Help! I have a student with ADHD. What can I do? by Amy B. Williams


Learning Objectives Of Reader

  • Be able to recognize symptoms of ADHD.
  • Comprehend the need for behavioral modification to be used in the classroom with an ADHD student.
  • Be able to differentiate between positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement.
  • Understand the important role of the teacher in making a connection with the ADHD student.



It is inevitable in a teacher’s career that a student diagnosed with ADHD will be present in their classroom. It will most likely be one of the biggest challenges a teacher can face. They can experience frustration and exhaustion, which will then trickle down to the rest of their students in the classroom. Turning the event of having a student with ADHD into a positive experience, incorporating behavioral modifications, and using classroom techniques will result in success. Success for the teacher, the ADHD student and the entire classroom. Behavior modifications and classroom modifications can be the lifeline for a teacher with an ADHD student, but more importantly, they teach the student very valuable skills to exist within the confines of their diagnosis.



Teaching Children With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Instructional Strategies And Practices

Written by the U.S Department of Education and covers everything from how to identify ADHD, great teacher strategies to classroom seating plans. It is 32 pages full of everything a teacher needs to survive in the classroom!



It’s Everywhere, It’s Everywhere: Statistical Data and Information

Let’s begin by briefly looking into the scientific data to allow for a better understanding of ADHD. ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The American Psychiatric Association defines ADHD as a “persistent pattern of inattention or hyperactivity-impulsivity that is more frequently displayed and more severe than is typically observed in individuals at a comparable level of development” (Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 2000, p. 85). ADD stands for Attention Deficit Disorder and is also a form of ADHD. ADD is not accompanied by hyperactivity (Swanson, 2007). Barkley discusses in his book the staggering toll that ADHD has unleashed on society. He conservatively estimates that 1-2 ADHD students will be present in every classroom in the United States. This breaks down to 2.5 million school-age students that are diagnosed with ADHD or 5-8% of all children attending school (Barkley, 2005). So in every classroom there will most likely be two students diagnosed with ADHD. Teachers are going to have to be proactive by understanding the symptoms of ADHD so let’s discuss some a teacher might encounter with an ADHD student.

You’re So Smart Now Act Like It: Characteristics of ADHD

Not too uncommon words from a teacher who is frustrated with a student’s behavior who they feel is bright and clever, but just can’t get to the final stage in a project, sentence or thought. Teachers also witness the impulsive, unorganized, and easily distracted student, along with the fidgety hands, excessive talking, forgetfulness and inability to stay in their seat (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 2000). In Charles’s book, he discusses a hidden meaning behind the inappropriate behavior of a student with ADHD. The hidden meaning is a cry for help saying “reach me and their desire for a connection with their teacher and to be accepted” (Charles, 2008, p. 167). Teachers can look at the glass half-full or half-empty when dealing with a student with ADHD. Making a connection with the student and incorporating behavior and classroom modifications will yield a higher success rate.



Classroom Interventions for Children with ADHD

Outstanding website for teachers to use in the classroom that is full of ideas and strategies. It gives different scenarios with appropriate accommodations that should be made.

Don’t enter the classroom without it!



Dr. Pavlov, May I Use A Dog Or Two?: Behavior Modification

Two words can sum up the teacher’s approach to the ADHD student in the classroom: behavior modification. It will be their life preserver when dealing with the student by using both positive and negative reinforcement. Let’s look closer into just what positive and negative reinforcement consists of:

Positive Reinforcement

  • A touch on the shoulder and a smile so the student knows what good behavior is (Barkley, 2005).
  • Ask the ADHD student what types of rewards they enjoy within the first few days of school (Rief, 2007.)
  • Tape a piece of paper down on the corner of a desk and as you pass by the student place a sticker on it (Barkley, 2005).
  • Place smiley posters up randomly throughout the classroom and stand next to one when the student is making good choices (Barkley,
  • Use verbal reinforcement with positive praise (Harwell, 2001). An example might be, “How wonderful you raised your hand instead of
just blurting out the answer Hayden.” To change the reward system up a bit, allow special privileges like lunch with the teacher,
extra time on the computer, and extra recess (Barkley, 2005).
  • Use a token system for immediate rewards. In other words, a teacher might want to start with every 2-3 tokens resulting in candy,
stickers, special classroom duties or free play (Barkley, 2005).
  • Give the ADHD student specific tasks (e.g., turning off/on lights, pencil and paper pusher) that will require movement in the
classroom. Students can also be allowed to move around the room quietly after they complete a task (Nowacek and Mamlin, 2007. An
example might be, “Hayden, when you are finished with your writing I want you to quietly get up and walk around the classroom for me
three times while you are keeping your eyes and hands to yourself.”

