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Friday, December 26, 2014

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We need more ‘brain-friendly’ classrooms, not more Ritalin, to cope with ADHD

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Ilana Chernack

Special to The CJN

 

There is no doubt that we live in a fast-food frenzied world, a place where instant gratification, quick fixes and immediate responses are expected in all aspects of our lives. It seems as though society has diminished the notion of detail analysis and rigorous research in an effort to find the least taxing route to the final destination.

Thus, it is no surprise that many parents and professionals working with children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder have opted instead of for a less-demanding course as well, particularly with respect to an unquestioned acceptance of ADHD-related medication.

Over the past decade, there has been an astounding surge of ADHD diagnoses in North America and an even greater increase in ADHD drug prescriptions. In fact, it is projected in Quebec that up until the end of April, there will be a shortage of Ritalin, a popular ADHD medication.

As an educator working in the field for more than seven years, I have come to notice the increasingly strong intolerance that educators possess towards children with ADHD. I am ashamed to admit that teachers are constantly frustrated over what they dub as their “ADHD kids” and simultaneously confess that the solution lies with the pharmaceutical industry.

But can “relief” for educators really be found in stimulant drugs? I beg to differ. Indeed, medication is the simpler choice, and sometimes the only choice, but it is not always the only solution. From my experience, pharmaceutical stimulants are not needed when educators know how to stimulate the brains of their students through their teaching. We need more “brain-friendly” classrooms.

Brain scans have shown how any given person’s attention is in constant flux, whether or not he or she has ADHD. Studies have also shown that the brain is wired for survival, and serves as an alert system. Therefore, to ensure that students with ADHD remain focused and attentive, teachers need to revolve their curriculums around the wiring of the brain. How do you do that?

1. Charge it. The brain is stimulated through emotion, or emotionally charged stimuli. This means that attention will be activated when children emotionally connect to what they are learning. Lessons and activities should be designed accordingly.

2. Make it a Broadway production. Evidence shows that the neurons in the brain are fired when music, laughter and movement are involved. Studies further indicate that laughing increases oxygen to the brain, while movement creates new connections between the neurons. Add a little humour, throw in some tunes and get students moving and distractibility will diminish considerably.

3. Keep it stylish! According to Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, there are seven different types of learners. For instance, some individuals may learn visually (think PowerPoint presentations); others may be auditory learners (think lecture tapes); and some students may learn kinesthetically (think moving around a classroom). Once a teacher identifies the learning style of a child with ADHD, their span of concentration will no longer be as problematic.

4. Make it “sense”-able! The brain responds when senses are stimulated. Honing in on their sensory faculties will lead to increased concentration and attentiveness.

5. Keep it short and sweet! Studies have revealed that the brain can only process up to seven pieces of bite-size information at a time (ever wonder why our phone numbers are 7 digits?). Moreover, an elementary school-aged child’s learning potential can last up to a period of 10 minutes, which means he/she cannot efficiently process new information from that point on. With that said, educators need to avoid giving long-winded lectures and replace their lengthy tangents with shorter increments.

 

There is no doubt that ADHD is a challenge for children, parents and teachers. But the solution, research shows, lies in creating more “brain-friendly” ways of teaching and learning. Educators need to capture the hearts, minds and souls of every child and in doing so, help ensure that they are able to achieve to their full potential.

 

Ilana Chernack is a graduate student  in Educational Psychology at McGill University. She teaches at the Akiva School.

 

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