Saturday, November 30, 2013

How to Enhance Students' Confidence-- authentically

How can somebody overdo confidence boosts? Often, students with behavior needs display low self-esteem and confidence. As I mentioned in last week's post, "How to Help Calling Out and 'Class Clown' Behavior," educational speaker Rick Lavoie said, "When you put a kid in the position of choosing between looking bad and looking dumb, he will choose to look bad." Some students with learning needs or behavior needs become overwhelmed and throw in the towel. This, many times, brings about feelings of inadequacy and learned helplessness. We begin to see acting out, shutting down, or withdrawing. This typically becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. However the behavior appears, confidence is usually at the root.

So how do we intervene? How do we help students who have low self-esteem, or who may be at risk for losing confidence? Do we praise them for everything they do? Will they see right through this? Let's explore the cautions of excessive praise, as well as the concerns for insufficient praise-- so we can find the happy medium.

What happens when an adult excessively praises? 
Do students feel motivation to surpass expectations?
Do they grow up expecting that they won't always receive praise?
Do they feel that the praise is sincere?
Probably not. When learners feel their work is perfect, they will be less likely to take risks.

What happens when an adult never praises? 
Do students feel good enough?
Do they feel like they'll ever meet their teacher's expectations?
Do they have a desire to put forth their best effort?
Probably not. When learners feel that a goal is unattainable, they will be less likely to take risks.

So where is the happy medium? Praise a little, but not too much? If it were that simple, every child would have high self esteem. Praise is a tricky thing that can be so powerful when used effectively. Eric Jensen listed the following awesome tips for giving the right kind of praise:

  • Praise should be contingent with performance.
  • Encourage students to give their best effort.
  • Provide specific, positive praise.
  • Provide gentle, honest feedback
  • Celebrate students' personal victories 
  • Use words that encourage continued growth, such as, "Keep it up,” “You're on the right track," “You're off to a great start!” etc. 

We also need to implement some things that will help students to gain self-esteem without our praise. When we teach students to write, we tell them, "Show. Don't tell." We want them to paint a picture of rich detail for the reader, which will lead the reader to visualize and draw conclusions based upon the rich writing. Confidence building is a lot like that. Show the students that they are capable. Don't just tell them. Let them happen upon this realization themselves. It's so much more powerful that way.

Here are some ideas that can help show the students that they have worth

  • Thank them for their help, and teach pride. "Johnny, you saved me so much time when you sharpened my pencils. Thank you so much!" "Jenny, you sat quietly and did your work, even when things got a little noisy in here. That really makes my job so much easier. Thank you." It's so much more personal than "Good job!" Pride is another great way to make students feel worthy, successful, and even-- cheesy as it sounds-- special. "I'm proud of you," or, "You should be proud of yourself!" are such powerful phrases. I have a Proud Wall in my classroom, where students and adults can take a slip of paper and write, "I'm proud of [name], because..." and hang it on the wall. Most of the time, it's much more powerful coming from a student than from me.
  • Let students evaluate themselves. After a student accomplishes something great, try, "Wow! How do you feel right now?"
  • Enlist the help of classmates. Seat the student next to someone encouraging. Establish a new procedure that when students reach the top of your behavior chart, for example, that the whole class will cheer. Tell a student about something great someone else did. Provide positive reinforcement for encouraging behaviors. When you notice a student complimenting someone, positively reinforce it. Complimenting others typically makes both parties involved feel great.
  • Provide opportunities for the student to carry out responsibilities that are easy to accomplish. This will help him gain a realistic view of strengths and weaknesses. Explicitly teach that everybody has weaknesses, and teach how to accept and work around them. This will also help to find the student's talents.
  • Show the student that you care. Look up from your work when he enters the room. Make time for him when he approaches your desk, even if you're busy. Ask him about something he told you yesterday. Notice the cool shirt he's wearing.
  • Display student accomplishments. Ask the child if you could use his work item as an example for next year's class. Let students hang their work. 
  • Volunteer. Get students involved in activities that help others. It's an excellent confidence booster and can also serve as an eye opener for students who could benefit from learning to be grateful for what they have.
  • Be a positive role model. Don't put yourself down. Laugh off your mistakes. Accept your weaknesses and describe how you'll work through them. Don't allow students to put themselves down. Instead, teach them to express their strengths and plan how they will realistically work around their needs. Don't allow anyone to set limits on themselves or others.
  • Let them know they won't always win. They won't always be the best. We live in a culture where everyone wins, gets a trophy, etc. Is this preparing our youth for the realities of life? Set up situations where they won't win, but teach that this is natural, normal, and okay. Explicitly teach how to deal with these feelings-- and that with exposure, the students will gain the strength to accept this. Meanwhile, find some specific strengths and talents, and teach students to work hard to strive to be the best they can be.
  • Step back, and let the student solve his own problem. Tell him, "This is a problem that can be fixed. I know you can fix it," or ask, "How do you think you could solve this problem?" Stand back, and let him try. Chances are, he'll get it. I recently read an awesome article on standing back and letting the child try things alone. Check it out here: "Please don't help my kids" by Kate Bassford