Negative Reinforcement

  • Ignoring mild inappropriate behavior (Nowacek and Mamlin, 2007). An example might be, “Alright, I see all but two of my students sitting in
their chairs and getting ready to go to lunch.” This is purposely ignoring the inappropriate behavior, while rewarding the students with
appropriate behavior.
  • Putting a hand on the student’s shoulder to remind him or her their behavior is escalating (“Advice for schools…, 2005).
  • If the student is destructive or disruptive, the teacher can incorporate a time out system where the student is immediately asked to put away
their work and place their head on their desk (Barkley, 2005).
  • Use a timer that is started when bad behavior is occurring, which is then taken off recess time for the ADHD student (Barkley, 2005).
  • Start each day by giving the student 15 minutes of free time to use in the classroom. From that time, the teacher can deduct a minute of free
time for every instance the student was seen not working or acting inappropriately (Barkley, 2005).

Behavior modification is a useful and positive tool that emphasizes appropriate behavior instead of inappropriate behavior. In addition to behavior modification, there are some other techniques teachers can also incorporate inside the classroom. Let’s take a closer look at some of these techniques in the next section.


Tricks Of The Trade: Classroom Modifications

Not only is behavioral modification and reinforcement pivotal in dealing with ADHD students, but just as imperative are classroom modifications. One simply cannot have one without the other. This is really what it is all about: surviving and keeping control of the classroom. Let’s take a closer look at the following techniques, which can be used as a cheat sheet for teachers in dealing with ADHD students:

  • Provide structure at all times in the classroom and remain calm (Charles, 2008).
  • Get eye contact before giving instructions or asking questions (Rief, 2005).
  • Stand close to the student to allow for less distraction (Charles, 2008).
  • State directions in a logical and ordered sequence (e.g., first, next, last). The teacher should aim for educating the student on how to
follow rules as quickly as possible without repeating them (Charles, 2008).
  • Have the student repeat verbal instructions to ensure he or she clearly understands what is being said (Rief, 2007).
  • Provide advanced warning when a change is about to take place (e.g., in five minutes we are going to put away our math work and begin our
reading). This reduces anxiety and frustration (Rief, 2007).
  • Use webbing techniques for writing and graphic organizers, which helps with visual-spatial skills (Harwell, 2007).
  • Take five minutes with the student each day to make sure he or she is using a planner for organization (Harwell, 2007).
  • Charts and outlines are useful in maintaining attention and understanding concepts (Harwell, 2007).
  • Divide tasks into chunks to help decrease frustration and make tasks obtainable (Swanson, 2007). An example might be, “Hayden, we
will do 15 minutes of writing and 5 minutes of computer.”
  • Consider shortening assignments if they are too long and overwhelming to the student (Nowacek and Mamlin, 2007).
  • Utilize the computer as much as possible with an ADHD student as it will give them immediate feedback (Amen, 2001).
  • Give the student encouraging and positive feedback to increase his or her motivation and attention (Rief, 2005).
  • Consider how desks are arranged in the classroom and be sure ADHD students are grouped with other non-diagnosed students. Frequently switch
groups of two students so the ADHD student builds relationships with other students in the classroom. An ADHD student wants nothing more than
to be accepted by others (Nowacek and Mamlin, 2007).

It’s a great idea to have a copy of these techniques handy, even laminated, to reference them quickly when just beginning to teach a student with ADHD.



Teaching Tips For Those Working With ADHD Kids

Dawn Hogan, a 2nd grade teacher from Connecticut, has a fantastic website for teachers. Her first hand experience and knowledge are priceless.

This is a must see!



