Tips for Teaching Students with ADD or ADHD

Many teachers recognize the signs of attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD): an inability to maintain attention, impulsive behaviors, and/or motor restlessness. Students can have mild, moderate, or severe symptoms and can be found in both general education and special education classes.

For those who need educational interventions, MENC member Elise S. Sobol recommends these strategies for students with ADD with or without hyperactivity. Coordinate these approaches with a special education student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).

Teach and consistently reinforce social skills. Mediate asking questions.
Define and redefine expectations. Assess understanding of content.
Define and redefine appropriateness and inappropriateness. Make connections explicitly clear.
Take nothing for granted. Reinforce positive behavior.
Define benefits of completing a task. Include 21st-century relevance.
Clearly mark music scores with clues to recall rehearsal information. Establish support through creative seating to enhance student security.
Post your rehearsal plan. Repeat realistic expectations each session.
Choose repertoire that enhances character development and self-esteem. Use lots of rehearsals to embed information into short-term memory.
Be informed if a student takes medication to help regulate impulsive responses. Plan student participation accordingly. Follow classroom and performance program structure strictly so students know the sequence “first,” “then.”

Sobol subscribes to William Glasser’s Choice Theory: Students will do well if four basic needs are addressed in the educational classroom or performance setting. All students need to feel a sense of

  1. Belonging—feeling accepted and welcome.
  2. Gaining Power—growing in knowledge and skill and gaining self-esteem through successful mastery of an activity via realistic teacher direction.
  3. Having fun—improving health, building positive relationships, and enhancing thinking. Students need to be uplifted and spirited to add to the quality of their successful program.
  4. Being free—making good choices, expressing control over one’s life. Students need to be a part of their educational process. Each student gains importance and dignity to as he or she participates in teaching and learning to set goals, make plans, choose behaviors, evaluate results, and learn from each experience to do things better.

ADD and ADHD are disabilities and fall under the designating category of “Other Health Impairment.”

Elise S. Sobol teaches at Rosemary Kennedy School, Wantagh, New York (for students with multiple learning disabilities, including those with autism and developmental difficulties) and is the chairperson of Music for Special Learners of the New York State School Music Association. Her strategies appear in her book An Attitude and Approach for Teaching Music to Special Learners.

—Linda C. Brown, June 23, 2010, © MENC: The National Association for Music Education (