Podcast Transcript

Online Learning for Children with ADHD

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Podcast date: September 10, 2020

Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools have transitioned to remote learning or hybrid learning. For learners with ADHD, there are many changes that can make it difficult to succeed at home. Parents and teachers are discovering new ways to help students learn to the best of their abilities. Laci Culbreth discusses the difficulties of ADHD symptoms while learning from home and talks about her experience as a teacher. She provides suggestions for parents on how to help their children with ADHD at home. She also discusses strategies teachers can use to increase support for students with ADHD through remote learning.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Learn strategies for parents on helping children with ADHD at home learning
  2. Learn strategies for making work manageable for ADHD learners
  3. Identify ADHD symptoms that can impact a student while learning from home
  4. Learn strategies and tools for teachers to help students and parents through remote learning
  5. Understand how accommodations can be implemented remotely


Sarah Brown: Hi, I'm Sarah and this is All Things ADHD. I'm really excited today because I'm here with Laci. Hi Laci.

Laci Culbreth: Hey Sarah.

Sarah Brown: Laci, can you introduce yourself?

Laci Culbreth: Yes. My name is Laci Culbreth. I am the lower school principal at Chatham Academy in Savannah, Georgia. We specialize in educating kids with learning differences. Primarily our student population falls into the ADHD category, specific learning disabilities and other related learning disabilities. I have been a teacher for about 10 years, but I'm also most importantly, I'm a mom of a kid with a learning disability. So my daughter is dyslexic and ADHD. So I understand it from the perspective as a teacher, but also as a parent. So it's been a good thing to have in my toolkit as a teacher.

Sarah Brown: And gives you good insight.

Laci Culbreth: Yes.

Sarah Brown: What we'd like to do is talk about how COVID is going to affect your teaching and, or mostly online learning. I know as you're going back to the classroom, but for people who are not going back to the classroom, what are the needs of ADHD learners?

Laci Culbreth: Every kid is a little different. There's no typical ADHD kid, in my opinion. A lot of times the kids are missing that internal regulation that stops them from doing something impulsive or from staying focused on a task until it's completed. A lot of times, ADHD learners need that external regulation. They need that little cue, tap on your desk to redirect them back to their activity. They need somebody to keep them on task, keep up timer for them. This is five minutes. You can do this, do it for five minutes and you get a two-minute break. And that kind of stuff is really important for success for an ADHD learner.

And you know, a lot of times a kid with ADHD can sit and color and draw for two hours. They don't even get up to get something to eat or anything to drink. They can focus on the things they are drawn to, but when it's the things that are hard for them that are like mentally taxing, that's more, that's the time when they really rely on those external regulations.

Sarah Brown: You know, my experience has been, the kids need a lot of structure.

Laci Culbreth: Yes, absolutely.

Sarah Brown: But when you get to school the kids get off the bus, they come in, they go put their coats up. They know they need to sit down and start their work.

Laci Culbreth: Yes. And structure is very important. A lot of times routine is the first thing we teach ADHD kids. Then we start loping in content on top of it. And yeah, when you are at home, if you're trying to set up a virtual learning environment, home is usually the relaxation, the unstructured time. That's the unstructured place. So, it's difficult to convert home into school.

Sarah Brown: So, what suggestions do you have for parents?

Laci Culbreth: Well, it worked best for our parents to create a special area that is most free of distractions for their child. When we started virtual learning, I had kids that were in their pajamas in bed showing up for Zoom meetings. They were underneath the table with the dog. I mean, they were all over the place, of course. So, it took some communicating with parents and working some things out, finding a quiet place away from the TV, even away from other siblings, even visual stimulation. They need to be able to really focus. My daughter did best in her room, just at her desk, no TV, no devices in her room. And she could sit down, and she could focus and get some of her work done. But it's a hard thing to create within your home.

Sarah Brown: Right. So, you, as a teacher know about like attention span, like on can my children focus on this activity?

