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John Davis (Announcer)
This is the Ten Minute Teacher Podcast with your host, Vicki Davis. Episode 778 How do you understand and help kids with ADHD succeed in the classroom?
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Thank you, Advancement Courses, for sponsoring today’s show. Stay tuned at the show’s end for a special discount to save 15% on engaging in meaningful online professional development. And I’ll also share my personal experience when I took a course from Advancement Courses last year.
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Today, we’re talking with Nicole Biscotti. She wrote I Can Learn When I’m Moving, Going to school with ADHD. And Nicole, tell us your background and experience with ADHD and ADHD students.
Nicole’s Fourth Son Jason Had ADHD, and Everything Changed
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First of all, thank you very much for having me. This is a topic that’s very close to my heart. I’m excited to share it with you guys about it. My experience with this came through my fourth child, my son Jason.
I am a teacher in the public school system. I’m a Spanish teacher, and like many general education teachers, I didn’t have any unique experience or training with ADHD. Jason has been my teacher, so that’s how I began my journey of learning about ADHD.
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How did you change your own teaching when you started seeing your son? What were the things that you realized, “Oh my goodness, I’m doing this wrong? I am misunderstanding kids with ADHD.” What were those things?
She Didn’t Understand Kids with ADHD Until She Had a Child Who Had It
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Oh, my gosh. There were so many things. So, first of all, I would like to say that I am a pretty compliant person, and so were my first three children. So I walked around feeling like, you know, when I had kids that misbehaved and didn’t follow the rules, you know, I just didn’t understand what was going on
with them and really looking at things through a lens of why couldn’t these kids just behave? You know, why couldn’t they just sit still? And those outdated lenses that I think a lot of us had. And then, you know, a little Jason came.
I’ve always felt that teaching has taught me to be a better parent, and parenting has informed my practice as a teacher. So here comes a little Jason, and he goes to preschool. And Jason, like most ADHD ers, is not going to sit down and be quiet, stop his feelings and be compliant.
He doesn’t do that. You will run around a room and throw pencils. So it was a time in my life that gave me a big wake-up call about the why behind the behavior.
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Yeah, there have been some times I’ve worked with teachers and their parents, and let’s say they have perfect children, which some people do, I guess. And no children are perfect, but maybe they think they’re perfect academically.
And I thought to myself, what you need is you need a child who is gifted in other ways, because when you have a kid who has a learning difference or ADHD or whatever it is, I mean, my oldest has a learning difference.
But when he went to college, he’s like, you know, “I have ADHD.” And he would not have made it through college if he hadn’t gotten that diagnosis and gotten the medicine for himself. So what are the things that you wish teachers knew and understood about teaching kids with ADHD?
How Nicole Learned ADHD Was Real
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And that’s why Jason and I wrote a book together when he was nine years old. It started out as his journaling as one of the ways that he could find space between anger and action. And then I realized that we were writing a narrative, and it gave me everything that he would write.
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I would start researching, and then I would go to school, and I teach high school. So I used to see a bunch of unique geniuses because I was beginning to be able to pick them out, you know, not that, of course, I could diagnose students as a teacher. Still, you begin to notice behaviors, and I see similarities. So the things that I think the bottom line that I would love for teachers to understand is that it’s not their fault they’re not misbehaving on purpose and that ADHD is a real thing. And it took me a few years.
It wasn’t like my son went to preschool, misbehaved, and then I understood. This was a journey. And I’m going being honest with you that it was a difficult journey for Jason because it took me a while to understand, you know, I went through should I be stricter or should I be more firm with him. It was definitely an adjustment process, and it took me the child psychiatrist showing me a visual of a brain scan of a child with neurological differences and one without. For me personally, to get it, ADHD is as real as any other difference that people can have or disability, if you will.
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My oldest explained it to me this way. He said, Mom, it’s not that I can’t pay attention. It’s that I pay attention to everything, and I can’t focus on the one thing that I need. And he said what the medicine gave him, which he’s back off now.
But what he gave him in college as he’s like, when I sit in a lecture hall, I see the person in front of me, the person to the side of me. I’m hearing the person eating chips behind me.
I am taking in everything and cannot distinguish the professor at the front of the class from everything else. And when he explained that to me, I was like. “Wow, Really?”
Younger Children with ADHD Need Advocates and Understanding
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And that’s something that’s a very significant point because we’re taking young children. And your son, at that point, was older and able to express that. But we have children that are having meltdowns, and then we’re actually punishing them because they won’t be quiet or they won’t pay attention.
