Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Importance of Organization (at home and school) in High School

Middle school and high school are about as similar as Charlie Sheen and Charlie Brown.  Therefore, the transition from middle school to high school is an important part of a student's success in high school.  The transition is a topic that should be discussed, openly, between the student and parent(s).  Topics that should be addressed to some degree include how the workload will be different, stresses that are often experienced in high school, the importance of setting short term goals, social pressures that are likely to present themselves, the need to get off to a good start with academics, managing academics and extracurricular activities, and strengths and areas of concern specific to the individual child.  These are, of course, not an exhaustive list of topics, but these are the ones that seem to be most prevalent. 

Academically, the most effective way of finding solutions to high school concerns is to become highly organized.  Organization begins at home before the school day even begins.  Wake up in time to eat breakfast, even if it is a slice of toast and a small glass of juice.  Having a pop and/or a donut in the morning thinking it will help you wake up is is just a false premise.  The sugar actually will slow you down.  Also, leave yourself enough time in the mornings to really wake up.  I like to sleep as much as the next person (probably more), but waking up just in time to get to the bus to get to school is counterproductive to needing to stay alert.  Most kids are used to being active when they wake in the summer....going from bed to outside in a relatively short period of time.  It is challenging to wake up and then go to school to sit in a classroom and listen to a lecture or engage in a low physical activity, such as a science lab.  Granted the science lab work will help fend off those feelings of being tired more than a lecture, but the bottom line is the longer you give yourself a chance to wake up, the better off you will be in a class with a low level of physical activity.  Try taking a shower, even for just 5 minutes when you arise.  This will help wake up your entire body (and you will smell great).

Organization at school is critical to academic success.  Failure to have a organizational plan is an assurance of an difficult academic times.   As 9th graders, especially, the last thing a student needs is to struggle academically.  Some things to consider is organization of the locker and the personal academic belongings (notebooks, binders, note cards, etc...).  Consider color-coded binders and folders.  Organize your locker using shelves that help separate your belongings (if you have the room).  No doubt the biggest reasons for academic struggles in high school are not getting daily work or homework done or getting it done but not returning it to the teacher.  There appears to be a "paper heaven."  There is a good book titled "Organizing the Disorganized Child" by Kutscher and Moran.  It is a simple book full of easy techniques that any child can use and modify according to individual needs.  Getting homework home requires the use of some sort of planner (most kids use some sort of planner, even sporadically), post it note reminders, or electronic program (especially good to for students with individual computers at school).  Making sure the assignment is accurate is the next important step in the paper trail.  Ask the teacher or check with a peer in the same class.  Don't leave yourself open by guessing or assuming if you are unsure.  It is important to get the assignment home if there is still work left to complete.  Two pocket folders are great for this.  One side is used for "bring home" and the other side is used for "take back" and no one else has to know the purpose of the folder.  This provides one place for the papers you need.  Once you have the work home and done, getting it back to the teacher is a MUST!  Every assignment is important and counts, even if performance is poor.  A poor mark is better than a zero any day of the week!  Put the assignment back in the two pocket folder.  Double check to be sure it is there before you go to bed.  Make the use of this folder a habit. 

Don't become frustrated if something does not work.  Brainstorm other options.  Make adjustments as needed. They key is to know that there is a way to get organized and you just have to find it.  By parents asking questions of their child and then listening to the answers, solutions can be found.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

ADD/ADHD and Neurology

It is often difficult for people to truly accept that ADD/ADHD is a neurological disorder.  Many people tend to dismiss ADHD as laziness (due to lack of motivation), "spacey" (due to lack of concentration), or even belligerence (not following through on a task given).  The fact is that there is a large amount of medical research on the connection of ADHD to the brain.  It is important for parents, educators, and employers to understand ADD/ADHD in order to be able to help a child (or another adult) who has been diagnosed be successful in the home, school, or work environment.

The frontal lobe, the limbic system,  the reticular activating system, and the cortex  are the areas of the brain directly connected to ADD/ADHD.  Slow brain wave activity in any of the first three mentioned areas will manifest itself in a lack of control in the cortex of the brain.  The frontal lobe is connected to one's ability to pay attention, focus, concentrate, make good decisions, plan ahead, learn and remember what was learned.  The limbic system is the base of our emotions.  If this system is over-activated, it may manifest itself in mood swings, an urge to touch everything, a quick startle response, or even difficulty sleeping. The inhibitory mechanisms of the cortex is the area where one's impulses are restrained. The reticular activating system is the attention center of the brain and the center of motivation.  A very complex  collection of neurons here serves as the point of convergence where things in the external world meets the world inside our own bodies (thoughts and emotions).  This system has a profound impact on the activation of the other areas noted.  When this system does not excite the neurons in the cortex as it should, the results are an under-aroused cortex which may take on numerous appearances, such as learning difficulties, poor memory, little self-control, high or low motor activity, highly motivated or easily bored, and impulsivity.  The extremes of an imbalance in this system include, unconsciousness (coma) or hyper vigilance.