What are some ideas you have about building student confidence? What are your thoughts on praise? Please share in the comments below!

A Peach for the Teach


Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Satiation Principle -- It feels a little backwards, but it works

I love movie theater popcorn, but halfway through my large tub I get tired of it and don't want to eat it anymore. This is an example of satiation, having one's fill of something preferred. Satiation is an important term in behavior modification that is sometimes overlooked.

When a child satiates on a reinforcer

You came up with the be-all-end-all of sticker charts. You learned that Johnny loves a certain TV show, and you developed a behavior chart that includes all his favorite characters. He had the best week ever. It's like he's a brand-new kid! All his teachers have come to you and noted leaps and bounds of a difference in his behavior. You come in the next week, and you excitedly hand Johnny the sticker chart. His morning is okay, and in the afternoon he truly couldn't care less about the sticker chart. What happened? Johnny experienced satiation.

This happens to humans all the time. Think about New Year's Resolutions. We are so excited to get back to the gym and start our new diets, but after a while we grow tired of some health foods and our workouts. That's why it's important to change it up and add some variety if we're going to stick with it. Imagine how boring even your favorite dinner would be if you had to eat it every night for the rest of the year. This is what we do to our students when we try to use the same behavior management system after they've experienced satiation.

The positive idea that can be taken away from this experience is that Johnny does work well for reinforcement. Try making a collection of charts and providing a selection of reinforcers. Have  Johnny choose which chart and which reinforcer each morning. Try letting Johnny design his own behavior charts, or seek his input/feedback. Ongoing assessment of preferred reinforcers is key.

Using satiation to our advantage

The awesome thing about satiation is that it can be used as a behavior modification technique. Huh?? Didn't we just discuss how it can get in the way of reinforcement? How can we possibly use it to our advantage?

Let's say we have a student who climbs excessively. Day after day, she climbs on top of a table. You've tried every possible technique you could imagine, but still, she climbs.

Try using satiation to your advantage. Tell her, "It's time to climb," and make her climb on the table, over and over and over again. Eventually, she will get tired of climbing. It may take a while, but she will experience satiation, and she won't want to climb anymore.

I do this with classroom routines and procedures, too. I teach them at the start of the year, and we practice them until students don't need to practice them anymore. Mid-year, when I find students are getting a little lax with routines, we practice them again. This is usually the only time we need to do this, as they satiate on practicing and are again ready to follow procedures alone.

It seems a little bit backwards, doesn't it-- make a student do something undesired to stop them from doing it? But it works. When using the satiation principle as a behavior modification technique, we can stop a behavior by insisting that a child continues performing the act until she grows tired of it.

Pretty cool, right?

What have been your experiences with satiation? What do you think about it? Please share in the comments below!

Happy satiating,

A Peach for the Teach

Sunday, November 17, 2013

How to Help Calling Out and "Class Clown" Behavior

On A Peach for the Teach on Facebook, I invited people to ask their most challenging behavior questions. We got some great questions, each of which really tied together. 

