Just as great athletes require regular practice, students with ADHD require practice developing their study skills. Recent studies have shown that the human brain is more like every other muscle in the body than we had previously thought; and just like every other muscle, the brain has muscle memory. And just like any skill, you can improve student effort and motivation with practice.
This means that effective study skills, motivation, effort and goal-setting all actually play a critical role in a child's academic success. In many ways, they play a larger role than intelligence.
Here are our top 3 tips for coaching your student all the way to academic gold:
Tip 1: Focus on the process, not the product.
In the same way that athletes have to attend practice on a daily basis, students with ADHD need daily reinforcement for the development of good study skills. Rather than focusing on the grades they receive, focus on the process of putting adequate time and effective systems into homework and studying.
For younger students: Break down a task into steps. Plan it out, and offer praise for each step your student accomplishes. A fun strategy for younger children is taking a large tootsie roll, and cutting it into equal sections that equate to the steps needed to complete the long-term assignment (book reports, science projects, etc.). When your child has accomplished a step, reward him or her with a piece of tootsie roll. This helps the child visualize the task in front of them, as well as rewards them for the process of planning ahead.
For older students: Pick one night a week to help your child plan ahead (Sunday nights are often good). Help your child break down long-term assignments into manageable pieces. These incremental steps should be written in your child's assignment notebook or recorded in the calendar of their phone. If your student is resistant to your input, but needs help with long-term planning and daily time management, consider a tutor who specializes in organization and motivation. Work with your child to identify an appropriate reward for completing this planning process.
Tip 2: Remove ‘smart' from your vocabulary.
This may seem like an odd tip for an educator to suggest. Obviously, we all want our children to be bright and successful. However, studies have shown that when students are praised for their effort, rather than their intelligence, their academic skills increase, and their grades, content knowledge, and understanding vastly improve.
Try not to focus on your child's grades with comments such as:
“Wow, you got an A! You are so smart!”
Instead, say something along the lines of,
“Wow, you worked really hard on that project. I noticed all of the time you put into it. I bet you are really proud of the results!”
This reinforces study skills and the effort rather than the end result.
Tip 3: Carve out 30 Minutes to Read and Study as a Family.
Consider blocking off 30 minutes each evening when the entire family turns off all electronics (e-readers not included!) and spends the time reading or studying. If your children are younger, read a story with them. If they're older, take family trips to the library or encourage them to download a book to their iPad or Kindle. This time will allow everyone to relax, read and study without the constant buzzing and beeping of technology.
Improving Student Effort
All students have the capabilities to be all-star students. By taking the emphasis off grades (the product), and putting it on effort (the process), students' motivation and learning will increase.