Last modified at 1/4/2013 4:07 PM by System Account

Rethinking the Classroom for Students with ADHD

Introduction to the instructional planning tool

This chapter describes a process to support the development of intervention plans for children with ADHD. The process highlights key techniques that promote academic success in children with ADHD. The information presented in this chapter and the next will describe how to differentiate instruction for students with ADHD. The planning process involves five key components:


The five key components are meant to be part of a dynamic and iterative system. That is, the information from the progress monitoring data should always be used to update goals or change the action plan if the current plan is not producing adequate results. Each component of the planning process has a specific focus as illustrated in Table 5-1.

Table 5-1: Key Components of the Planning Process

Components Focus
1. Focus on the curriculum Analyzing curriculum content and classroom learning tasks
2. Developing a student profile Specifying a student's behaviour and academic strengths and weaknesses in the curriculum (for example, prior knowledge, academic skills)
3. Setting goals Determining indicators of improved classroom performance
4. Developing an action plan Prioritizing two or three achievable goals by using a range of instructional choices and management strategies
5. Monitoring progress Ongoing classroom-based assessment of action plan effectiveness



Focus on the curriculum

The curriculum presents the content information, skills, and evaluation criteria that can be used to assess learning outcomes. Before deciding which types of instructional approaches to use with students with ADHD, it is important to first consider the cognitive and linguistic demands of the curriculum areas that are being taught. In addition, it is important to analyze both:

  • the content of each curriculum area
  • the tasks used in learning activities and performance evaluations

Analyzing the curriculum

The cognitive and linguistic demands of content vary widely across subject areas with respect to factors such as the degree of familiarity of topics, links to prior learning, level of abstractness of concepts, and overlaps of content information and skills with other curriculum areas.

Questions that teachers can ask about the curriculum content include:

  • Are the topics new or familiar?
  • How much background knowledge is required?
  • What are the links to prior learning or overlaps with content being covered in other areas?
  • How much new vocabulary will be introduced?
  • What types of teaching strategies would facilitate acquisition of content information (for example, graphic organizer, vocabulary instruction, comprehension strategies)?

Task analysis is a valuable method to use to systematically assess the components of learning and evaluation tasks. As each learning activity possesses an inherent set of cognitive and linguistic demands, thinking through the potential "cognitive load" of a task can help educators identify key characteristics that may be difficult for children with ADHD. Instructional decisions can therefore be made ahead of time in order to provide students with the necessary supports to perform the task more successfully.

Key questions to ask when reflecting on learning and performance tasks include:

  • What prior knowledge or pre-skills are needed for the task?
  • How is the task presented?
  • What are the response requirements of the task?

Types of curriculum content and learning tasks that may be challenging for students with ADHD

Children with ADHD may have difficulty with certain types of curriculum content and learning tasks due to their associated deficits in cognitive processing, working memory, and higher-level language abilities. For example, they may have difficulty with:

  • new content, when there is little or no prior knowledge and skills (for example, abstract concepts in math)
  • tasks that require processing of complex and lengthy language, either spoken or written (for example, expository text information in science, history, or geography)
  • tasks that require self-regulation (for example, time management) and self-monitoring of output (for example, written assignments)
  • tasks that involve a speeded or timed component
  • tasks that are inherently complex and have a high intrinsic cognitive load (for example, they require integration of information or the maintenance of multiple ideas at once)

When students are completing these types of tasks, they may require more instructional supports and/or modifications to the task. For example, new content can be supported by providing the student with background information and/or by helping the student identify how the new content does fit in with what they know or can do.


Developing a student profile

Description of student's academic skills — strengths and weaknesses

The next step in the planning process is to gain a better understanding of the student's academic skills and weaknesses and their learning skills/strategies. Information can be gathered from a number of sources, including:

  • classroom observations
  • daily work samples
  • quizzes
  • performance on progress monitoring tasks or probes
  • formal testing results (if available from support staff such as learning resource teachers, psycho-educational consultants, and speech-language pathologists)

The Student Intervention Planning Template can be used to describe the extent to which the student has the necessary skills (such as knowledge and pre-skills) to complete work at the current grade level or at their identified level of functioning.

