As an Educational Consultant for Deaf and Hard of Hearing students I have the unique opportunity to observe different grade levels, schools and districts. Although I am observing the student’s ability to access the curriculum being presented I also look around to identify those with ADHD and watch how they are accessing the curriculum, communicating with their peers and maintaining their focus.
Here’s what I have noticed:
- Students are asked to focus for anywhere from 45-90 minutes without breaks.
- Many adults cannot focus for that long especially if they are only listening
- Often they don’t know what is important to focus on – so they try to focus on all of it
- Students either do not take any notes or try to write down everything that is said
- They wait for the teacher to say things like, “This is important.”
- They trust that they can remember the information
- They do not try to put the details together to get the bigger picture and end up trying to memorize random facts that don’t go together
- They do not realize that studying for a test begins in class
- Students do not know how to study
- Teachers are providing study guides that have “fill in the blank” answers and students think that if they memorize the sentences they will do well
- Students do not look at their textbooks unless specifically told to
- Often students only get a few days notice of upcoming tests or quizzes
- Students are shocked at how poorly they do on tests that they think they prepared for.
- 90% of my students think that 20 minutes is enough time to study for a test
- Students are not given the chance to learn from their mistakes
- Tests are collected after 2-3 minutes
- If no one raises their hand with a question about the test, nothing will be reviewed
- Students develop an “I can’t” attitude rather than an “I need to do more” attitude
So how can you help your son or daughter learn how to focus?
- Those with ADHD tend to get bored quickly and when that happens the brain shuts down or switches to other off task thoughts. Teach your child how to get themselves back on track by using examples that happen at home. Using a non-judgmental tone you can point out when you see them go off topic before you are finished with it. Ex. “I can see how you might have thought I was done talking about “x” but I really wanted to say two more things ….are you ready to listen to me again?” Then ask them to summarize what you were talking about. Be sure to give them time to share their thoughts without interruption as often their working memory can only hold onto the thought for a short amount of time.
- ADHD brains also shut down when there is too much information to focus on. Skip the details and give them the bottom line first so they don’t miss it.
- Allow them to fidget with things and don’t insist they make eye contact as often that is too much distraction for them especially if they are being reprimanded.
- Ask them how they stay focused in school and offer suggestions like taking notes, doodling related drawings to the topic, counting how many times they get distracted and pull themselves back or fidgeting quietly with something inconspicuous
We’ll combine taking notes and studying together. Here are ways to help:
- Most information for tests comes from class lecture and discussion. Students need to realize that taking notes about the key points can help tremendously when it comes time to study. From 6th grade and up, students should be taking some notes. If they are given a copy of the Powerpoint presentation they should add to it.
- Looking ahead in the text book can often give clues as to what will be presented in class. If the brain already knows what to expect it is better able to make connections and tie new information to old.
- Students can create a study guide by writing questions in the left margin about the topic in the notes. If they can answer those questions without looking at the notes, they probably know the information.
- It takes 4-7 exposures to the information before it can be “learned” so students should review the information (by asking themselves questions) at least three times over several days.
- Reviewing class notes after homework is done especially in their weakest subject is a great way to get extra exposure to the information. Or choose to write the questions in the margins the same day as notes were taken.
- Study guides don’t always have all the necessary information on them. Students should reread their notes and check the text. Turning the statements on a study guide into a question will help them understand the information better.
The biggest mistake teachers are making is to be more concerned about their test questions getting out than in helping students learn the information. Collecting tests 3 minutes after students get them back is a major disservice to students. I have heard about only one town that allows students to take the test home, correct all incorrect answers and receive added points. That motivates students to find the answers rather than just hearing them reviewed in class (which doesn’t seem to happen often unless someone asks a question). Help your student learn better by developing as Carol Dweck says a “growth mindset.”
- Teach kids that their intelligence is not fixed, it is malleable. Push them to roll up their sleeves and try again. Avoid saying things like, “you’re so smart” as it implies that intelligence is fixed and sends a conflicting message to them when they fail.
- Build resiliency. Focus on the positive.
- Level the playing field by helping students learn to use the tools, strategies and technologies that work best for them and not necessarily what the teachers want
- Bottom line – do whatever it takes to keep your child’s self-esteem intact. It’s how they feel about themselves that will determine how well he or she succeeds.