You’re in Your Seat–Great Job! More Strategies for Working with Children with Attention Disorders

In our last issue, we focused on research related to children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and noted a few strategies for helping these students succeed in the classroom. For this month’s issue, we’ve asked 22-year veteran teacher Melissa Fike, a first-grade teacher in Firestone, Colorado, to give us additional suggestions and practical advice for the elementary teacher. Read this article and listen to this month’s podcast in which Melissa discusses reading and literacy strategies and other ways to address the special needs of children with ADHD and attention deficit disorder (ADD).


Melissa Fike points out that understanding the distinction between ADHD and ADD can give us clues as to what type of interventions a student might need. Children with ADHD are more prone to hyperactivity and impulsivity. Strategies and interventions that give these students opportunities to move, bounce, or even do a few crabwalks down the aisle before attending to a task can help the children redirect attention to their work.

Students with ADD, on the other hand, are often hypoactive, prone to daydreaming and becoming disconnected to what is happening around them. Interventions that help these students refocus and reduce the amount of distractions around them include using a timer to complete a specific task; giving one-step directions that are clear and specific; or having a “peer buddy” to keep them up to speed.

In either case, a positive approach, the support of a team (including parents, special education practitioners, doctors, teachers, and social service agents), and the use of specific and measureable interventions that monitor a student’s progress are essential.

“It’s so easy to cast a child in a negative light since their behaviors at times can be so difficult to manage. It’s best to stay positive and focus on what the child is doing well — even the smallest of things. If you say to them, ‘You’re in your seat-great job!’ and think of other ways to keep desired behaviors continually happening, it will help you deal with the situation more effectively,” says Fike.

Young students, especially first graders staying in school all day for the first time, can be masters at being fidgety, inattentive, and unable to control themselves. If those same students are not making academic progress, however, it may be a sign that something else is going on, possibly an attention disorder. In their early years, students with an attention disorder may not progress in their reading, may have problems in learning their numbers, or may show difficulty in writing their letters when following the lines on their tablets.

Of course, teachers cannot diagnose students to determine if they have an attention disorder, but they can employ ways to monitor a student’s behavior and provide concrete and specific interventions to address that behavior.

Melissa recounts her experiences with one student who had difficulty keeping still in her seat. This student was very impulsive. When drawing, she would draw with lots of color and shapes but without any representation of actual pictures. Even though she wanted to do well in school, she was aware of how hard it was to manage her behavior. Consequently, she started to fall behind the other students academically. Her doctor eventually diagnosed her with ADHD.

Melissa used a number of interventions: a textured seat cushion for the child to bounce on while at her desk, occasional crabwalks on the floor to put pressure on her joints, self-monitoring measures like the use of a “take a break” card to get a drink of water to help calm herself down, a seat near Melissa’s desk where Melissa could intervene or let her know when they were transitioning (a key intervention for these students) to a new activity. Melissa tracked these interventions and how they influenced the child’s academic progress.

In this child’s case, her doctor also prescribed medication that helped the child focus more and “clear the noise” in her brain. Through all these interventions and a support team, the girl was able to manage her schoolwork successfully and eventually became well adjusted to school, with a positive and cheery attitude about life in general.

Other students, however, may go unnoticed for long periods of time. Students with ADD don’t always exhibit impulsiveness or hyperactivity and their attention may quietly drift without anyone noticing. Melissa states, “These kids are often intelligent and very quick, and a lot of them have developed coping mechanisms for their problems.”

For these students, Melissa suggests reducing clutter or using reminders that bring them back to attention. She also suggests teaching students how to keep themselves organized and finding ways to build their stamina for focusing on a task for longer periods of time. Some examples are taking a picture of what their desk looks like when it’s clean, modifying big assignments by providing specific outcomes and well-defined timelines, and setting up milestones for making success more obtainable. Other ideas include setting up routines with students so they know what to expect and providing lots of feedback when they see themselves and others on task.

With any of these interventions, it’s important to recognize that there is no “magic bullet.” Each child should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis to determine what that individual child needs. Below are some resources that can help in that process.


Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears

I’ve Tried Everything! Strategies for Working With Kids With Attention Disorders

Listen to more of Melissa Fike’s strategies for working with children with attention disorders. In this podcast, Melissa further elaborates on resources that give you a range of interventions. Melissa also shares some reading and literacy strategies you can readily apply with your students.

ADHD: Current Research and Teaching Strategies for Reading and Writing

This article from the December 2009 issue of Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears reviews some of the research being done on ADHD and provides additional resources for teachers.

Behavior and Learning Intervention Resources

Behavior Intervention Manual
This manual, published by Hawthorne Educational Services, lists over 200 behaviors and intervention strategies that are simple to implement and track.

Pre-Referral Intervention Manual (PRIM)-Third Edition
Also published by Hawthorne, this manual is a companion to the Behavior Intervention Manual and provides additional intervention strategies for many types of learning and behavior problems.

Hawthorne Educational Services
In addition the manuals listed above, Hawthorne has resources specific to ADHD at all age and grade levels.

AIMSweb provides response to intervention (RTI) assessment probes and online data management systems for tracking student progress. These assessments are fee-based.

ADHD and ADD Resources

National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET)

NASET offers a list of resources dealing with ADHD. While some materials are limited to members, there are some general materials that provide support for teachers in understanding ADHD and meeting student needs. A separate series of articles on ADHD is available to members.

ADDitude Magazine and Online Communities Go Tech
As both a magazine and online community, this resource provides a host of information about ADHD. Membership in the online community is free while the magazine has a subscription fee.

This article was written by Robert Payo. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Kimberly Lightle, Principal Investigator, with any questions about the content of this site.

Copyright February 2010 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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