The complexities of the brain are not something most people without a medical degree in neurology could even begin to grasp.  The bottom line is that there is a reason for ADD/ADHD and it deserves our attention.  If people with this impairment are to be helped, as help would be provided to any person with a disability, we must first concede that ADD/ADHD has, in fact, a medical explanation.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Strategies for the ADHD Secondary School Student

It is critical at the middle and high school levels not to engage the ADHD (or other disabled) student in any type of activity that would stigmatize him/her.  Usually, the best way to assure students they can trust the teacher to protect their emotional and mental health is to employ the same strategies with all students.  The strategies discussed in this article are ones which benefit all students.
1.  Use demonstration as much as possible rather than lecture.  Show pictures or video clips or use audio interspersed throughout any lecture.
2.  Use language kids can relate to by using meaningful examples to them.  Current fads and activities should be incorporated when possible.
3.  Use voice volume and tone for emphasis.  Write things on the board so kids can see them.
4.  Limit down time during and between activities.  Being patient is NOT an easy task for the ADHD student.
5.  Peer monitoring and cooperative learning can be a powerful tool at this level.  Involve kids in the learning process and carefully planned activities that engage learners with each other can be helpful in supporting the ADHD student's development of organizational and study skills.
6.  Minimize rote memorization.  Memorizing facts, terms, and definitions seem to be a prevalent instructional delivery method at the middle school level.
7.  Limit the need to recall facts to those that are truly the most critical for students to know.  Consideration should be given to the difference between what is reasonable for students to memorize and what they can use notes on for support (i.e. math formulas)
8.  Larger assignments should be broken into smaller components by the teacher, not left to the student to do this.  Seat work is very challenging for the ADHD child, and the more structure provided by the teacher, the more likely the ADHD student will use time productively.  Otherwise, feelings of being overwhelmed with organization can occur and the student may likely give up and complete nothing.
9.  For tests that include multiple pages, give one page of the test at a time.  Tests are high pressure situations for students, but especially the ADHD student.  The problem if often the student's struggle to transfer the learned material from his/her head to the paper.  Test formats should NEVER be a "one size fits all."  ADHD students struggle most with written tests (i.e. short answer/essay).  Consider projects, presentations, oral reports, one-to-one discussion, or other format that allows the ADHD student to truly show his/her understanding of the material to the teacher.  Use practice tests when possible. 
10.  Use guided notes when lecturing.  Guided notes are teacher-prepared hand-outs that outline or map lectures, but leave "blank" space for key concepts, facts, definitions, etc.  As the lecture progresses, a student then fills in the spaces with content.  Guided notes help students follow a lecture, identify its important points, and develop a foundation of content to study and to apply. 
11.  Use a timer for seat work tasks.  The timer can be used to challenge students to "beat the clock" and slow down students who rush through tasks.
12.  Always remember to structure a homework assignment so the content a student must have reinforced is reasonable in quantity and strong in quality.  Homework can present a huge problem at home, and it should be designed to reinforce individual skills learned.  That means homework may not be the same for every student in the class.  Getting a homework assignment out of a book (i.e. math problems, questions at the end of a chapter in science, or the like) is not nearly as powerful as an assignment created by the teacher.

While this is not an exhaustive list, these strategies have been proven to work repeatedly.  Take time to check some of them out and use in the classroom. 

Sources Cited:

Pfiffner, Linda.  All About ADHD:  Complete Practical Guide for Classroom Teachers
Parker, Harvey.  ADD Hyperactivity Handbook for Schools

Monday, July 11, 2011

Could a Disability be an Advantage When Applying to College?