Laci Culbreth: Yeah. And that's, again, parents oftentimes see their kids focusing on different things at home. So they think, “Oh, they can do anything for 20 minutes,” but you really have to communicate with the teacher because teachers can tell you, your child can focus for 15 minutes within the classroom without having to be redirected or without needing a break. But at home that timing might be a little bit different, just because it's home and there are those distractions around and there isn't always someone to prompt them every 15 minutes to stay on track and keep focused.

Sarah Brown: So how did you help parents learn how to assess their attention span?

Laci Culbreth: Well, it was a lot of educating parents on ADHD. A lot of people know the term, but they don't really know how the term applies to their own child. And it's a constant communication and there's good days and bad days too. One day I have some kids that they, I don't know what happened. Something happened in the morning to where their attention is gone. And then you're just kind of in survival mode. But then there's other times that they can focus for 10, 15, 20 minutes. And it's just helping parents understand that there's going to be a bad day and sometimes that's okay. And just to keep the kid going, keep them motivated, keep them positive.

I always provided alternate ways for kids to interact with whatever activity we had going on. The kids don't always want to sit and type. Sometimes I would set it up so that they could do a video to me to answer the questions. They could sometimes build things to show me that they read it and they understand, paint, draw. I gave the kids a lot of options as far as how they could participate. And that's important to an ADHD learner too. They really need the five senses. They need to see it, hear it, feel it, touch it in order to fully get the most out of whatever your lesson is.

Sarah Brown: Right. And then you're teaching another skill, arts skill or public speaking skill or all these other kinds of things.

Laci Culbreth: Yes. Oftentimes something that really, that keys into one of their strengths.

Sarah Brown: Right. So, can you talk a little bit about structure?

Laci Culbreth: Yes. So, we like to start with, and I do it constantly, even for my older kids, a schedule. You need like a big picture schedule, what's happening first, second, third, fourth. This is what you need to do first, so they understand the flow of the day and they can kind of grasp and they can start to think ahead. And then I break it down into each segment, say you're doing English the first period, I'll say, well, you've got five minutes of this, 10 minutes of this, 10 minutes of this, five minutes of this. And they work their way kind of, I always tell the parents to print out like a schedule and they can check things off when they've done it. They love to check things off because it's like, yes, I did it. And they can see the list of tasks shrinking. And it gives them that little bit of motivation to just keep plugging through.

So, the spatial structure is important. Then also structuring the time and helping them understand, because to an ADHD kid, you give them a whole day of work on a computer and they're overwhelmed. A lot of times they'll just want to shut down. I can't do it. I can't, it's too much. I can't. So when you break it up and chunk it and segment it, it really helps them kind of plow their way through.

Sarah Brown: A lot of people have talked about this chunking. Can you kind of explain what that means?

Laci Culbreth: Well, if you think about a lot of people and many, many parents said, well, you know my kid's at school for eight hours of the day, so I expect them to be sitting down at the computer for eight hours a day. That's not how schoolworks and it's definitely not how it's best set up for an ADHD learner. So you take things in chunks, you divide up say, you have a lesson and you have time, 50 minutes of time segmented for that subject, but you chunk it and you take it into small little workable bits that the kid can manage. And some kids can do 10 problems and be fine. Some ADHD learners can get just as much quality instruction and education and practice from five problems, just depends on their tolerance. So you take that lesson and you divide it up into workable chunks.

We even physically cut paper sometimes, like say a kid has a worksheet and there's 25 problems. Oh, I can't do 25 math problems. So, I mean, physically cut the worksheet into three slices and say, Hey, let's do the first top first piece now. And then we'll do some math facts flashcards, and then we'll do the second one. And then you can do maybe a math puzzle with shapes. You kind of break it up so that they have a variety of activities that they can tolerate and, and work through and really gain from that time.

Sarah Brown: Right. That sounds like a great way to do different things within the same timeframe and get people interested and motivated. Teachers and parents sometimes struggle in that whole working together piece. How important is this communication between the teacher and parents now that we're having school at home?

Laci Culbreth: I'd say it's more important than ever. Teachers, because we are often teaching at home. Typically, you have that classroom door, you have your classroom, it's your space. And you have to really open yourself up to your students and their families. I gave out my phone number, which I would never do. I gave out my phone number to all of my parents. I gave my email address. I had available Zoom time so that if they couldn't figure out how to open something, I would set up a time. I could just have them share their screen and I could literally walk them through the steps of what they needed to do. For some of the different software that we use to help enhance the curriculum, parents didn't know where to log in and they didn't know the sign and stuff, or the kid couldn't remember the password. And so, I spent a lot of time helping everybody get on the same page.

Sarah Brown: It sounds like you're not only the teacher for the kids, but you're the teacher for the parents too with this.

Laci Culbreth: Absolutely. That's been really important. And as we start this next school year, we have made sure that on the weekends and after school, we're going to have parents. We'll give parents the opportunity to come physically into school. And of course we'll be socially distanced and everything, but I can help them, put them in front of a computer that looks just like the one that their kids are using and help them navigate and find things, problem-solve. What do you do when you can't reload a page? I mean stuff that I don't think about, but for a lot of people was really, really challenging.

Sarah Brown: Right. How many kids are in your class?

Laci Culbreth: Well, we're fortunate. We have around 10 children in our class. We are a school of specialized for kids with learning disabilities. So that timing is much easier for me than say a public-school teacher with 35 kids.

Sarah Brown: Right. So a teacher with 35 kids won't be able to do all that work themselves.

Laci Culbreth: No. I would hope that there would be, I mean, I don't know what every school district's capabilities are, but you definitely need to at least provide some support for parents because if you're not a computer person and maybe you don't use it in your day-to-day life beyond maybe checking your email on your phone, you're going to be lost. And then your kid is frustrated, and you're frustrated and there's no learning happening. And it just isn't set up for success. The platform of computer literacy is really a starting place for success in digital learning for all children.

Sarah Brown: And maybe parents can use tutors or other outside people to help with the whole process.

Laci Culbreth: What I think would, if you did have a larger class and it was something that I did, I made instructional videos and sent them via email to the parents where I recorded my screen and I very slowly walked step-by-step, I showed them where to click, what was happening next. I showed them how to check their students' work, how to look and see what was posted for that day, how to print it, anything and everything that they needed. I sent them videos. I sent them all at once. And then even though they had it there, they'd forget why can't, I don't know how to check the grade on this. And I send the video to them again. You just kind of keep a little cache of how-to videos and that really helps.

Sarah Brown: That sounds great. Now, can we switch a little bit here and talk about teachers?

Laci Culbreth: Yes, absolutely.

Sarah Brown: Well, I'm wondering what kind of technology skills ADHD learners need.

Laci Culbreth: Okay. So as with any kid, they need to know how to navigate whatever software or whatever program that you're asking them to, and ideally independently. Even first and second graders need to have some of those skills. It's not easy. And we were fortunate in that we started a computer literacy program at our school. So, we were integrating computers and Chromebooks and computer skills to everyday learning because so much assistive technology is out there for kids with ADHD and specific learning disabilities and dyslexia, dysgraphia. There's so much out there, but they have to learn to be comfortable with the tools in order to benefit from them. So, we were able to spend that time, but for people that haven't done that yet, I think that would probably be the most important thing is teaching them how to turn it on, how to refresh something. There's a lot of different apps that will store passwords, so kids aren't constantly having to remember passwords

Sarah Brown: Years ago, I didn't know how to type until I was in high school and we're asking our kids to type in answers and...

Laci Culbreth: Hen-pecking.

Sarah Brown: Right.

Laci Culbreth: Well, and so I don't really know what exactly, I'm kind of on the fence as far as deciding what to do. I learned how to type, but I know a lot of people that are younger than me never learned. We have some teachers here that are in their late 20s that have figured out, I don't know what, they do their own kind of thing but it's a good skill to learn. It depends on their finger dexterity and the size of their hands. I think that's usually why you kind of started in middle school is because they're big enough and have enough control to really learn how to type. But there's a lot of really good typing programs out there. And we did add, I think it was typing.com is what we used. And that became part of the everyday curriculum.

Sarah Brown: Yes. So maybe the teachers just have to do typing.com too.

