After serving as a Texas FFA state officer in 2018, Josh Witherspoon joined the iCEV team as a part-time employee for 3 years before taking on the role of content development specialist in 2022. Witherspoon holds a bachelor's degree in agricultural communications from Texas Tech University, in which his experience and proficiency in writing, marketing and CTE allow him to effectively communicate the successes of CTE educators and students and the value iCEV has to offer.
As a CTE educator, you more than likely have had the student who stares out the window, draws a bird instead of answering a question on homework, or simply can’t sit still in their seat. The one who answers the question, “What is the powerhouse of the cell?” with “Do you dye your hair?” Students who exhibit hallmark symptoms of ADHD, including inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity have significant barriers to overcome in order to reach the same goals and expectations as other students.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is characterized by problems with attention, impulse control, and hyperactivity. Approximately 9% of children in the United States between the ages of 13 and 18 have ADHD, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. As a prominent special populations group, students with ADHD have unique needs CTE educators and parents must work together to meet to ensure student success. In this blog, iCEV will share four strategies CTE educators can use in their classrooms to help students struggling with ADHD find their focus, passion, and success in their educational experiences.
Keep Expectations Consistent
Classroom rules and expectations should be clear and concise for all students regardless of special populations status. Classroom rules and expectations provide structure for students by setting parameters for classroom behavior and discipline leading to a healthier and more productive learning environment. For students with ADHD clear expectations and rules help them understand what is expected of them and how they should behave while in the classroom. These types of lessons develop students’ social skills and allow them to hold themselves accountable for their work and how they engage with others.
Post classroom rules and routines somewhere easily seen by students to remind them to stay on task. Children with ADHD thrive in familiar and structured environments, so a daily classroom routine can help students feel more prepared for the lesson ahead and give them more opportunity to concentrate on each task. In the end, having consistent and purposeful expectations and rules for your classroom and students’ behavior will not only benefit students with ADHD but the whole learning community within your classroom.
Students with ADHD are susceptible to distractions such as sources of noise, heavy foot traffic and excessive visual stimuli. To help your students struggling with ADHD find their focus, seat them away from common sources of classroom disruption including windows, doors or pencil sharpeners. For you, as a CTE educator, it may seem impossible to remove every distraction from your busy classroom. While eliminating every distraction may be a challenge, removing obvious distractions can easily ensure students maintain their focus and engagement.
Playing music in your classroom may seem counterintuitive in your efforts to support ADHD students; however, music promotes focus in the ADHD brain. The ADHD brain doesn’t struggle to attend to stimuli; it struggles to prioritize stimuli and attend only to the important ones. When music is played, the ADHD brain has a rhythmic pattern to follow, allowing a clearer focus on the work at hand. When a student with ADHD is given a task, their mind is bombarded with hundreds of other thoughts, noises and other distractors. However, when music is played, the same student with ADHD can focus most of the chaos in their mind on the rhythm and pattern of the music making it much easier to complete individual tasks.
Accommodations are defined as alterations to the environment, curriculum format or equipment to allow an individual with a disability to gain access to content and to complete assigned tasks. Accommodations allow a student to take the same work their peers are completing and change how the task is completed. For example, if writing out their answers on a test challenges student, the accommodation could be they answer questions orally or type it out on a computer. The goal of accommodation is not to make the content easier to understand, but rather to make the assignment fit the student’s needs and individual learning style.
The idea of standardized or a one size fits all approach to instruction is ineffective and often harmful to students learning experiences. For your students with ADHD, find out what accommodations have been used in their past learning experiences and try new ones to allow students to discover how they learn best. A key component of supporting students with ADHD is helping them work with their learning disorder rather than against it. Students with ADHD have everything they need to be successful. They simply need the guidance of teachers and parents to optimize how they learn best.
Reward and Celebrate Your Students
The ADHD brain reacts more positively to rewards than does the neurotypical brain. In the classroom, rewards are often used sparingly because teachers feel they need to instill a sense of intrinsic motivation, and their students should feel a sense of pride when they have worked hard.
While this practice offers some value, students with ADHD often must exert additional mental and emotional energy to comply with classroom learning and behavioral expectations leaving room for students to fall behind along the way. Setting goals alone will not motivate students with ADHD in the long run but celebrating their successes with simple rewards will make a positive difference. Rewards can include stickers, free time, snacks or any other reward your students enjoy. When CTE teachers focus on the need for rewards for their students with ADHD, they will begin to see positive improvements in their classroom environment and special population students’ success.
A successful educational strategy for a child with ADHD must meet the triad of academic instruction, behavioral interventions, and classroom accommodations. While the regular implementation of these strategies can make a world of difference to a child with ADHD, they will also benefit the whole classroom environment.
To learn more about ADHD or other learning disorders, visit the Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) website or download iCEV’s special populations resources: