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Teaching Strategies for Students Who Need Extra Attention

Outside the Box Teaching Ideas


Differentiated Teaching StrategiesLet's face it, every classroom has that one student (or perhaps more than one) that just needs “extra attention.” He or she may be diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, be a behaviorally challenging student, a disorganized student, a slow or differential learner, a special needs student, or even a gifted student. Whatever the case, they need more attention than the others.

What joy it would be to have a classroom filled with super organized, eager-to-learn, overly obedient, little angels who can't wait to get started diagramming sentences and long division, but that is not the true classroom. The true classroom is a hodge podge of little faces. Some eager to learn, some wanting to learn but struggling, some who find it impossible to stay seated for more than five minutes, and some just watching the clock!

What do you do to meet the needs of all the students in the classroom? Here are five teaching strategies I’ve found to helpful in attending to the needs of all my students.

5 Teaching Strategies to Meet the Needs of All Learners

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Keep Parents Informed & Involved

It is so important to keep all lines of communication open. Parents need to know what is going on with their child (even if the news isn't always positive). Meeting with the parents and or previous teachers before the school year begins will help establish not only a working relationship but can give you some insight on the child and his/her needs.

Get Help!

Don't be afraid to seek outside help from other teachers, professionals, internet, etc. There are so many valuable resources out there. Use them!

I once met a student's therapist, without student, (he had ADD) and he gave me many tools to use that really worked. He also gave me a better understanding for the diagnoses.

Find Ways to Maintain Patience & Understanding

Be patient, compassionate, and understanding. I know this is easier said than done. There are days when we can just pull our hair out!  Take a deep breath, count to ten, remove yourself from the situation, whatever it takes to calm down and then move forward.

There have been many times I have had to ask my neighboring teacher to watch my class while I excused myself to the ladies room just to regroup. It makes a difference. Just that minute or two allows me to regroup and return to the classroom ready to try again.

Stay True to Your Rules & Expectations

Be consistent in your approach and expectations. This is very important for students who have ADD/ADHD or behavioral problems. They need a structured schedule that (as much as possible) remains the same every day. Keep rules simple and consequences clear. Be sure to follow through.


Setting simple small goals for students who struggle academically will offer the opportunities for students to succeed.


Behavioral charts or goals do work but be careful not to fall into “rewarding for every good behavior.” I have done this and the students tend to expect a reward for doing what they should have been doing all along.


Rewards should not be prizes or trinket. Extra time looking at a favorite book, sitting in teacher's chair, being messenger, those types of rewards will help you stay away from the “where is my prize” trap.


Facilitate & Celebrate Success

Create learning situations that allow students to succeed. Keep in mind success isn't always in the shape of an A. Success for some students can be a perfect C or just spelling one really challenging word right on the test.


Once a child gets a taste of success, they will want to experience it more and more. Be sure to make a big deal out of each success, whether great or small.


You can find professional development training on teaching students with special needs from the K-12 Teachers Alliance.


Teaching Students with ADD/ADHD

This diagnosis is made by a physician. Parents may come to you and ask you if you believe their child suffers from this deficit. Do not fall into this trap. Remember you are not a physician and only a physician can diagnose.


I say this only because I fell into this trap years ago and fell hard! Because I gave my “two cents” the parent went to their pediatrician and told her I said their child should be tested and I felt she needed medication. First, I never said that (whole other story) but you can see how parents can twist your words. So be careful.


That being said, you may receive a form from the child's physician for you to fill out that will help the doctor make his diagnosis. Be honest, it is only helping the child. Should the parent return with an official diagnosis from the doctor, here are some things you can do to work with the student and parent.


Talk and listen to the student. Many are aware of their difficulty focusing. If they are older, they can often tell you what helps them focus.


Help students get organized. Since some ADD/ADHD students tend to be disorganized, ask parents to help you create a system to help them with this task. Color coded folders, notebooks, pencil boxes (zipper ones work best), and organized binders (trapper keepers). If students move from class to class, talk with other teachers to help find a system that will work for everyone.


Be creative in your lessons. Move often. Since focus is a big issue, moving around and standing near the student will help. Use bright visuals but keep it simple. Putting up the entire multiplication table when you are really working on the 5 tables will be overwhelming. Use drama when teaching, varying tones when reading aloud, and allow for some movement throughout the day.


Use manipulatives. Allow the student to have what I call “busy hands” that is, a small (almost undetectable) ball, poster putty, or other object that will keep them busy and focusing. You will be amazed how much they can accomplish with just having the other hand occupied.


Stand up for Learning! It is OK for students to stand and do their work. I can't tell you how many teachers look at me funny when I say this, but it really IS OK. I am not a “sit at my desk and work for hours” type of person. I need movement. I get antsy sitting for long periods of time, so it is not strange to think our students would as well.


As long as students are doing their assignments, not interrupting the students around them, and staying within the required space why can't they stand? Does work only get done sitting?


Make eye contact. Sit them in the front of the class where you can maintain eye contact. Since ADD students have difficulty focusing, keeping distractions like someone in front of them, is key.


Teaching Students with Behavior Disorders

We all have had or perhaps have one of these students. Everything is a battle. I admit, I cringed when I knew this student was coming into my classroom. I could just envision the daily struggle.


Funny thing though, this student usually grows on me and I learn to see them totally different by mid-year. Amazing how that works!


Understanding and helping the behaviorally-challenged student.


Try to understand the reasons behind behaviors. There is something behind the behavior. Everything we do is motivated by something and understanding this motivation is key.  Our job is to try to discover what is motivating the behavior. Are they seeking attention? Do they feel insecure? Are there issues at home? (that's a tricky one) Is there a pattern for the behavior? Be creative in your discipline. Don't go straight for school policy (no, I am not advocating being a rebel, but sometimes a detention will not really get at the heart of the problem).