Laci Culbreth: There's a lots of different typing apps out there, but then again, it's really boring. So, you kind of need a person to sit next to the kid and make sure they're not cheating. So that one's kind of hard. That was a hard one to get accomplished without somebody standing. I remember my middle school typing teacher had a ruler, whacking all of us to make sure we were on not on our desks to make sure we were on task, so. But typing is a skill, especially as kids get older, that they would definitely benefit from.

Sarah Brown: How do accommodations in the classroom transfer over to virtual learning?

Laci Culbreth: Yes, that's a challenge. Now, some kids received certain accommodations and supports through RTI. Some get them through a 504 Plans, some get them through-

Sarah Brown: RTI?

Laci Culbreth: RTI, Response to Intervention. It's kind of the, and they may have changed the names since I've learned about it. But it's the step before you get an IEP, where they try certain modifications and accommodations within the classroom, and they progress monitor to see if that's going to work or the kid actually needs an IEP.

So again, that's communication with the teacher and making sure that you have the knowledge about what your kid is getting or should be getting in a traditional classroom. And then talking with the teacher and saying, okay, “how many of these accommodations do I need to know about so I can support my students learning at home?” The chunking, segmenting work, giving them fewer problems. These are all things that teacher’s kind of do on the fly, but lots of times when you're loading things to a learning platform, it can be a little bit more difficult to differentiate how you're educating the kids. So, a lot of times it was a good thing to just send an email to the mom and say, Hey, your son or your daughter only has to do 10 of the math problems. They don't have to do the whole worksheet of 25.

Then again, like that printed schedule, like having a visual schedule. That is really, really helpful when kids that struggle with ADHD are trying to get through the day. Offering different ways to present how they learned to the teacher, not just pencil to paper or trying to type it all out. There's a lot of different things you can use, speech to text, text to speech that help kids that struggle keep up with class and get the most out of their educational experience.

Sarah Brown: So it means kind of that you, as the teacher, have to explain a lot of these things to the parent about what that is, not only they have accommodations, but you have to tell them how to use it.

Laci Culbreth: How to do it. Yeah. You have to show them how to do it. Yeah, absolutely. You have to say, like I said, cutting the paper, giving them alternative ways to participate. The Zooms are really important. One of the things that we were most concerned about at our school was the social interaction that the kids have. Oftentimes kids with ADHD learning disabilities, they really need those social skills. So it was important to find ways for us to create meaningful social interactions for the kids and teach them the social cues that they needed the practice on.

Sarah Brown: When I about it all I could see as a classroom of even 10, if you had 10 kids and one decides I want all the attention and how do I take care of this? How do I keep him on it?

Laci Culbreth: Well, and to begin with, it was completely crazy, albeit it was absolutely wild. But as I learned, I felt most comfortable with Zoom. Especially once they added the password in the waiting room area, I felt comfortable using it. And we would have times where everybody was muted, and I would talk. If they weren't being appropriate, and we would talk about what's appropriate, what's not appropriate. If you're being appropriate, you've got to be on the video. If you're being not appropriate, I would turn your video off. Smaller groups, not doing a whole classroom, breaking it up into maybe groups of four or five was also helpful.

Sarah Brown: And were you able to do any socialization with kids to kids? I mean, this is part of it.

Laci Culbreth: We did supervised socialization, basically where I would sit and mute myself and I would listen to the kids. I also gave them opportunities within the class, the day to kind of show and tell. We had pet day where everybody got to bring their pet and tell us about their pet. Of course, we made it learning-centered too. They had to type something up like a bio about their pet. We kind of integrated it into an English kind of activity, but then they got to show off their pet to all of their friends, which is something you don't always get to do in a traditional classroom. We had days where we would take a beach vacation. We did a lot of fun stuff that we let the kids engage in. And it was a good thing for them to learn and especially see their friends after being so isolated for so long.

Sarah Brown: Yeah. I like that beach idea. That's pretty cool.

Laci Culbreth: The Hawaiian shirts, so it was fun.

Sarah Brown: What technology works best to keep ADHD students organized and engaged in the conversation?