While most people, including parents, would consider a disability of any kind a potential "deal-breaker" for colleges, a different perspective is encouraged.  Learning challenges caused by any disability should be viewed as a means to add diversity to a college campus.  David Montesano, a college admission strategist at College Match Educational Consultants, indicates that the clientele at his college admission practice includes students with special needs, and he has seen how learning challenges can actually benefit students during the application process.  Academically, colleges will often look at an applicant's grades and test scores in a new light if presented with evidence of a disability. For example, a learning disability may help put lower grades, class rankings, or standardized test scores in context.  In addition, a physical disability that has not limited a student's success in school shows tenacity, ability to adapt surroundings, perseverance, and a attitude about the candidate him/herself, that others without a disability cannot convey.

Rather than hide a disability, regardless of what it may be, an applicant should highlight the disability in college applications, which can increase their chances of admission and money.  In college applications, students should give details of their  disability under the appropriate section, usually called "additional information." Specify the name of the disability and its effects on learning and grades and/or standardized testing.   Applicants should share ways that they have compensated for this disability and give examples. Applicants should also not hesitate to discuss grades and test scores and how these have been impacted due to the disability.  Noting accommodations available in high school and the impact on grades and test scores as a result of  the accommodations they have received is also acceptable and suggested. 

Before applying to colleges, a thorough check should be done regarding the college's ability to serve the special needs of the applicant.  For example, the following questions may be helpful:
1. Has the school served a population with the same disability the applicant? If no, this should raise a yellow flag and more discussions must be held with admissions people. 
2. What accommodations does the college offer to help accommodate the applicant's disability?
3. Is there any discrepancy between the length of time for a non disabled student to graduate as compared to a disabled student (who have the same disability)?  Such a discrepancy could be for numerous reasons and may have nothing to do with the college.  This is simply good information to have.
4. Are there resource staff on the campus that can help students with disabilities?  If so, are these resource people graduate assistants, peer tutors, or trained professionals? If not, how do students receive support outside the classroom?
5. What types of support does the college offer faculty in terms of training in accommodating students with special needs? This is important for you to know if the professor is trained or flying solo regarding understanding how to serve students with special needs.

Source Cited:  O'Shaughnessy, Lynn.

Friday, July 8, 2011

ADHD at the Elementary Level

By the time most children are identified as ADHD, 3rd or 4th grade, the problems they have experienced in school include short attention span, difficulties with organization, distractibility, hyperactivity, and problems with self-control *(Parker, p. 22).  Developmentally, these children are behind their same-age peers and are often already stigmatized as a behavior problem by their teachers.  As sad as it may sound, some teachers naively "give up" on these children because they have tried interventions and failed to find a "fix" for the challenges ADHD children present in the classroom.  The ADHD child is more of a hindrance to classroom progress, regardless of what other talents and strengths this child may possess/exhibit.  It is not the intention of most teachers to pigeon-hold any child.  Frustration over attempted and failed interventions combined with a teacher's lack of knowledge and understanding about ADHD is an environment in which only difficulties and failure can occur for both the child and the teacher. 

Key at this level is the teacher's classroom style and attitude. At this academic level, demands requiring attentiveness, organization, planning, and independent work increase, and typically, so do the ADHD child's problems *(Parker, p. 23).  Work completion often is one of the first struggles noted.  A teacher gives time for work to be completed in class but the ADHD child does not get it done regardless of the amount of time given for the task.  Other challenges that often present themselves for the child include the simple act of starting a task or assignment and homework.  Each of these tasks require multiple skills put into action simultaneously.  The ADHD child will have troubles with such a task.  Another problem that often occurs is with socialization *(Parker, p. 24).  The ADHD child is often rejected by peers because their behavior disruptive in nature and they struggle with social cues.  Boundaries become a challenge as well as the ADHD child struggles to recognize and/or respect the boundaries of others.

All of these frustrations add to the challenges the parents face at home.  Parents begin to dread the phone call from school.  It is critical that parents and teachers work together to support the child.  Parents are a tremendous resource and need to be kept informed of what is happening at school.  In addition, parents are usually eager to be involved in the teacher's efforts to support the ADHD child.  In order to best support the child, it is imperative for the school to foster a partnership.  Keeping parents informed of activities in the classroom, homework help tips, tips about educational programs to watch or good books to read are all things that can foster a relationship between the school and home *(Pffifner, p. 124-25).