Dona asked, I have a student that comes to me from second grade (I teach 1st) for my entire reading block, who likes to shout out talk back and just shuts down when you ask him to do something. He then treats his 2nd teacher with severe disrespect when he goes back to class.

Rebecca asked, I have a class of 25 this year. 1 student is below K level (I teach 1st grade), 2 are identified as ADHD, we are working towards another student getting identified as ADHD, and I have 2 students who have really disrespectful attitudes. I have tried talking with parents, I have changed their seating, I have tried encouraging them and pointing out the positive......nothing seems to be working. Ideas? 

Lindsay asked, I need motivation tips for kids who can do the work but basically refuse to... 

These are such common issues that teachers face daily. I think they all tie together and have similar interventions, which led me to write this blog post-- How to Help Calling Out and "Class Clown" Behavior.

"If you put a kid in the position of choosing between looking bad or looking dumb, he will choose to look bad." - Rick Lavoie, Motivation Breakthrough

When a student is performing at a level lower than his peers, he is often aware of that. That could be part of the reason for the acting out. Maybe the child is embarrassed and would rather be seen as a class clown than struggling. It allows the child a sense of control over a situation where he would otherwise feel out of control. Try giving him some control in a positive way.
To intervene, start with an informal play meeting. Meet with the student individually when he is calm, to play a preferred, non-academic game at the beginning or end of the day. He may be more likely to open up honestly in that type of setting through informal conversations (e.g., favorite TV shows, games, etc.). Casually ask what he likes and doesn't like about school, and "admit" to him that you always had a hard time with [insert his least preferred subject]. Try not to make it obvious that this is the whole point of your conversation. He might give you some insight into what's causing this. It's also great for establishing rapport, which will help you to get the student on your side.

Give him some sort of task with which he can be successful, and give him positive attention for completing it. Avoid patronizing him or making it obviously at a level lower than the other students. Instead, try non-academic leadership positions, like a class helper, teacher's assistant, etc. Maybe give him the opportunity to call on students with questions.

"Class, today we are going to try something new."

Next, set limits. Start by telling the whole class that today we are going to try something new. Starting today, the teacher will no longer answer any calling out. Explain that we need to practice raising our hands and not calling out. Demonstrate, practice, and ask for volunteers to show you what hand raising looks like. Establish a non-verbal cue (e.g., a cue card with an image of a hand, or simply hold up your hand), and completely ignore calling out. Instruct the class to also ignore calling out. Have students practice calling out while you ignore it. Explain why you're doing this, so the student knows it's not just him being ignored. Ignore the behavior, not the child. You might want to give one verbal cue, such as, "I'd be happy to answer you when you raise your hand." This is your new procedure that will happen every single time a student calls out. You could still say it in a positive tone of voice, but it's all you will say.

Give a Little, Get a Little


Use positive language to elicit positive language. If a student is using disrespectful language, being threatening will teach the child to talk back with threatening language. Think about your reaction when somebody confronts you with doing something wrong. You initially feel a little attacked, so you want to react. Give the student the opportunity to save face. For example, instead of, "How dare you speak to me that way?" try a, "Whoops, that sounded disrespectful. I know you could ask me using nicer words," and only respond when he uses nicer words. If he doesn't, say, "I'll be over here when you're ready to use nice words to ask me."

Dodge the Power Struggle

To nip disrespect in the bud, we need to avoid power struggles-- even when a student questions what we're doing. That's the part that really tricks even the most skilled behavior interventionists. We want students to believe in, trust, and respect us. When they question what we're doing, we want to tell them. Please don't. You don't need to justify yourself in this moment. You may be skilled with planned ignoring, but when the child asks, "Why are you ignoring me?" it's too tempting to reply with an explanation, but resist the urge. If you planned and practiced this procedure previously, the child already knows why you're ignoring him. He may try to get you to give him anything other than the ignoring. Stick to the ignoring, and he will eventually try using nice words to get you to reply.

