50 Tips on the Classroom Management of
Attention Deficit Disorder

by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. and John J. Ratey, M.D. Copyright(C) 1992

For children with ADD to do well, it is imperative that their teacherunderstand what ADD is and knowhow to work with these children in the classroom. The classroom experience can make or break the self-esteem, as well as theintellectual foundation, of children with ADD.

To assist in the classroom, we offer fifty tips written for ADD children inschool. Since these tips were written explicitly for the classroom teacher, youmay find it useful to share them with your child's school.

Teachers recognize what many professionals do not: that there is no one syndromeof ADD, but many; that ADD rarely occurs in "pure" form by itself, butrather it usually shows up entangled with several other problems such aslearning disabilities or mood problems; that the face of ADD changes with theweather, that it's inconstant and unpredictable; and that the treatment for ADD,despite what may be serenely elucidated in various texts, remains a task of hardwork and devotion. The effectiveness of any treatment for this disorder atschool depends upon the knowledge and the persistence of the school and theindividual teacher.

The following suggestions are intended for teachers of children of all ages. Some suggestions will be obviously more appropriate for younger children, othersfor older, but the unifying themes of structure, education, and encouragementpertain to all.

1. First of all, make sure what you are dealing with really is ADD. It isdefinitely not up to the teacher to diagnose ADD, but you can and should raisequestions. Specifically, make sure someone has tested the child's hearing andvision recently, and make sure other medical problems have been ruled out. Makesure an adequate evaluation has been done. Keep questioning until you areconvinced. The responsibility for seeing to all of the this is the parents',not the teacher's, but the teacher can support the process.

2. Build your support. Being a teacher in a classroom where there are two orthree kids with ADD can be extremely tiring. Seek the support of the school andthe parents. Find a knowledgeable person with whom you can consult when youhave a problem. (Learning specialist, child psychiatrist, social worker, schoolpsychologist, pediatrician - the person's degree doesn't really matter; whatmatters is that he or she knows much about ADD, has seen many children with ADD,knows his or her way around a classroom, and can speak plainly). Keep in touchwith the parents to ensure you are working toward the same goals. Call on yourcolleagues for help.

3. Know your limits. Don't be afraid to ask for help. You, as a teacher,cannot be expected to be an expert on ADD. You should feel comfortable inasking for help when you feel you need it.

4. Ask the child what will help. Children with ADD are often veryintuitive. They can tell you how they can learn best, if you ask them. Theyare often too embarrassed to volunteer the information because it can be rathereccentric. But try to sit down with the child individually and ask how he orshe learns best. The most insightful "expert" on how the child learnsbest is often the child himself or herself. It is amazing how often theiropinions are ignored or not asked for. In addition, especially with olderchildren, make sure the child understands what ADD is. This will help both ofyou.

5. Remember the emotional part of learning. These children need special help infinding enjoyment in the classroom, mastery instead of failure and frustration,excitement instead of boredom or fear. It is essential to pay attention to theemotions involved in the learning process.

6. Remember that ADD kids need structure. They need their environment tostructure externally what they can't structure internally on their own. Makelists. Children with ADD benefit greatly from having a table or list to referback to when they get lost in what they're doing They need reminders. Theyneed previews. They need repetition. They need direction. They need limits. They need structure.

7. Post rules. Have them written down and in full view. The children will bereassured by knowing what is expected of them.

8. Repeat directions. Write down directions. Speak directions. Repeatdirections. People with ADD need to hear things more than once.

9. Make frequent eye contact. You can "bring back" an ADD child witheye contact. Do it often. A glance can retrieve a child from a daydream orgive permission to ask a question or just give silent reassurance.

10. Seat the ADD child near your desk or whatever you are most of the time. This helps stave off drifting away that so bedevils these children.

11. Set limits, boundaries. This is containing and soothing, not punitive. Doit consistently, predictably, promptly, and plainly. Don't get intocomplicated, lawyerlike discussions of fairness. These long discussions arejust a diversion. Take charge.

