent that their peers no longer like them. The sociometric position of a child with ADHD in a class community is usually very low. The child is isolated or even rejected. Hyperactive children usually care a lot about their peers’ approval; they try to get it by all means. Often they try to impress them with loud behaviour or playing the fool.

How can one improve a child with ADHD’s relation with other pupils?

  1. Use activities that require group preparation. Assign roles to the group which enable the child with ADHD to take part.
  2. Use peer tutoring.

Conclusion 5. Try to create situations in which a hyperactive child gets her/his peers’ approval while behaving according to your rules

David A. Hill M.Phil (Exon) & Katarzyna Maria Bogdanowicz, PhD 

This article has been taken from the supporting materials of the primary series Hopscotch from National Geographic Learning – for more details visit NGL.Cengage.com/hopscotch