Final Thoughts

As learned in this article, there is no magic pill or ointment to make the symptoms of ADHD disappear. The teacher needs to be able to face this adversity with a smile, words of support and determination. A deep connection with the ADHD student along with both behavior and classroom modifications are more likely to result in a stimulating and positive educational experience. Teamwork involving teachers, the ADHD student, parents, fellow students and administration is the only way to help combat the diagnosis of ADHD. Students who are ADHD must be taught not just from a book, but they also need to hear they are special and discover that their differences are okay. The success rate for ADHD students depends on the teacher, the teacher’s attitude, classroom tips and techniques being used, and their knowledge and comfort level of behavior modification involving both positive and negative reinforcements.

Get Out Your Pencils Please: Quiz Time

Multiple Choice Questions:
1. During the first few days of school, it is imperative that the teacher do which of the following:

A. Let the student know the teacher rules the classroom with an iron fist.
B. Allow the student to choose what rules are best for him or her.
C. Make sure the student knows the teacher would like him or her transferred to another classroom.
D. Discuss with the student what rewards work best for him or her.
2. What two types of approaches are the most effective for teachers when dealing with an ADHD student:

A. Don’t be too firm and only give hugs as a reward.
B. Behavior modification and classroom modification.
C. Corporal punishment and expulsion.
D. Discipline every misbehavior the student does and not allow any recess.
3. When an ADHD student is completing a task it is best to do the following:

A. Insist he or she must hurry so the teacher can stay on task.
B. Have the teacher divide the task into sub-units or chunks so finality is obtainable.
C. Help the student with the answers because it make the teacher look better to have higher student grades.
D. Tell the other students in the classroom there will be no recess if the ADHD student does not finish in time.
4. Mrs. Williams is the teacher in a classroom with an ADHD student named Hayden. She is trying a new class behavior program

by flipping of green, yellow, and red cards. Which choice best describes Mrs. Williams?

A. Ready to retire and fed up.
B. Utilizing positive reinforcement and appropriate classroom techniques.
C. She is known as the school’s yeller and the staff is afraid of approaching her.
D. Begging to get rid of the ADHD student so she can enjoy the rest of the year.
5. Mrs. Williams notices that Hayden has not made a connection with the class and she is concerned. How might she ease him

into a group scenario?

A. Pair him with another ADHD student who might better understand his feelings.
B. Allow for more time to pass hoping eventually the class will grow to accept him.
C. Be more flexible with groups and begin to show the class she accepts him and has a connection with him.
D. Talk about the situation with other teachers in the employee lounge.


1.D 2.B 3.B 4.B 5.C


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Amen, Daniel. (2001). Healing ADD: The Breakthrough Program That Allows You To See and Heal the 6 Types of ADD. New York: Berkley Books.
American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2000).
Barkley, Russell, A.(2005). Taking Charge of ADHD: The complete, authoritative guide for parents (rev. ed.). New York: Gilford.
Charles, C., M. (2008). Today’s Best Classroom Management Strategies: Paths to Positive Discipline. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.
Harwell, Joan, M. (2007). Complete Learning Disabilities Handbook. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Nowacek, E., Jane, & Mamlin, Nancy. “General education teachers and students with ADHD: what modifications are made?” Preventing School Failure 51.3 (Spring 2007): 28 (8), 11-14. Academic OneFile. Gale. Lord Fairfax Community College. 27 May 2008. http://www.galegroup.com
Rief, Sandra. (2005). How To Reach And Teach Children With ADD/ADHD: Practical Techniques, Strategies, and Interventions. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Swanson, Carl. “Students with ADHD.” Journal of Singing 64.2 (Nov-Dec 2007): 217 (5). Academic OneFile. Gale. Lord Fairfax Community College. 27 May 2008, 1-2, 1-8. http://www.galegroup.com.
http://user.cybrzn.com/kenyonck/add/teaching_tips.html. Teaching Tips For Those Working With ADHD Kids.
http://www.childdevelopmentinfo.com/learning/teacher.shtml. Classroom Interventions For Children With ADHD.
http://www.ed.gov/teachers/needs/speced/adhd/adhd-resource-pt2.pdf. Teaching Children With Attention Deficit Disorder Hyperactivity Disorder: Instructional Strategies and Practices 2004.


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