One day, I was working with a student on order of operations with my student Ray (names have been changed). We were doing an activity that involved math riddles. It was stretching him to his focus abilities. I can’t make too much eye contact with this student, otherwise he takes the conversation away from our work. I keep my eyes fixed on the math problem to help him keep his focus. Suddenly, he threw his hands up in the air and said, “I’ll be right back.” Then he stood up and flopped onto the floor and played dead. I didn’t even look over at him because I knew if I did, it would feed his behavior and we wouldn’t finish our last riddle. I waited about 3 minutes (with my eyes fixed on the paper) and then he popped back up to sit down and work. In my head, I am thinking, “Oh brother. Good thing this is the last part of our hour together. He isn’t going to last.” My student has ADD. If you’re a tutor or teacher, chances are you can totally relate to work sessions like this.
My solution to remedy the problem was simple, keep eye contact with the materials we are working on. It works really well some days and not so much on other days. Working with students that struggle with ADD requires a lot of patience on your part and flexibility. I plan lots of activities for this student and know that we probably won’t be able to complete half of them, but I am prepared on the off day that he is unusually focused.
In the Just for Tutors group, this topic comes up frequently. Together we’ve complied a list of ideas that are practical, simple, and easy to implement. Often I find that people look for complex solutions to working with students with ADD, when really these simple ideas can make all the difference.
Gross Motor Activities
Many tutors recommended getting up and moving around. Sitting in a classroom all day is particularly hard for these students. I don’t like sitting for long periods of time either! Christin A. knows that taking breaks is crucial to focus, “Lots of breaks and stretches. I can usually tell when she’s done and switch it up. I usually over plan and do lots of multisensory activities. She likes to talk she’ll let her tell me stories during the break.”
Jake recently shared here on the blog that exercise can really make you a better student. He uses exercise with his students each time they meet. This keeps them focused and ready for work. Here are some movement ideas for your tutor sessions:
Cross Lateral Exercises
Try doing cross lateral exercises with your students. Children need movement every 20 minutes. Doing those cross lateral exercises can help wake the brain back up and increase focus again. Stefany S. said, “I do them right along with the kids and make them silly and fun. Sometimes its not the student who needs a reset, it’s the teacher who does!” . A quick search on the internet turns up hundreds of exercise ideas for cross lateral exercise.
Another gross motor activity to try is using yoga with your students. My son has a teacher that using yoga throughout the day to help her students take a break and regain focus. He LOVES it! Be sure to check out these children friendly yoga movements shared by Parents magazine.
This is so simple! I take my students outside and we practice math facts while they are jump roping. We do this at the beginning and take a break if needed to do it again. Teach them also how to cross their hands and jump, which builds on the cross lateral exercise idea.
Robin W. also shared, “I try to incorporate gross motor movements into my planning, things like tossing playground balls back and forth for facts, hopscotch and large body movements for other repetitious things. I also offer gum at the beginning. I also have a mini trampoline that I have my ADHD clients jump on at the beginning to get rid of some of the nervous energy from riding in the car/waiting.”
Combining Work with Movement
If you can practice a reading or math skill with gross motor movement, focus increases and so does retention. Jennifer H. shared, “I was chatting with my best friend over the weekend who is a spec. ed teacher. Her number one suggestion was to think out of the box and create activities and lessons that are full of body movement such as hopping on squares to pick correct answers or creating mini-stations in your tutoring area to move students from place to place.”
Many of my students like to play with my basketball hoops. We’ll solve problems and then identify if the answer is even or odd. They shoot the basketball into the hoop labeled even or odd when they answer.
Standing Instead of Sitting
In my office, I hung up a giant whiteboard. We stand and do our work there much of the time. I find that we often will alternate between the giant whiteboard and sitting. My students love to be able to write big (as many of them do naturally). You can also allow your student to stand and read for a change of pace.
For more ideas about ADD and to see what type of chairs I use for tutoring, be sure to read my post 5 Ideas for Engaging an ADD Student.