How can we possibly expect them to pay attention and fill out a math worksheet when they have all of this input, and we’re not giving them the proper support to do that. So because of our lack of understanding, and in my opinion, I don’t feel that general education teachers are set up correctly to understand because if you look at teacher education, most of us haven’t been educated in how to teach neurodiverse children. So we don’t have the knowledge. We talk about teacher support. Yes, it would be wonderful to have another teacher in my classroom if I don’t understand what you’re describing.
I can’t support a student like your son or my son.
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Well, teachers will say, “I have 30 kids in here. Are you kidding me? They all need to be quiet and do what I ask. I don’t have time to deal with that one for the child I’m talking about.”
Sometimes kid teachers would say, “I don’t have time to deal with him. I’m just going to keep him in for recess.” And I’d be like, “No, please don’t keep him in. I knew enough about him to know that was a terrible mistake with a kid with ADHD.
ADHD Students Need Recess
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Admit, I have had some pretty interesting. I will use the word battles over Jason’s recess, and sometimes I’ve thrown up my hands and said, Well then, man, you have. I’d like to see how your afternoon goes because you take a kid with hyperactivity, and you limit their movement as a punitive measure, and then you’re going to, you know, see how that goes for you. And I don’t mean that to be sarcastic, but let’s be logical about that.
How Nicole Used Whole-Class Accommodations to Reach Every Student
And I also, you know, I’m not just a mom, I’m also a teacher. And I do respect completely, and I appreciate the need for Final Fours and IEPs, but I also have anywhere from 150 to 175 students every year. And I deeply care. But if you were to quiz me on all of their accommodations, I would fail miserably. I don’t remember their list of accommodations, even though I care deeply, and I’ve thought a lot about that.
And in writing my book, I thought, “Well, what do we do about that?” I had a lot of conversations with other educators that I respected and admired, and I did a lot of research. And what I came up with was something that I call whole class accommodations.
And there are a few key things that you can do proactively: best practices and support all kids. Still, they’re targeted to reduce these behaviors and stressors for your ADHD kids. We have to remember that by the time we’re dealing with disruptive behavior from a classroom management perspective, that child is under stress. So there are things that we can do way before looking at our accommodations. And again, those are important, and those are legal. Right. But for example, executive functioning, particularly post-pandemic. I don’t know many kids who don’t need help with executive functioning. All that means is organizing.
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Organizing, making a list. Could you write it down? Right. How many times do you say, “Write it down?”
Adding Visual Cues and Kinesthetic Learning As Part of Whole Class Accommodations
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Exactly. So instead of writing it down, we can have visual cues in the classroom. We can have things like that embedded into our lessons and our routines that will help our ADHD ears. Because if you’re a parent of ADHD or know what those backpacks look like, ADHD is notorious for that.
So there are things that we can do—student Choice. I am incorporating movement into the classroom. We can all benefit from more movement—kinesthetic learning. I don’t want teachers to feel overwhelmed, and I, as a teacher, don’t want to suggest something more frustrating to teachers.
I believe wholeheartedly that there are whole class accommodations that help a lot of our high needs kids and benefit all of our students.
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I love that. So my mom was a teacher a good 20, 25 years ago and always loved kids who had learning differences. Please don’t call them disabilities or differences because everybody learns differently. And she always told me, when you have those kids with learning differences, go ahead and do it for the whole class because A. you’re not going to single them out, and B. all of them will learn better. And I saw this in my oldest eighth-grade algebra class. For 30 years, the teacher had been teaching by writing his test on the board.
My son copied at least two of the ten problems down wrong, sometimes three or four. And then he would work on the wrong problem. He would work the wrong problem the right way, but it would be the wrong problem.
So it will be marked wrong. And I’m like, “okay, what are you grading for here? Copying off the board wrong or knowing how to work algebra”. And I had to fight to get his tests on paper, and the teacher said, “How is he going to go to Georgia Tech if he can’t copy off the board?”
And I’m like, Well, I went to Tech. I don’t remember copying off the board much, but how many kids through all the years were copying off the board wrong? Isn’t it better to go ahead and say, hey, let’s start, let’s put all these tests on paper, like let’s come to the 21st century where you can make a copy?
What About Students Who Sit Next to the Student with ADHD
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And I applaud your mom because, in my mind, she was a visionary. After all, she already saw that we have to approach all of our students as a group. And that’s something else that I address in my book. Is that what about the kid that sits next to Jason?