Description of student's behaviour in different situations

The student's learning and behaviour need to be documented throughout the school day, across multiple learning situations and academic subjects, to determine areas of ability and areas of need. Section 4 of the Student Intervention Planning Template can be used to identify areas of concern and the context in which these problems occur. It is important to note the context or setting in which behaviours occur most frequently.

For example, the behaviours "getting out of seat" or "poor initiation of work" may occur more often in one subject than another (math vs. writing) or during one type of activity (independent seat-work vs. group work). It is possible that an increase in a child's overt behavioural symptoms may be linked to a specific learning context and may reflect a mismatch between the demands of the context and the abilities of the student to cope with those demands.

Section 4 of the Student Intervention Planning Template first asks for a description of the child's behaviour during several key situations that occur for elementary grade students during a typical school day.

Once the description of the student is completed, this description can be analyzed to identify key areas of concern (see Table 5-2 for an example).

Table 5-2: Example of Key Questions to Analyze Areas of Concern

What are the student's main behaviours of concern? When does the behaviour occur? (activity, context, setting) How often does the behaviour occur? What are the student's academic strengths and/or skill weaknesses in that specific context?
Difficulty initiating and completing work During independent seat-work when student must respond in writing Almost every class in which the student must work independently on a written assignment Strengths in oral language (vocabulary); weaknesses in handwriting, spelling, and organization



Setting goals

After describing the student's academic, learning, and behavioural concerns, it is important to use this information to identify specific goals that address positive changes in both classroom performance and academic productivity.

Goals should be individualized on the basis of the student's academic and behavioural profile and should target barriers to successful classroom performance. That is, if the problem mainly occurs during one type of task or activity or setting, then the goal should address that particular context. Examples of goals are:

  • increasing productivity during math assignments
  • improving ability to follow routines or task procedures during independent centre time
  • increasing task engagement time during written assignments or seat work
  • increasing ability to work cooperatively with other students
  • increasing self-monitoring of accuracy and engagement during math independent seat-work
  • increasing use of appropriate strategies for asking for help during seat work


Developing an action plan

In developing an action plan, it is important to:

  • Identify the student's specific instructional needs (academic or social) that are relevant to the student's goals, then select instructional interventions according to one or more of the four instructional choices. (See Chapter 6, "Focusing on Instructional Choices: Facilitating the Academic Success of Children with ADHD," for details.)
  • Select additional support systems to support goal attainment (for example, behaviour support plans, cueing, prompting). (See Chapter 7, "Behaviour Support Strategies," for details.)
  • Work with the student to develop the student's component of the action plan. This component allows the student to make goal statements and participate in specifying the key steps needed to achieve them (for example, self-check lists and strategies to organize and record assignments).
  • Invite the student's parents to a collaborative planning session where they can mutually plan strategies to support their child's progress toward the goals.
  • Engage other students as resources to help the student, for example, as a peer coach or homework buddy.

Whenever possible, interventions should:

  • consist of proactive and positive strategies, rather than solely focusing on consequences
  • involve a team approach (that is, teachers, student, parents, other students)

For example, the teacher implements appropriate instructional and behavioural supports, while the student is uses a self-management system, parents communicate regularly via a homework book, peers assist with strategies on specific activities, and resource teachers help with monitoring.

In developing the action plan, questions that teachers can ask themselves include:

  • What will be the first priority in changing my teaching for this student?
  • What instructional techniques, supports, or changes can I make to support this student's efforts to reach the identified goal(s)?
  • What strategies or skills can I teach the student to help this student meet the goal(s)?
  • How can I involve the student's parents in this process?
  • What can the student specifically do to help meet the goal(s)?
  • What can other students do to help the student meet the goal(s)?
  • How can I monitor progress towards the goal(s)?

Example of an action plan

In this section we provide an example of an action plan (see Table 5-3) that is based on a particular student profile. The student profile is described below.