It may also be helpful to teach a lesson on the words "disrespect" vs. "respect." Teach the meaning, and explain situations and words that are unacceptable. Teach this with empathy, and practice it. If the child uses negative language in class, prompt with a, "Please use your nice words if you need me to respond to you." Completely ignore anything else.

I know that using a firm prompt followed by planned ignoring sometimes feels like you aren't doing anything to stop the behavior, but that's the best thing about it-- doing "nothing" stops the behavior. It completely eliminates the power struggle and argument. The child will be forced to use kind words to get any type of reaction out of you and to gain access to his wants/needs. This also works with whining. I told my little ones that my ears can no longer hear whining, and they all stopped whining. Now if only I could use planned ignoring on messes to make my kitchen clean itself!

Words of Caution

Sometimes when implementing planned ignoring, the child may initially test the limits and engage in more attention-seeking behavior. This is typical and should pass when he sees that he won't get a reaction.

I got a comment on this post that really made me think and add another word of caution about this strategy-- exercise caution when using this for students with bonding and/or attachment needs. We certainly do not want to intensify feelings of abandonment, and we want to be sure that we are responding to their needs. 

It is vitally important to make sure that we are ignoring the behavior, not the child. Give the child plenty of positive attention for positive behavior. Make giving positive attention during appropriate behavior part of your behavior protocol for this child. When the negative behavior ends and the child begins acting positively, give positive attention. No need for a lecture at that moment.

After the Procedure is Learned

Once you are sure that the student understands how he will appropriately gain access to wants/needs, you can begin to address the calling out caused by impulsivity and habit. Make a T-chart, and write the positive behavior on the left and negative on the right (e.g., "Called Out" and "Raised My Hand"). Instruct the student to tally when he does each. This alone is often enough to curb the negative behavior. Other times with more severe behavior, it helps if tallies are tied  to reinforcement. For example, the student can earn [something preferred] if he has more positive than negative tallies at the end of each block. You could also set goals based on baselines. For example, if the student reduces his calling out by ___% or does not exceed
___% incidents of calling out, he can earn [something preferred]. 

Class Dojo is another fun way to track this! The teacher can track the behaviors throughout the day, or the students can self-monitor behaviors on their T-Charts and plug them into the Dojo at the end of the day. Establish a procedure that students must earn more green (i.e., "positive") than red (i.e., "needs work"), or a certain percentage of green, in order to earn a reinforcer, positive note home, etc.

Another helpful strategy is bonus free time. It's often harder for a student with ADHD and/or behavior needs to attend to instruction for a given length of time, so plan three breaks in the day. I call them "five minute free time" to play with something fun, and I end each of my subjects with it. It gives me five minutes to clean up or correct work, and it gives the students five minutes to regroup. If you're strapped for time, you could have students complete exit tickets, assessments, etc., and give the student with ADHD the special free time. It also gives him something to word toward, as he has to earn the free time. If a student engages in negative behavior or work refusal, I ask if he is earning his free time or if he is to make up his work during free time. Never underestimate the power of a question instead of a demand. A simple, "Are you earning your free time?" is often enough to set the behavior back on track.

An additional motivational tool is a task chart where students rank their tasks by preference. They  earn little reinforcement for easy/preferred tasks and high reinforcement for non-preferred tasks. You can download that chart for free here.

What are some ideas you use in your classroom to help calling out and "class clown" behavior? Do you have any questions about behavior challenges? Please share in the comments below!

A Peach for the Teach

Saturday, November 16, 2013

How to Draw in the Student Who is Withdrawn

Retreat looks a little bit different on everybody. For some students, this appears as quiet lethargy. For others, it may look more like blatant apathy. Some students hang back from the class, hold back in social settings, or completely shut down. Often, students who withdraw appear depressed. Sometimes, our bubbliest, most energetic students withdraw in certain situations. Does this sound like anyone in your class?

When we observe a behavior, we often think A-B-Cs and functions. We use this to develop interventions that will shape or modify the behavior. But with withdrawn behavior, we need to dig a bit deeper. Common attempts to modify the withdrawn behavior causes more withdrawn behavior. I had an a-ha! moment recently.

