Approximately 40% of kids who have dyslexia will have some form of ADHD/ADD. This means that if you work in this field, there is a pretty good chance that you will have students with some attention issues. As a parent, even if your child does not have ADHD, homework time may be quite the struggle. Your child is tired from a hard day of learning. In fact, they are likely more tired than other students who don’t have to work so hard to get the same (or better) results. They also may be tired from the emotional strain of struggling and being different from their peers.
Here are a few strategies to keep in mind when you are working with your student/your child:
1. High Energy: Students pick up your high energy and enthusiasm and respond naturally with more interest and attention. Our minds are wired to tune in to this type of communication. The younger the student, the more “exaggerated” you will want to be – think of a children’s television show host. If you are excited about what they are learning, it just may get them more interested too.
2. Relationship: This applies more for people working with students, as parents hopefully already have a relationship with their kids! Make a point of building the relationship with the student. Show an interest in their interests, in how their day went, in their upcoming plans. Use conversation and humor to build that relationship, because if they start to feel that connection, and know that you care, they will start to care about pleasing you too.
3. Reward effort and good behaviour: It can be with some simple praise, but point out and praise their good behaviour (even their willingness to try something hard). These children are often used to being reprimanded for not being on task, but may not get as much praise for when they are doing the opposite. What is the motivation to put in an effort if it seems to go unappreciated? I remember early in my teaching career I was supply teaching in a class with a student who was extremely poorly behaved. I remember just about jumping over desks (covertly) so that I could get to his side in time to quietly praise him while he was still on-task. I kept praising him when these moments came, and the moments of on-task behaviour kept growing longer and longer. Do not underestimate the power of praise, even if they act like they don’t care!
4. Body Breaks: How frequently a student needs a body break depends on the individual, but at the very least, getting up together and having a good stretch and bend is helpful. Some students you can get to stand up and do jumping jacks, jog on the spot, toe touches, burpies, etc. Not only does it let them burn off that extra energy, but it increases blood flow to the brain, which helps with focus and learning. It also releases dopamine, which is neurotransmitter that is critical for memory and learning. Again, get them to do this with high energy and enthusiasm in your voice. Parents, an extra tip for you is to have your child participate in some form of exercise every day. The positive effects this will have on your child are too numerous to list here, but it goes far beyond exercise simply being for physical fitness.
5. Switch activities: How frequently you need to switch activities will depend on the student. If possible, present the child with two tasks that need to be completed, and let him/her decide which one to complete first. Changing things up with a little game, a body break, or a more physical task that needs completing will help the child to refocus. Using a timer to show how much time will be spent on a task before changing activities or taking a break will go a long way. At a workshop which I was assisting with through the LDAO-C, the speaker suggested using a physical hour-glass as a timer. It made so much sense. Not only can the child see how much time is left, but he/she can also physically see the passage of time, gain an understanding of what the amount of time left looks like, and can also see how much time has actually passed. Sets of hourglasses with different lengths of time can be bought on places like Amazon for a reasonable price.
There are infinite tips and tricks to help these kids get through lessons or homework, so the ideas I listed here are by no means exhaustive, but they are some good overall principles to keep in mind if you are looking for some strategies.