Thoughts About ADHD (Part 2)

I’ve always had a lot of compassion for my students with ADHD (or ADHD-like behaviors) because my husband had ADHD as a kid. Never diagnosed (it was the early 80’s), Kevin struggled in school. Despite being a very smart, charming, and energetic little boy, his report cards were filled with comments like, “Kevin fails to live up to his potential” and “Kevin contributes wonderful ideas in class, but doesn’t complete his work.”

If you ask me, his teachers failed to see that he needed help, and instead, blamed him for his inability to focus and follow through on tasks. It wasn’t until fifth grade that a teacher finally recognized Kevin’s strengths, helped to develop his love of science, and made accommodations like allowing him to take tests standing up. That teacher changed Kevin’s entire outlook on himself as a learner. Continue reading

Thoughts About ADHD (Part 1)

I’ve always thought of ADHD as a context-specific disorder. What are considered talents in one setting — such as high energy, creativity, and the ability to make brilliant cognitive leaps — are considered deficits in other settings, particularly traditional school settings, where students are required to sit silently for long periods of time, engaged in teacher-led tasks.

If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend watching Sir Kenneth Robinson’s address to the RSA, in which he contends that diagnosis of ADHD is on the rise because schools are failing to meet the needs of 21st century learners.

Continue reading

Good Questions: How do you motivate students?

I was recently asked how I motivate my students.  Immediately, I thought, what don’t I do to motivate students?  I do everything short of standing on my head… no, wait a minute — I do that too, along with cartwheels, Captain’s Coming, Indian dances, and “old school” 4-Square.

Motivating students is at the very heart of being an effective teacher.  It’s a huge topic that encompasses just about everything we do, so let’s break it down. Continue reading

Good Questions: Behavior Plans, Part 2

This is the second part of my two-part answer to Christine’s question about behavior plans and rewards.  Part 1 discussed whole-class reward systems, and now we’re on to individual behavior plans.

I use behavior plans frequently, starting around the second week of school.  Today, I’ll share three variations, but each of the plans I use is designed to do the same thing: to help students make better choices in the classroom.  Each individual student’s goals are different, but might be to focus better, to put more effective effort into their work, to work cooperatively with classmates, or to follow certain norms for classroom behavior. Continue reading

Improving Special Education… Without Going Over-Budget

These are not my ideas, but after reading about them in the latest Marshall Memo, I gotta say, they make a lot of sense.  In their Education Week article “Improving Special Education in Tough Times,” Stephen Frank and Karen Hawley Miles discuss a number of money-saving ways to improve special education.

The first that resonated with me was reallocating funds from one-on-one aides to better coaching for teachers.  They say having an aide “does not always promote student independence, effective inclusion, or academic support.”  I have been lucky to work with some really talented support teachers, and while they do a great job of helping students do their work, they do not, as a general rule, help students to become increasingly independent.  Often, I’ve seen the opposite happen.  With such intense one-on-one support, students become more dependent on the aide’s help, and less willing to believe in themselves. Continue reading

The Strengths Mentality

I started reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman (high brow stuff, right?  I know you’re impressed).  It was witty and wildly imaginative, but man, was it giving me the most bizarre dreams.

So now I am sticking to the safer choice, Count Me In!  Including Learners with Special Needs in Mathematics Classrooms by Judy Storeygard (summary here).  (And my husband, who is, literally, tired of my sleepless nights, has told me I’m not allowed to read before bedtime.)

One point that resonated with me in Count Me In! is the way Judy describes the “deficit mentality” children and parents often face.  She shares the experiences of parents of special needs children whose parent-teacher conferences are dominated by discussions of their children’s needs, but never their strengths.  An autistic student, for instance, has many math-related skills.  He’s great at solving puzzles, building with legos, and remembering directions.  But, his teacher’s expectations of him in the math classroom are very low.  Frustrated with hearing about her child’s limitations, his parent asks, “How can his skills be used to build math knowledge?”

This reminded me of one of my first-ever parent conferences.  I’m gonna say it plain: the student was a pain in the butt. Continue reading

Summer Reading!

Because I just finished reading the vampire novel The Passage by Justin Cronin for the second time (don’t you judge me), and because it’s August, when I get back to thinking about school, I’ve begun an excellent new book called Count Me In!  Including Learners with Special Needs in Mathematics Classrooms by Judy Storeygard.

You should stop reading now and order it.  I’ll wait.

All set?  You will love this book.  It aims to fill a huge gap in education literature.  We focus a lot on helping children with special needs in reading, but what about math?  How do we help kids who – whether they have ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, a Nonverbal Learning Disorder, or no label at all – struggle to make sense of word problems?  The kids who get so lost in their steps they can’t finish their work?  The kids who have difficulty using language to express mathematical ideas?  And so on. Continue reading