So here are the methods I put into practice with Javier, my ADHD student:
1) Since Javier was used to being ridiculed by both teachers and students, I needed to make sure his energy was channeled in a way that would make the kids respect him and would lead him out of the role of a class clown that he was used to assuming in order to have a place in the class hierarchy. A kid at this age needs a well-defined role s/he plays with his or her peers. If no positive role is available or accessible, the kid will choose a negative one. This is why it is often easier for kids to play the part of a class clown than to have no well-defined role at all.
I told Javier that I would teach him the Russian alphabet and he would be able to write all the other kids’ names in Russian by the end of the course. So whenever I assigned group work in class and Javier would whiz through the assignment and start getting restless, I’d teach him Russian letters. He was a very smart kid and an extra challenge was helpful to him in channeling his energy productively.
2) When you talk to an ADHD kid, it’s a good idea to start talking at the same pitch and with the same speed as he or she does and then gradually start lowering your voice and speaking slowly. This will help the student to lower his or her voice and start speaking more slowly a lot better than barking at them to slow down.
3) School-age kids cannot be expected to sit still for hours and keep their attention focused. Some students can do that but, more often than not, the practice of putting them behind desks and telling them to sit there in silence as you pontificate for hours is a very bad idea. In my course, I made a point of including as many opportunities to walk, run around, move all over the classroom as possible. For the ADHD student, this was an opportunity to expend some of his energy in a way that didn’t make him stand out from the crowd.
4) There are teachers who try to gain cheap popularity with students by singling out one kid and badgering him or her. This strategy always makes students despise this kind of teacher because this desperate struggle for acceptance looks pathetic and weak. And kids can smell weakness from ten miles away.
My strategy in dealing with attempts to recruit me into the “let’s-dump-on-ADHD-kid” camp always backfired for the students who tried this on me.
“So, what did you think about Javier?” a student asked before our second meeting.
“Great student!” I responded. “Truly brilliant.”
The kids were puzzled.
“All of the teachers hate him,” one of them tried to explain. “Because of his ADHD, you know.”
I looked at this student as if he were being very weird.
“You must be confused,” I said. “This just makes no sense.” Believe me, I can say this sentence in a way that prevents people from wanting to continue with their line of reasoning.
Whenever Javier would act out in class, students would look at me, eager to see how I would react. I always behaved like everything Javier did was completely normal. If anybody giggled, I stared at them like they were the ones behaving in a hopelessly eccentric way.
Nothing works instantly in pedagogy. Education is always a process. The attitudes of students towards Javier and Javier’s own behavior in class changed very slowly, in tiny little steps. But they did. I think he felt a lot more accepted and integrated by the end of the course.