12. Have a predictable a schedule as possible. Post it on the blackboard orthe child's desk. Refer to it often. If you are going to vary it, as mostteachers do, give lots of warning and preparation. Transitions and unannouncedchanges are very difficult for these children. They become discombobulated bythem. Take special care to prepare for transitions well in advance. Announcewhat is going to happen, then give repeat reminders as the time approaches.

13. Try to help the children make their own schedules for after school in aneffort to avoid one of the hallmarks of ADD: procrastination.

14. Eliminate, or reduce the frequency of, timed tests. There is no greateducational value to timed tests, and they definitely do not allow many childrenwith ADD to show what they know.

15. Allow for escape-value outlets such as leaving class for a moment. Ifthis can be built into the rules of the classroom, it will allow the child toleave the room rather than "lose it," and in so doing begin to learnimportant tools of self-observation and self-modulation.

16. Go for quality rather than quantity of homework. Children with ADD oftenneed a reduced load. As long as they are learning the concepts, they should beallowed this. They will put in the same amount of study time, just not getburied under more than they can handle.

17. Monitor progress often. Children with ADD benefit greatly from frequentfeedback. It helps them keep on track, lets them know what is expected of themand if they are meeting their goals, and can be very encouraging.

18. Break down large tasks into small tasks. This is one of the mostcrucial of all teaching techniques for children with ADD. Large tasks quicklyoverwhelm the child, and he or she recoils with an emotional "I'll never beable to do that" kind of response. By breaking down the task intomanageable parts, each component looking small enough to be doable, the childcan sidestep the emotion of being overwhelmed. In general, these kids can do alot more than they think they can. By breaking tasks down, the teacher can letthe child prove this to himself or herself. With small children this can beextremely helpful in avoiding tantrums born of anticipatory frustration. Andwith older children it can help them avoid the defeatist attitude that so oftengets in their way.

19. Let yourself be playful, have fun, be unconventional, be flamboyant. Peoplewith ADD love to play. They respond to it with enthusiasm. It helps focusattention - the kids' attention and yours as well. So much of their "treatment"involves boring stuff like structure, schedules, lists, and rules, you will wantto show them that those things do not have to go hand in hand with being aboring person, a boring teacher, or running a boring classroom. Every once in awhile, if you can let yourself be a little bit silly, that will help a lot.

20. Still again, watch out for overstimulation. Like a pot on the fire, ADDcan boil over. You need to be able to reduce the heat in a hurry.

21. Seek out and underscore success as much as possible. These kids live withso much failure, they need all the positive handling they can get. This pointcannot be overemphasized: these children need and benefit from praise. Theylove encouragement. They drink it up and grow from it. And without it theyshrink and wither. Often the most devastating aspect of ADD is not the ADDitself, but the secondary damage done to self-esteem. So water these childrenwell with encouragement and praise.

22. Memory is often a problem with these kids. Teach them little tricks likemnemonics, flash cards, etc. They often have problems with what Dr. Mel Levine,a developmental pediatrician and one of the great figures in the field oflearning problems, calls "active working memory," the space availableon your mind's table, so to speak. Any little tricks you can devise - cues,rhymes, codes, and the like - can help a great deal to enhance memory.

23. Use outlines. Teach outlining. Teach underlining. These techniques donot come easily to children with ADD, but once they learn them, the techniquescan help a great deal in that they structure and shape what is being learned asit is being learned. This helps give the child a sense of mastery during thelearning process, when he or she needs it most, rather than the dim sense offutility that is so often the defining emotion of these kids' learning process.

24. Announce what you are going to say it. Say it. Then say what you havesaid. Since many ADD children learn better visually than by voice, if you canwrite what you're going to say as well as say it, that can be most helpful. This kind of structuring glues the ideas in place.

25. Simplify instructions. Simplify choices. Simplify scheduling. Thesimpler the verbiage the more likely it will be comprehended. And use colorfullanguage. Like color-coding, colorful language keeps attention.

26. Use feedback that helps the child become self-observant. Children with ADDtend to be poor self-observers. They often have no idea how they come across orhow they have been behaving. Try to give them this information in aconstructive way. Ask questions like, "Do you know what you just did?"or "Why do you think that other girl looked sad when you said what yousaid?" Ask questions that promote self-observation.