Jason fidgets almost nonstop. That could be frustrating to somebody. He’s impulsive.
Now, Jason’s 11 now. So he’s learned, you know, through maturity, through all the different layers of support that he’s received to control some of his impulses.
A lot of them. But that wasn’t the case at six. So what about the kids around him? We’ve put people in the same classroom, but how are we supporting everybody in the classroom? And I feel like that’s another area we need to work on.
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Well, teachers struggle. Do I put this child in the front row so I can get them close to me and help monitor and help them learn their behavior, where it distracts the whole class? Or do I put them on the back row where they’re not bothering anybody? But I also am not going to pay attention and help them improve. You know, what is the answer?
Conversations Can Help with Placement and Unique Solutions to Help Children
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And I think the answer is a conversation. I have found that conversations with kids are powerful. At one point, there was this intervention that a teacher came up with because Jason rarely stops moving. He also has tics.
So he has involuntary movement as well. So one teacher put a tape box around his desk, and he was allowed to move as long as he stayed in the box. I have to tell you; I wouldn’t say I liked that. I thought, “what’s next? So you’re going to put a letter on him or something? Like, Why are you marking my child?”
You know, as a mom, I didn’t like that. And we went to a meeting, and he said, “Mommy, I like my box because that’s the box I can move in.”
So I thought, “Oh, okay, so the next school that we went to when we moved, he came to to the table because I’ve always had him be at in the conversations he requested a box and he explained to the teacher and the administrator what a box looked like.”
And they negotiated the space for his box. And then he didn’t like where they wanted to put his box because he said, you know, you’re putting my box very close to the door. I feel like people might walk through my box.
So he wanted a different box. And I found in my classroom that those conversations with kids because support is a conversation, and it has to evolve.
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And that’s fascinating because he had boundaries, which you gave him. You gave him the ability to move within a boundary. That’s interesting, and that is counterintuitive. So a message to parents might be to work in partnership with teachers and let some things happen.
Because I do know that there are times that I work with kids, with learning differences, who I had something that I’d seen work before, wanted, you know, again, we can’t diagnose, we can’t ask questions, we can try things, and we can have conversations with kids.
So if you have that conversation with a kid and they’re like, Yeah, I would like that, and then you get ready to try it. But then Mom doesn’t like how it sounds. Sometimes you don’t get a chance to try it, you know?
Learning About A Child’s Unique Boundaries Can Help Every Child In the Class
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Absolutely. And I think regarding the kid in the back, there was also another time when Jason was little that they would do circle time on the carpet. And his teacher had him sit in a chair. And I wouldn’t say I liked that either because I felt like they were singling him out.
And he said, “No, I like being on the chair. Nobody touches me. I like that.”
Because he felt like he was getting overstimulated by people knocking at them and stuff, he preferred that.
So there’s been times when I’m learning about his boundaries, and I’ve translated that into my classroom or with some of my students; I’ll say, “All right, you know, you’re a little wiggly here. Would you like to sit in the front or the back, or what area do you think will work best for you?”
And sometimes they’ll say Ms. Biscotti. “I’m not sure no one’s ever asked me,” I’ll say, “Well, why don’t we try this for the end of the week? And then you let me know.”
And I feel like it’s empowering because, let’s be honest, kids don’t grow out of ADHD, right? They mature, and they learn how to cope. And hopefully, they will learn how to self-advocate and become self-aware.
But we have to help them develop those tools we do.
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There are so many things that we could talk about this for a very long time. So Nicole Biscotti, the book will link to in the show notes is I Can Learn When I’m Moving Going to school with ADHD, which she wrote with her son and is such an important topic.
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I hope this one will all share far and wide to help all of us understand the neurodiversity of our students. So thank you, Nicole, for coming on the show.
Last year, when I needed to take a college CEO course, I chose Advancement Courses and learned so much about teaching computer science in the classroom.
I recently wrote about this on my blog called Seven Reasons Advancement Courses Has Excellent Teacher Professional Development. Check out coolcatteacher.com/pd and use the code COOL15 to receive a 15% off your advancement courses purchase. Thank you, Advancement Courses, for excellent PD and for sponsoring today’s episode.
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John Davis (Announcer)
You’ve been listening to the Ten Minute Teacher podcast. If you like this program, you can find more at coolcatteacher.com. If you wish to see more content by Vicki Davis, you can find her on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you for listening.
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