ADHD IN THE CLASSROOM: What can we do as teachers?
26 January 2011 – Royal Botanical Garden, Madrid
This year we have carried out our first dissemination and training activity for teachers at the Botanical Garden in Madrid, with over 150 educators, teachers, orientators and, generally, teaching staff dealing with children with difficulties, mainly with attention deficit and/or hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The President of the Association, Elisabeth d´Ornano, welcomed the attendants warmly. In her inaugural speech she set down the guidelines for the year. She mentioned that one of the main goals of the Association is to motivate and support teachers in their educational task. She reviewed the evolution of the Association since it was founded in April 2009, with its initial objectives—training and dissemination in connection with ADHD and support for children suffering this disorder and for the adults involved in educating them. Knowing the Essentials of ADHD and supporting and motivating teachers in their educational task were pointed out as fundamentals goals for the year.
Conveying the idea that children have a huge potential even if they suffer ADHD; valuing children for their capacities rather than for their disabilities, and the fundamental importance of education are consistently present in all of the Associations activities.
Throughout their years at school, people with ADHD come up against more obstacles than typical people, basically because the functioning of their brain is hampered by a clinical condition in which biological agents such as their genes are involved. Rescuing all the human potential, the talents and virtues of children with ADHD, using them to support their development, may give rise to very pleasant surprises; the President mentioned that so many geniuses have suffered from uncomprehending or inflexible educational systems. The recognition of their worth as persons, of their differences, but not in a pejorative sense, and believing in those non-typical individuals, allowing them to have goals and objectives, may be the key to their happy development. Always wanting the child to adapt to the environment, without ourselves being able to adapt to the child, may be unfair and very ineffective for the educational task. Demanding too much or demanding inadequately (in relation to their capacities) may seriously tarnish a child’s self-esteem and his capacity to believe in himself, to dream and to develop. Teachers play an essential role here. Their coordination and teamwork with parents is likewise relevant. It is important for teachers to remember that being the parent of a hyperactive child is a difficult challenge, they should try to imagine what it must be like to be in their shoes and try to make school a flexible place, where what is appraised is not only the child’s academic intelligence but many other values and skills that parents are usually very aware of. Creativity, contact and the connection with nature, emotional intelligence, are all aspects of a person that we can help build and foster at school, and which can prepare the child for a future in which work is increasingly different and requires different capacities to be executed properly. Last of all, she pointed out, as a summary of the educational idea behind the association, the importance of rescuing the value of education beyond mere teaching.
Dr Miguel Moreno, a child and teen psychiatrist, provided a general review of “ADHD, motivating teachers and taking care of caretakers.”
Not until recently was ADHD recognised as a disorder in Spain, therefore until recent times the main risk with respect to people suffering this disorder was insufficient diagnosis. Accordingly, many people suffering this disorder did not attribute it to a clinical condition but to poor education. Because of this, in his intervention Dr Moreno stressed the things that the disorder “is not,” and subsequently compared it with what we scientifically know about the disorder, its causes, the physio-pathological mechanisms whereby it develops, what the available treatments are in each case and how to provide a proper diagnosis. Because another one of the risks related to this disorder, which has surfaced recently, is over-diagnosis.
In his speech, Dr Moreno stressed the importance of carrying out a proper diagnosis allowing ADHD to be distinguished from other disorders with similar symptoms, but which must be assessed differently. To this end, he tried to show the biological nature of the disorder, as well as the importance of a multidisciplinary assessment from school, at home and by physicians. Accordingly, the Association proposes, as a way of driving the change to improve the situation of children with ADHD, that teachers be adequately motivated, becoming aware of the essential role they play in the education of their pupils and the effect that an open frame of mind with respect to educational methods, taking into consideration the differences of these difficult students, may have on the future of boys and girls with this disorder. Each one of these students represents a difficult challenge for teachers, but if they accept it and are motivated to work and help them, those teachers can become better professionals and, more importantly, better persons.
It is important that not only society but teachers themselves accept that their profession entails a substantial psychological risk due to the level of vicarious anguish they have to face every day. In their daily practice, teachers have to deal with the expectations, frustrations and tensions of their own colleagues, their students and their students’ families. Because of this, it is essential that they accept a number of special measures of self-care as essential for their professional practice. Looking after themselves, taking rests, carrying out leisure activities which they can enjoy, leaning on friends and relatives and trying to disconnect from work every day starting at a pre-established time, separating their personal and professional lives, seem to be some of the most appropriate measures to be able to manage themselves comfortably and in a motivated manner before their pupils, finding in the daily challenges of their job one of the paths towards the psychological balance that most people aspire to attain. The idea of creating supervision groups where teachers, coordinated by specialists, may handle the tension, the emotion and the different approaches pertaining to their daily activity within a group, could represent a scenario of care for the caretaker that educational centres could aspire to implement in a relatively short period.