I observed a thoughtful, fun-loving child who has a great sense of humor. She was taking a quiz. Question #4 was tricky, and she got stuck. Her head went straight down, and it stayed there for a while. Privately, I assured her that this was okay. #4 is tricky for most students! I got #4 wrong when I was in school, too! Everybody makes mistakes. That's just part of learning. I actually love mistakes, because it means I get to teach something again in a different, maybe better, way! Skip it, and try the next one. I tried everything I could to cheer her up and accept being stuck on a problem. The whole shebang. I analyzed my data. The antecedent to every "shut down" incident was a difficult problem or a mistake. The function was to escape the difficult problem or mistake. Or so I thought.

My mistake.

I decided to give her some space. I'd been trying this intervention in trying to help her cope with mistakes for weeks, and others who had worked with her had been trying it for years. It was pretty obvious that it was not working. Sure, we'd have to wait for maturity to kick in-- but still. There had to be something I could do to help her cope right now.

I asked a colleague for advice. She said, "Don't think behavior on this one. Go deeper. Think self-esteem." That's when it clicked. My attempts to help her feel better were actually salt in the wound. Here's why.

She wasn't trying to just escape the task or demand. She was trying to escape feeling worse than she already felt. I realized that I wasn't sending my message in a way that she could hear me.

My intentions: "Mistakes are okay! Here are some ideas we could use to make this better."
Her interpretation: "Not only did I make a mistake on my quiz, but now I also made a mistake in how I handled it. I didn't fix it correctly."

Salt in the wound. -2 self-esteem.

I decided to change my approach. At this point, I no longer cared about the quiz. I'll reteach common and proper nouns another time, when she's feeling better. Right now, I can't teach her to cope, either. My attempts will make her feel worse. Instead, let me try building her confidence-- but not in a patronizing way that shows she did something wrong.

I started talking to her about unrelated topics-- her likes, interests, etc. Of course, she didn't want to speak, so I started telling her a funny story about how I caused an iPad app to malfunction and was stuck in how to fix it. (I knew she knew how to fix this particular app). Finally, she looked up and said, "Duh, you just need to..." and she went on to tell me how to fix it. I thanked her profusely for her help. +2 self-esteem. She finished the test a short time later.

The next day, she made a mistake during a play break. She came in and pushed everything out of her desk, and she completely shut down. Adults tried to make her pick up everything she pushed. The problem was that she wasn't being defiant. She didn't push things off her desk or stomp on her artwork to be malicious or to bother others. She did it out of sheer defeat. If she had instead chosen to hit herself in the head, people probably would have said, "Please don't do this. You're going to hurt yourself! You're a good person. Please stop!" Her pushing those items off her desk really is the same type of reaction. Unfortunately, it elicits a different kind of adult response. She destroyed her personal belongings, things that made her feel good about herself, because in that moment she felt bad about herself. Reprimanding that never fixed the situation before. It wasn't going to work now.

I said, "I'm not upset with you. Let me help you clean this up like you helped me clean everyone's desks yesterday." She got right up and cleaned up the mess. She even kindly took the items out of my hand to show me that I didn't have to help her. I felt like my mouth was going to fall to the floor. +2 self-esteem.

I realized I had made another mistake in only talking to her about her shutting down during and after an incident. I should have instead talked to her before the incident. I forgot to plan, prepare, practice, and encourage.

Granted, we do need to stop her outward behavior-- pushing items off the desk, not attending to instruction, not completing assignments. How do we do that, though, with everything else on her plate?

It's simple. We need to treat the problem, not just the symptoms. If a doctor has a patient with a broken arm, pain killers can be prescribed to treat the symptom of pain-- but the real issue is that the broken bone must be mended.