Some strategies that can be used by the classroom teacher to help support the ADHD child include:
1.  Seat the child close to teacher's desk or chalkboard.  This helps with continuous monitoring. 
2.  Seat the child away from windows, things that hang low,  or extremely stimulating objects.
3.  Walk around the room near the ADHD child often and praise him/her for staying on task or redirect as needed.
4.  If the child has trouble sitting, allow him/her to stand and complete a task as long as they are not disruptive.
5.  Operate a well-organized classroom.  Work centers should be uncluttered and kept full of materials. 
6.  Have an effective classroom routine for tasks.  Stick to the routine.  Teach major academic subjects (such as reading) in the morning, if possible.  This is the time of day children are the most focused.
7.  Alternate between activities.  Allow for movement whenever appropriate.
8.  Keep the lesson lively, short, and paced appropriately.
9.  Involve all students in the lesson whenever possible.  Engagement is critical for all level of children. 
10.  Keep directions simple and repeat often.  Have another student restate the directions.  Keep directions simple and repeat often.  Keep directions simple.....I think you get the point.

There are many other strategies that support learning for all students.  These are only a few that the ADHD child will benefit from the most.

*Note:  Resources are those used in the previous article.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

All About ADHD: Developmental Levels

As an educator, I have encountered ADHD students every year in every class.  A new teacher will no doubt encounter a child with ADHD within his/her first or second year of teaching.  As far back as 1996, there was an estimated 3-5% of the school age population (over 2 million students) diagnosed with ADHD.  This translated to about 1 to 2 kids in every classroom all across the country (Pfiffner, p.10).  In 2009, slightly less than 5.5 million school age children were diagnosed with ADHD.  With such a large number of school age children diagnosed with ADHD, it is imperative that educators have a strong understanding what ADHD is and how it impacts the learning of a child.  It is only after an understanding of ADHD occurs that effective teaching strategies can be implemented to help support the education of any child at any educational level with ADHD. 

It is a bit uncommon for a child under the age of 6 to be formally diagnosed by a doctor with ADHD simply due to the commonalities between small children with and without ADHD.  There are no objective answers to questions, such as "When is inattentiveness considered impulsivity" or "How do parents differentiate between behavior that is developmentally normal from those that are indicative of a long-lasting problem"? (Parker, p. 22). Preschool children are naturally impulsive and very active.  Attention spans are focused on interesting and new things and are very brief (based upon interest in an item).  Preschoolers are self-centered, demanding, and generally get upset when they don't get what they want.  Teachers at this level plan instructional activities knowing this about their students' development.  ADHD preschoolers are often described by their parents as more overactive than normal.  Their need for stimulating activity means they are constantly moving and climbing.  Constant supervision is necessary.  They are often described as exhibiting uncommon reactions to frustrations, including aggressiveness, that most other children their age do not exhibit.

Parents of ADHD children often describe themselves as "exhausted" by the child rearing process (Parker, p. 22).  Disruptive behavior is a concern when children with ADHD begin school IF there has been no meaningful and effective behavioral controls at home.  At school, there are definite strategies a teacher can use to help support the preschool child diagnosed with ADHD (by the way, most strategies work with all younger children, not just those with ADHD).

1.  Keep eye contact with the child.  If necessary, gently hold their chin so that they are looking at you when you speak. Children tend to listen more closely when they are looking at you as you speak.

2.  Structure the day as much as possible.  Keep nap times, meal times, and various activities at the same time each day.  Having the day predictable for the child will help them cope better.  Let them know any disruptions that may happen and what to expect.  Let them know what you expect of them. 
3.  Give them plenty of time to release energy.  Set up times during the day for them to run or release energy.  Make daily trips to the playground or play outside. If stuck inside, use a radio or CD and have them dance. 
4.  Choose toys carefully.  Children with ADHD can be emotionally immature.  Allow toys that will benefit them developmentally and also provide toys to stretch their intelligence.  (Children with ADHD do not have a lower intelligence level.)

5.  Integrate learning techniques.  Use as many as the senses as possible when teaching a new skill.  If you are teaching your child colors, find items they can touch, eat, or smell.  Have them draw with crayons.  Having learning become interactive will help them learn more quickly.

6.  Create an environment to help them succeed.  Accept they may be accident prone and put away items you don’t want broken.  Use simple organizational structures they can use to put away toys.  Use pictures on drawers to help them know what is inside. 
7.  Be consistent.  Consistency is the most important part of behavioral management when working with children with ADHD.  The more consistent you are, the more they will know exactly what to expect and be able to follow your rules.

More information and resources can be found on this topic at the Attention Deficit Disorder Resources Website.

Chandler, MD, Jim (2002). What is ADHD?
Parker, PhD, Harvey (1996).  The ADD Hyperactivity Handbook for Schools
Pfiffner, PhD, Linda (1996).  All About ADHD:  The Complete Practical Guide for Classroom Teachers