27. Make expectation explicit.

28. A point system is a possibility as part of behavioral modification or areward system for younger children. Children with ADD respond well to rewardsand incentives. Many are little entrepreneurs.

29. If the child has trouble reading social cues - body language, tone ofvoice, timing, and the like - try discreetly to offer specific and explicitadvise as a sort of social coaching. For example, say, "Before you tellyour story, ask to hear the other person's first," or, "Look at theother person when he or she is talking." Many children with ADD are viewedas indifferent or selfish, when in fact they just haven't learned how tointeract. This skill does not come naturally to all children, but it can betaught or coached.

30. Teach test taking skills.

31. Make a game out of things. Motivation improves ADD.

32. Separate pairs and trios, whole clusters even, that don't do welltogether. You, might have to try many arrangements.

33. Pay attention to connectedness. These kids need to feel engaged,connected. As long as they are engaged, they will feel motivated and be lesslikely to tune out.

34. Give responsibility back to the child when possible. Let him devise hisown method for remembering what to put into his bookbag, or let him ask you forhelp rather than you telling him he needs it.

35. Try a home-to-school-to-home notebook. This can really help with theday-to-day parent-teacher communication and avoid the crisis meetings. It alsohelps with the frequent feedback these kids need.

36. Try to use daily progress reports. These may be given to the child tohand on to his parents, or if the child is older, read directly to the child. These are not intended as disciplinary, but rather as informative, andencouraging.

37. Physical devices such as timer and buzzers can help withself-monitoring. For example, if a child cannot remember to take his or hermedication, wrist alarm can help, rather than transferring responsibility to theteacher. Or during study time, a timer placed on his desk can help the childknow exactly where the time is going.

38. Prepare for unstructured time. These kids need to know in advance whatis going to happen so they can prepare for it internally. If they suddenly aregiven unstructured time, it can be overstimulating.

39. Praise, stroke, approve, encourage, nourish.

40. With older children, suggest that they write little notes to themselvesto remind them of their questions about what is being taught. In essence, theycan take notes not only on what is being said to them, but what they arethinking as well. This will help them listen more effectively.

41. Handwriting is difficult for many of these children. Consider developingalternatives. Suggest learning how to type. Consider giving some tests orally.

42. Be like a conductor of symphony. Get the orchestra's attention beforebeginning (you may use silence, or the tapping of your baton, to do this.) Keepthe class "in time," pointing to different parts of the room as youneed their help.

43. When possible, arrange for some students to have "study buddy" ineach subject, with phone number (adapted from Gary Smith, who has written anexcellent series of suggestions on classroom management).

44. To avoid stigma, explain to the rest of the class and normalize thetreatment the child receives.

45. Meet with parents often. Avoid the pattern of meeting only when there areproblems or crisis.

46. Encourage reading aloud at home. Read aloud in class as much aspossible. Use storytelling. Help the child build the skill of staying on onetopic.

47. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

48. Encourage physical exercise. One of the best treatments for ADD, inboth children and adults, is exercise, preferably vigorous exercise. Exercisehelps work off excess energy, it helps focus attention, and it stimulatescertain hormones and neurochemicals that are beneficial. Suggest exercise thatis fun: either team sports, such as volleyball and soccer, or individualexercise the child can do alone, such as swimming, jumping rope, or jogging.

49. With older children, stress preparation prior to coming into class. Thebetter idea the child has of what will be discussed on any given day, the morelikely the material will be mastered in class.

50. Always be on the lookout for sparkling moments. These kids are far moretalented and gifted than they often seem. They are full of creativity, play,spontaneity, and good cheer. They tend to be resilient, always bouncing back. They tend to be generous of spirit, and glad to help out. They usually have a "specialsomething" that enhances whatever setting they're in. Remember, there is amelody inside that cacophony, a symphony yet to be written.

These 50 Tips are from Dr. Hallowell's and Dr. Ratey's book, Driven toDistraction, from Pantheon Books.