So how do we mend a broken sense of self? How do we treat the symptoms associated with low self esteem? Here are a few ideas.
  • Talk to her when she is happy, and figure out which activities create the most stress. Make a plan for how to handle each. Practice this plan often. That's why we have fire drills so often! Prepare, practice, and encourage.
  • Time the "talk" appropriately. Have the "talk" before the incident occurs-- not during. Explain to the student that she is about to begin a task, and that she might make mistakes. In fact, she is probably going to make mistakes. Maybe even lots of them. Plan what she'll do and what you'll do when this happens.
  • Before starting a frustrating task, teach the student to envision positive outcomes. Help her to practice imagining herself getting through the problem and how she will feel after it is complete.
  • Show the students that she has worth, in a manner that is not patronizing or that shows something was done incorrectly.
  • Explicitly teach how to overcome adversity. Normalize it. Give examples of people she admires who have faced adversity. Point out when you take setbacks in stride. Reinforce when she takes even small setbacks in stride.
  • Get her involved in volunteer work. Helping others is a great way to help yourself!
  • Avoid forcing the student to engage in anxiety producing social situations. Encourage, and let the child start out by observing or playing alongside. Gradually engage the child in short doses.
  • Point out what the student does well-- academically, socially, behaviorally. Do this often, but not only when the student is upset! Encourage others to do this, too.
  • Pair the student with a preferred peer for groupwork, seating arrangements, transition buddies, etc.
  • Read books with characters who gain confidence. 
  • Try some of these ideas from Eric Jensen:
    • engaging students in community service
    • giving students activist roles
    • encouraging active hobbies
    • implementing physical activity
    • practicing personal skills
    • encouraging students to begin making contributions to family
    • enhancing positive states in class
    • giving students choices
    • providing plenty of opportunities to increase self-worth
    • utilizing confidence-building activities
    • thanking students for something they've done
    • helping students increase feelings of inclusion and ownership
    • giving specific positive praise and encouragement
Life is a lot like a tough quiz. I can teach anybody how to take a quiz... but I will teach her how to overcome the "tough stuff" so that she can lead a happier life.

What are some things you do to help students who withdraw? Please share in the comments below!

A Peach for the Teach

Friday, November 8, 2013

November Facebook Frenzy!

The November Facebook Frenzy starts today at 8:00 AM ET! Click through and "like" Facebook pages to download over 150 freebies!

 Get started liking over 150 freebies across K-5 and clip art!



The Kindergarten Frenzy:


The First Grade Frenzy:

The Second Grade Frenzy:

Third Grade Frenzy:


The Fourth-Fifth Grade Frenzy:

The Clip Art Frenzy:

Happy liking,

A Peach for the Teach

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Task Completion FREEBIE!

In formulating behavior supports, it's pretty common for teachers to use a task-reward process. A lot of research lately is drawing teachers away from an overuse of token economies. I try to couple reinforcement with phrases that call for students to make good choices to benefit themselves-- so they can improve themselves, not just earn something. I also try to use natural positive consequences as reinforcers, like extra free time. It's a great way to teach time management.

That being said, we do have some students with intense behaviors that need a little reinforcement to shape behavior initially. It's a way to give them a taste of success in an attainable way-- as long as the task is something they can accomplish. For example, we don't want to ask students to complete a long division problem and offer reinforcers, when they simply do not have the math skills needed to complete the problem.

Eventually, we want to lessen the token reinforcement and move students toward intrinsic motivation (i.e., "I was motivated within myself, not just to earn something.") I do this by asking the students things like, "How do you feel right now?" after they make a great choice, and I explicitly teach them that doing good things will make them feel good. I make them aware of when this is happening. I draw their attention to the fact that their time management allowed them to have extra time at the end of the period to do something they wanted to do. I also point out that they did a great job helping themselves to learn a new skill.

I made a behavior chart to help my students self-monitor their own frustration levels. I let them choose the reinforcers, and they rank their daily tasks or classes by frustration levels. This puts them in control. A common function of student behavior is control-seeking, so why not give them ownership and control in a positive, functional way? I have set limits with some students in the number of tasks they can mark as "red tasks" each day.

Download the chart here for free!

What types of things do you do in your classroom to help students to complete frustrating tasks? Share in the comments below!