Give clear instructions and consequences. Make sure rules are posted where students can see them.

Understand the development level of the student. He/she may be immature for their age or perhaps in rare occasions, more mature than classmates (especially if they have repeated the grade level). Set reasonable goals. If the child is immature, he/she may not realize their behavior is not appropriate for their age. Habits have to be changed and can be accomplished through daily goals. Acknowledge positive behavior and changes- even small ones.


Identify cultural differences. Are there cultural differences? Make sure you know your student. We live in a “melting pot” (to coin the term I learned in history class years ago) and it is our job to understand not all cultures have the same values/expectations.


Differentiate discipline and avoid disputes. How does the student respond to discipline? Does he/she accept the consequences or do they engage in an argument? Never argue with a student. It only frustrates you more, you give them control, and let's face it, you are arguing with a child!


State the consequence and leave it at that. Know frustration level of your student. You can tell when they are going to “blow.” Redirect when possible. Know the environment and plan. If you know Johnny gets a little over excited in gym class, inform the gym teacher that if he/she sees Johnny turning red or starting to “bubble” to redirect him. You can defuse a situation if you know what to look for.


Address potential learning challenges. Sometimes if students struggle with a particular lesson they will act out or the opposite, if they “totally get it,” they may feel they are “bored” and act out.


Teaching Students Who Are Differential Learners

All students can learn. The challenge is finding a way to help them learn. Understanding slow or differential learners is key.


These students have difficulty thinking abstractly and may have a short attention span. These students function below grade level, have low achievement scores, are frequently immature, and work slowly. Often they have problems transferring what they have learned from one task to another.


These students want to learn but have problems processing. How can we help them?


Tap into different learning styles. Use computers, classroom centers, audio tapes, and other means of learning to engage students who need more than just oral instruction.


Write directions on the board, keep homework short, and allow for changes. As learning progresses, students are often asked to follow more than one direction. This can become challenging to some.  Keep tasks simple.


Use  homework reminders, planners, and assignment charts. I believe should be in every classroom. These create a “to do” list for students that can easily be checked off when completed. Depending on the student, you can also ask for parents to sign off each evening, getting parent involved in the homework responsibility.


Set reasonable goals and ask questions about the assignment while they are working. Checking on student progress will allow you to see if they are working correctly or need assistance.


Use shorter tests or oral testing for those students who struggle with test taking. Some students “freeze” when it is test time.  If the test is multiple pages, giving one page at a time will help with test anxiety.


Provide quiet places for students to work. This is a difficult task as most classrooms are lively, but test dividers or a small corner designated “quiet spot” will help those who can't focus with noise.


Teaching Students with Special Needs

Special need students may be identified as students who have poor auditory memory, poor handwriting skills, difficulty working with others, low self-esteem, low test scores, an IEP in place or other services offered, often behavioral issues, and possibly disorganization. The students may leave the classroom at times for services or you may have someone coming into the classroom to help meet the students needs. What  are some other things you do to help them succeed?


Be flexible. Don't rely just on your textbook. Use outside sources. Be creative in your teaching. The math book we were using didn't present enough examples and practice problems for this one particular student who needed extra help learning division. I put the textbook aside, found a really cool YouTube video that broke it down in steps as well as a couple of workbook pages from another source. Once I presented both these sources to the student, she was able to understand. I also emailed the video home to the parents so they could reinforce what we did in class.


Give immediate feedback. This includes praise- even for the small things. If getting a student to remember to capitalize his/her name is the goal be sure to praise him/her when they remember. Even if they don't remember the next time. Students with special needs are like any other child- they want to be praised.


Focus on the key points in lessons and set up academic plans. You may need to modify for the student. Don't be afraid to adjust plans for one or two students. It may be that the rest of the class is learning twenty spelling words but Timmy is only learning twelve. You can adjust Timmy's list as he progresses. Hopefully by the end of the year, Timmy is at twenty words as well.


Teaching Gifted Students

The gifted student has a high level of curiosity. He or she can retain a great deal of information, concentrate for long periods of time, comprehend complex concepts, is well organized, and scores high on assessment test. He/she is an independent learner and is excited to learn.  I often call these  my “20 question kids” (in a loving way of course) as they are always questioning things, which is great! The problem occurs when you have one or two gifted students in a room of average or below average learners. While not normally your interuptive students, if bored, students can begin to misbehave.

Keeping them”busy” is key. Here are some strategies that have worked for me.


Give self- initiated projects. I once had a student who asked me why teachers were given apples. Very interesting question- one I had never really given thought to myself. So, instead of just looking it up and giving him the long history of teachers getting apples speech, I encouraged him to look it up and share with the class the next day. He did and it turns out, years ago teachers were once paid in produce!


Keep them active in problem solving. Brain teasers, puzzles, tessellations, Sudoku,  these are all great for students who like to problem solve. Keep a few copies in folder for them to select from when they have completed seat work or test.


Give them leadership/mentor/tutor roles. Sometimes a peer is the perfect person to explain a lesson. 


Give them long term or extended projects and allow them to work ahead and challenge themselves. If I find a student can easily do two digit division, I will challenge them with 3 digit problems.


Each class is made up of a variety of students in our class ranging from those who have special needs to those who have special challenges. These are just a few techniques I have used to help each child succeed. Every teacher has “extra attention” students. Students that drive us crazy, challenge us, frustrate us, and even teach us.  It all matters what you do with that little “extra attention” you give.


How do you give extra attention to your students? Share your differentiated teaching strategies in the comments section!

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