Dr Mara Parellada, also a child and teen psychiatrist, summarised some of the aspects of how the major symptoms of ADHD show in the school environment, and then she went on to develop how to adapt the teaching and evaluation methods to the difficulties posed by these children. She at all times referred to ADHD as a different form of brain development, which generates a different way of learning, which should generate a different way of teaching and evaluation, and which generally gives rise to difficulties because it clashes with traditional teaching methods. ADHD on its own is not a form of mental retardation and should not prevent a child from developing in a balanced manner and enjoying adulthood like any other person.
In the nursery and elementary education stages, the challenge consists of identifying the child, detecting whether his difficulties may be due to ADHD or to some other problem, and implementing attitudes so that the child’s hyperactivity and attention deficit, if present, do not start to generate problems at school. Understanding that the child does not move continuously or get distracted because he wants to and that he is not challenging us is important to be able to muster the courage and mood to tolerate that movement, finding a mode of expression that is less of a distortion for others. Likewise, adapting to the child’s short attention span and giving him appropriate tasks from the start will allow the child to learn, despite that lack of attention. The way a child develops during those years is decisive to make it to secondary education without dropping out from school, overcoming the lack of motivation and low self-esteem that are a hallmark of children who have not been understood and attended to in a sensitive way, adapted to their needs.
The evaluation of knowledge and homework are two key aspects in the methodological adaptation of teaching to these children. When teachers evaluate children they must always bear in mind that they have to evaluate what the child knows, not the child’s learning difficulties. This means that if the evaluation of a subject consists in a single exam in which much of the performance will depend upon the child being concentrated during the test, able to endure one hour dedicated to the same task, knowing how to organise himself to answer the whole exam, dedicating the necessary time to each part without running out of time to do the rest or without answering too quickly to questions with a long introduction, then surely the child will fail the test, regardless of what he really knows about the subject. The teacher’s disposition and creativity to find out what the child knows about the subject he must learn will be essential in order for the child to be able to prove what he knows. Carrying out a true continuous evaluation, allowing the child to say what he knows on many occasions and in many different ways (for instance by doing papers, taking him out to the blackboard by surprise, asking him things one by one, doing partial exams to allow him to organise his time, etc.) will be crucial for his academic achievement and to motivate the child to study.
Regarding homework, teachers must always think about the homework they order, what it is for and the possible harm that may derive from it. Bearing in mind that a child has a life outside school, that he needs time to do exercise, to carry out activities with his family, to play and to rest, will be helpful in terms of adequately designing the homework. Likewise, considering that after a certain hour a child will be much less prone to concentrating than usual, rendering homework useless and hence giving rise to frustration and family conflicts, will also be helpful. Ideally, homework should arise from the coordination between teachers of different subjects, so that they demand homework in order, so that they do not all coincide on the same days.
Lastly, when teaching and evaluating the child and asking him to do homework, having a global knowledge of the child beyond his learning and studying skills is the best assistance in order to educate him well, getting him to develop his maximum potential, keeping up his curiosity and motivation for learning. Making the effort to get to know the person with ADHD, and that his virtues be well known at school, both among the teachers and among his classmates, is probably the best way to help the child.
Fernando Téllez, a Drawing teacher and educator, originally an engineer, experienced in teaching from elementary education to university, experienced as a coordinator and headmaster in the educational system (he was the headmaster of a Secondary Education School for 8 years), spoke about creativity in the education process.
He described creativity in a multidimensional way, from the direct conception of the ‘act of inventing anything’ to a much wider conception, in the sense of a (personal, group or institutional) capacity to find original solutions, and even as an attitude, related to the will to modify or transform things. He tried to demystify a few false ideas that are sometimes attached to creative people, namely that a creative person is born as such and that creativity is not something that can be learned; that creative people are eccentric, strange, impulsive, different; that creativity is highly dependent on inspiration; that it entails chaos and disorder.
He emphasised the positive aspects of creativity throughout the entire educational process, versus rigid, obsolete, repetitive or constrictive attitudes that are often present in current teaching. Teaching that features creativity in its methods, systems, in the valuation of students’ knowledge and learning, is more productive and it boosts a modern intelligence that is more useful for the future. Creativity can only arise from flexible thought, where the individual is valued with preference over the uniform group; the creative act is connected to affection and to thought, balancing out a person while at the same time enhancing the versatility of his potential.
A school wishing to be considered creative and to cultivate creative individuals must value and boost individuality, it must pose questions rather than offer solutions, it must use multiple methods for learning, it must stimulate the use of a person’s various sensorial channels. Play, besides allowing one to enjoy learning, also allows one to learn implicitly, with elements of competition and cooperation. The search for solutions in a group will allow students’ thinking to be enhanced by the different ways that problems can be assessed. Using problems with several correct solutions or creating contexts allowing students to move away from what they already know will lead to flexible thinking. In general, creating and fostering the consistent search for and experimentation with new, different and alternative solutions is the key to creative education.
As Gaston Paris once said, Nothing divides men more than the absolute belief that they own the truth… and nothing brings them closer together than the noble task of seeking it together.