Make it Predictable
Often not knowing exactly how the session will be going while working with you can be a distraction in and of itself. If this causes a bit of anxiety, they may increase their rate of speech and move more to help them deal with the unknown. Sarah R. has found that, “changing activities every 5 minutes or so with a standing up to move around/stand at an easel break in the middle. I actually think the very predictable structure of the lesson was also really helpful because wondering what was going to come next didn’t become an additional distraction. I would maybe take a little stretch/water break in the middle. 30 minutes is something they can sustain with lots of shorter activities, but an hour is a harder.”
For one of my students, I created a checklist of activities that we were going to do during the hour for him. He seemed to really enjoy knowing what was coming next and even liked checking those items off the list.
Reality Check on Age-Appropriate Behavior
Sometimes we forget that what age appropriate focus looks like for different ages of children. Amy H. shared her insight, “The younger the child is, the shorter attention span they have. I think the theory is that you take the child’s age + 1 for their attention span while concentrating (i.e. 6 + 1=7 minutes for a 6 year old).” She went on to describe that you can build their attention span over time as you slowly stretch their focus. Amy does this by weaving in a non related game to their work together, “My 6 year old student loves to play iPad kids chess. He gets a move for each word he reads and spells. I work up the amount of time he focuses by having him read a couple of words before he gets to make a move in chess. After several weeks, the child is doing full lists of words and playing the game every 10 minutes. Eventually this turns into a game once every 25 minutes.
Amy also brought up another good point that young children learn best through play and movement. She suggest with such young children, that we, “teach students what good listening looks like. All I have to say is “show me good listening” and they do it right away. Many of my students are actually able to focus better than they let on. If they know how to be successful and make me happy, they’re generally quite eager to please, especially when we have a good relationship.”
I also use Amy’s idea when I am assessing. If I figure out that a child has focus issues during our Let’s Go Learn assessment, I will pull out a simple game or coloring that we can take breaks with. I find that it helps make the assessment go by quickly and that I actually get at the heart of where the child is lacking instead of their ability to focus. One student during the assessment loved this. She would work hard for 5 minutes and then stop to color one section of the picture. She had no issues going back and forth between the activity and assessment.
Make it Clear and Motivate
With some students you have to make it very clear what your expectations are for tutoring. I had a student that completely struggled with having appropriate behavior during tutoring. At all cost he would find ways to avoid doing math. I created a scale to help him identify how he was performing. The scale was 0 to 5. Here’s how the scale worked:
Zero = Student comes in with a crummy attitude and won’t work.
One = Student’s behavior barely above a zero. Sit for 15 minutes before even working a little.
Two = Student sits for 5-10 minutes before getting to work.
Three = Student is working, but still needs three or more reminders to stay on task
Four = The student is working, but needs two or less reminders to stay on task.
Five = The student has a good attitude, they come in-sit down and get to work with you.
I made a spreadsheet with the student and each time he came, I gave him a rating at the end of the tutoring session. I also involved him by asking what number he thought he deserved. This allowed us to review the behaviors that occurred (both good and bad). I let him choose the motivating prize, (he chose a traditional pencil sharpener). Then I rewarded him with a prize after a month of working with me. He was a middle schooler so this was an appropriate amount of time. For younger children, you can choose to do daily or weekly. I found over time that I could phase this reward system out.
Focus on Executive Functioning Skills
Many experts believe that ADHD and executive function deficits are actually the same. So exactly what is executive functioning? It is the ability to carry about a plan from beginning to end which actually involves many different areas of the brain. It doesn’t matter if this plan is doing math work or cleaning a messy room, they use executive functioning skills. I recently invited Anne-Marie Morey, an educational therapist to explain here on the blog tips for helping students stay seated, organized, or focused.
Anne-Marie makes a compelling statement about executive functioning and ADD, “Here’s the good news: Executive function weaknesses are often delayed deficits not absolute losses. As students mature, many of these executive function skills will develop. In the meantime, professional support can help these students feel and be more successful.”
If you’d like to be a member of our incredible Facebook group, please purchase my eBook The Novice Tutor. Access is granted to tutors that purchase the book. We have many conversations around topics like this and so much more. I hope you consider joining us!
So the question is, what ideas are you going to be trying out with your students? Do you have any more that you’d like to share? Leave them in the comments below.