The student is a boy in Grade 2 who is generally off-task during independent seat-work in many classes. This is particularly evident during mathematics. His teacher is concerned because the student often does not complete independent assignments in math class on time or with high degrees of accuracy. The teacher has also noted that during independent work in math class the student frequently does not initiate work immediately, tends to be off-task, and makes numerous errors when doing computation. The student also tends to get out of his seat during math class and wander around the classroom.
At this point in the school year the math seat-work assignments are focused on basic math facts and simple computation in addition and subtraction. The teacher has also been providing the class with opportunities to develop computational strategies through the use of manipulatives and problem-solving discussions. The teacher has noted that during these group lessons the student needs considerable guidance to understand the task and does not independently develop specific strategies.
The teacher has noted that academically the student exhibits difficulty retrieving math facts at a grade-appropriate level and has limited knowledge of strategies to facilitate knowledge of math facts (for example, counting on, making 10s).
Based on this information, the teacher has identified two major concerns. The first problem is that the student is not able to independently complete the learning activities during whole-class lessons and is frequently disruptive. Secondly, the student exhibits low productivity and accuracy when completing independent math seat-work. The teacher decides that the student needs more explicit and intensive instruction in computational strategies to help him acquire skills in this area. These skills can then be used to address the productivity and accuracy weaknesses in his written assignments. In addition, the teacher decides to implement a behavioural management program targeting engagement and productivity during independent seat-work in mathematics.

Table 5-3: Example of Goal and Related Teacher's Action Plan

Action Plan Goal 1: To have the student complete at least eight questions with 80% accuracy on each independent assignment in math class
Instructional Choices
1. Learning context
  • Provide student with small group explicit instruction (with other students who are struggling) in specific computational strategies in addition and subtraction.
  • Provide student with individualized practice in basic facts using computer software.
2. Instructional language
  • Provide student with clear and concise explanations of computation strategies and use guided questioning to help the student begin to apply strategies independently.
  • Provide student with specific feedback regarding errors and correct responses and feedback regarding engagement and progress.
3. Instructional supports
  • Reduce number of questions per page on written assignments and ensure questions are those at his instructional level.
  • Provide student with concrete manipulatives to help him solve problems.
  • Provide student with cue cards highlighting steps in strategies.
  • Model strategies and provide guided practice in application on problems that have been taught.
  • Provide judicious review and external cueing as to when a strategy is appropriate (gradually fade as needed).
4. Student learning strategies
  • Teach student one strategy at a time that can be used to solve basic math addition and subtraction facts.
  • Teach student how to self-monitor number of problems completed and graph on a daily basis.
  • Create a Behavioural Contract with the student specifying that when the student meets the specified criteria, then he may have five minutes of free time on the computer (preferred activity).
  • Provide student with high levels of verbal positive reinforcement regarding engagement and effort when student is completing work.
  • Collaborate with parents to provide further reinforcement for meeting criteria on Behavioural Contract.

For more examples of links between specific behaviours, intervention goals, and instructional choices, please refer to here. These examples are not exhaustive, but should provide teachers with ideas about the possible range of instructional approaches that could be used to address a specific goal. In addition, Chapters 6 and 7 provide more information about instructional choices and behavioral supports respectively.

Monitoring progress

Monitoring the effectiveness of an action plan should involve a process of continual information gathering, decision-making, and feedback. It can include informal observations of both behaviour and academic issues, evaluations of classroom performance, and self-evaluations by the student.

In monitoring student progress, it is important to ask the following questions:

  • How well is the student meeting his or her identified goals?
  • Has the student increased his or her desired classroom behaviours (for example, is he or she on-task, working quietly, getting along with other students)?
  • How well has the student learned the concept and/or skill and can he or she apply it consistently?
    For example, the student is able to:
    • demonstrate appropriate ways of asking for help
    • use self-monitoring procedures to monitor productivity and on-task behaviour during written assignments
  • What evidence will I look for to know that learning or behavioural improvements have taken place?
  • Does the student need more guided practice to move from acquisition of skill to fluency in demonstrating skill?
  • Does the student need coaching to transfer the skill (academic or social) to new situations?

The Student Intervention Planning Template (in the TeachADHD Teacher's Resource Manual) provides a section in which the teacher can identify:

  • the time frame of the progress monitoring
  • who will gather the information
  • what types of information will be gathered to assess progress towards the goal