NQT Special: ADHD in your classroom

Written by: Sarah Long | Published:
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NQTs will encounter a range of SEN in their classrooms. One common condition is ADHD. Sarah Long offers some quick pointers

What do you do with the child who does not fit in the box – think outside the box.

All teachers have taught children who just don’t fit into a school environment. They are the pupils who can’t sit still or stay in their seats, who do things on the spur of the moment without any idea of the possible consequences. They are usually bright but never demonstrate their full potential because of their lack of focus and their behaviour takes up your time, attention and frustrates you, while disrupting the other children’s learning.

If all of the above sounds familiar you are probably teaching some children with ADHD – whether they have been diagnosed by a health care professional or not. Schools are scary or tough places for these children. Just think about what we ask them to do on a daily basis: stay in their seat, keep still, stop fidgeting, pay attention, listen to my instructions, follow my instructions – the list of demands are endless and difficult to achieve if your brain makes it hard for you to comply.

As teachers, with all the demands placed on us, it is sometimes easy to fall into the trap of trying the same old thing over and over again, expecting the pupils to miraculously change their behaviours if we just keep going until they give in. What we really know is that if something is not working for a pupil we need to change what we are doing.

Sometimes, the smallest things can make the biggest difference and change how children with ADHD view themselves, the school and the people around them.

Something as simple as making one of your pupils with ADHD book monitor, so that they have a chance to get up and move around without being told off, can be a turning point for that child. Here are some other simple strategies:

  • Greet me at the door so you know what kind of mood I’m in.
  • Give me a job so I can get out of my seat without being told off.
  • Give me something to fiddle with so I don’t end up annoying other children.
  • Give me a timer so I know how long I have to concentrate for.
  • Think about where I am sitting so I have less chance of getting distracted.
  • Use my name to get my attention and to prompt me with tasks.
  • Give me a visual timetable and remind me what is happening next.
  • Use a calm voice when you speak to me so I stay calm too.
  • Let me go for a walk or take a message if I need a timeout.
  • Give me lots of positives so I don’t think I’m just a naughty child who is always in trouble.
  • Give me visual cues so the other children don’t think I’m being told off all the time.
  • Use something I like as a reward for my hard work.
  • Give me immediate rewards and consequences as I don’t understand if you wait until tomorrow.
  • Try and include my interests in lessons that I find difficult.
  • Give me a clear idea of how much work you want me to do.
  • Use humour to distract me from doing the wrong thing.
  • Make me feel that you like me (I always feel that I am the child no-one likes).

The best way to support a child with ADHD is to have a positive attitude towards them, make them feel part of the class and encourage them to want to engage in learning in a way they can fit in. If we can do that then we can be the proud teacher that tells a friend “I taught that amazing person” when they go on to be an entrepreneur, sports person or famous actor!

  • Sarah Long is assistant headteacher and SENCO at Gilbrook School in Birkenhead, a maintained special school for pupils with social, emotional and mental health difficulties.

NQT Special Edition: Free download

This article was published as part of SecEd’s NQT Special Edition – eight pages of best practice advice aimed at NQTs and trainee teachers as they come to the end of their first term. All eight pages, published in November 2018, can be downloaded as a free pdf via http://bit.ly/2FGrF77


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