Happy tasking,

A Peach for the Teach

Monday, November 4, 2013

Saying Thanks on Veterans Day

November is one of my favorite months, because it reminds us to give thanks for so many things. This Friday many schools are observing Veterans Day and taking the time to honor our veterans and troops.

I've been looking for a friendly letter format to say thanks, but it's challenging for me to find something uniform for my multi-age class that meets their needs with varying line sizes. I also wanted something that included multiple branches of the military and females! I wanted something students could color and personalize. I decided to make my own, using some awesome clipart I found on TpT.

What types of things to do you and your students do to thank and honor veterans? Share in the comments below!

Happy Veterans Day,

A Peach for the Teach

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Why does my student avoid writing? How can I help?

It's common for students with anxiety, emotional/behavioral disorders, autism spectrum disorders, and ADHD to struggle with writing. Some students may avoid, retreat, or straight out refuse to complete writing assignments. Why does this happen?

Simultaneous Brain Processing

First, it's important to understand how the brain works when processing is affected by environmental stress and/or anxiety-related disabilities and disorders. As I noted in ADHD and Anxiety: The Vicious Circle, anxiety related disabilities and ADHD can impair brain processing. Impaired processing causes anxiety. Anxiety further impairs processing. Further impaired processing causes more anxiety. The cycle will often go on as long as the student is presented with the anxiety-producing task-- which often is paper-pencil or writing.

Writing is such an interactive, challenging task, because writers must process so many things at once. They must process the prompt or task, establish a purpose, brainstorm and convey ideas, organize, choose effective vocabulary, establish a rhythm and flow, write with voice, and use proper mechanics and presentation. Writers with ADHD and anxiety related disabilities often struggle with applying and maintaining multiple thought processes simultaneously. Writers with ADHD may also "hyperfocus," or over-focus on one particular part of the writing. Similarly, writers with autism spectrum disorders may perseverate, or "get stuck" on one component of the writing. Many writers may feel overwhelmed with the number of thoughts that pop into their heads at once.

Imagine doing all of these things under stress and with a disability or disorder that impairs processing, while trying to cope and write. Hiding under a desk might not seem like such a bad idea, right?

So how can we help?

Fortunately, with patience and understanding we can help students to manage writing-- and even enjoy it. It all starts with breaking down the process into simple, manageable segments. Here are some ideas to try.

  • Provide extended time and a workplace with limited distractions. Privacy folders and noise-blocking headphones can help with this. Ask teachers and librarians in your school to donate old headphones that don't work anymore. Simply cut off the wires and use them for noise blocking.
  • Allow students to verbalize their answers to you, an aide, a partner, or into a voice recorder.
  • Allow students to use text-to-speech, word processing, or word prediction software. Many of these are available as iPad apps.
  • Scribe or transcribe for the student.
  • Scaffold with a sentence starter. For example, take a question like, "What is a community?" and turn it into, "A community is _____________." 
  • Use "fancy pens for fancy words." Have students edit writing for word choice after they have finished writing. Have them erase 1-4 words and re-write a "fancier" synonym using a pen.
  • Start small. Look for quality over quantity. Keep in mind that writing one sentence is as much work for some students as writing a paragraph. Sometimes when quality and effort are present, less is more.
  • Use graphic organizers, such as Four Square paragraph writing and the ACE strategy for answer writing. These are designed to break the multiple steps into manageable bits. Many students find them easier to use than outline writing.
  • Provide specific praise and encouragement-- not only for the writing, but also for the effort.
  • Talk to the student. Get feedback, and have the student self-monitor his or her feelings toward writing. Brainstorm ideas together. What works? What doesn't? What can be improved or simplified?
  • Make writing fun. Help the student by scribing or transcribing on assessments, but also provide fun writing practice where the student can write independently. Have them write to create books, menus, posters, letters to friends or favorite celebrities, postcards, newspapers, magazines, television show or movie scripts, video game or DVD/CD covers, banners, classroom labels, or double entry journals with friends, family, or teachers.
What are some strategies you use to help your students with writing? Share in the comments below!

Happy writing,

A Peach for the Teach