Laci Culbreth: Well, I preferred Google Classroom. There are some others, there's Schoology, there's Flipgrid. For me, I liked Google Classroom because I was able to tailor so much of it specifically to my kids' needs. You can add on features, you can remove them. You can control how the kids engage with one another in the classroom. Are they able to chat with each other? Are they not? Especially for younger kids that really need that control and structure, I liked what Google Classroom provided. Flipgrid was really great for our super young kids too. And it was, if they had a touch screen, a computer or a Chromebook, it allowed us a lot of interaction, but Zoom does it too. If you use Zoom, you can flip the whiteboard and the kids could write on the board, they could solve a math problem and the rest of us would watch and talk through solving a math problem. It created the most genuine field to a classroom

Sarah Brown: Right. Now, can you use any of those technologies together?

Laci Culbreth: I used them all. Yeah. Sometimes you can link them to Google Classroom. Other times you, you can't. We used Flipgrid, is it a math for our lower school kids, but that was something else that they'd have to visit. Again, it took some practice getting them there, but the teacher was able to do a video and then do a Zoom. And then even our like second, third graders could still manage it. And then there's tons of extensions out there that can help as well.

Sarah Brown: Like what?

Laci Culbreth: I loved the extension Kami, and a parent actually told me about it. A lot of teacher's material is hard to get to the kids and a lot of kids don't have printers or there was nobody at home to print it for them, or it was jammed and no one knew how to fix it for the last three months. All these things were big barriers to getting a lesson completed. So I found Kami and again, as long as the kids were able to have a touch screen device, they could pull up the worksheet and write their answers on the worksheet and turn it in directly to me. I could even comment or circle, highlight and send it back to them. Maybe if they missed a problem or they misspelled a word. It gave me that ability to do what I would do in a classroom.

And it was really good for kids that maybe have they're not so good at typing. It would take them forever to find the letters, being able to just write it on the screen seemed to help and that you can blow the worksheets up really big too. So, you can make them large enough to actually see in big letters. And that's a nice thing too, for kids that struggle with decoding, lots of small words on a page.

There was Hippo Video where you could load videos and the kids could respond back. That was one that I was able to add to Google Classroom. LastPass is an extension that saves passwords for you so you can keep track of passwords. That was huge because so many kids, every teacher has a different website that they want you to go to. And you got another password and it's really long. And especially for the younger kids, that's impossible, but that really helped a lot of the kids. We used Google Meet, for older kids we use Google Keep, which is great. You can take pictures and you can handwrite and type in your own notes. That was awesome.

Oh, timers, timers are huge. And this is something, even if you're not going to be able to sit down with your kid, you can set timers on the computer so that the kids can kind of, we were talking about chunking and keeping up with that schedule. You have a timer, “Oh, the first part of your lesson is done. You get a two-minute break.” And then when the timer goes off again, you come back and you're going to start the next step. Okay. Well now we read the story. Now we're going to answer the questions. Then you get the timer go off again. You get to go get a cookie. It helps if you're busy working in another room, trying to get your job done, the timers really help keep the kids on that structure.

Oh, and another great thing. Say you have a younger kid and maybe they have an assignment. And the teacher usually reads the directions for them, but maybe they're not a great reader yet. There's an extension called Read&Write. You highlight it, it reads it to you. And you can highlight like in different colors and so it'll read the text to you. And then you can answer the question using speech to text, you click, and you can answer the question. It's great for struggling readers to keep up in their classes, kids that aren't such great spellers. And it also highlights the individual words as they're being read out loud to you. So even though you're being read to it also increases how much, it helps you a better reader just by seeing those words and then having someone read it to, and it has a great, fairly human voice, which is nice. It doesn't sound like a robot.

Sarah Brown: Yeah. I mean, with all this COVID going on and this life that we're now living it sure is nice that we have all this technology.

Laci Culbreth: Yes, it is. It's nice. It's just, it takes some time to learn how to navigate it.

Sarah Brown: So, I'm going to ask you for some tips.

Laci Culbreth: Okay.

Sarah Brown: So first, can you give me three tips for a parent who is now at home with her child who has ADHD doing online learning? What would you suggest?

Laci Culbreth: The first step would be to establish good communication with the teacher and make sure that you have that set-in place first. That puts you both on the same page. Second would be to set up a designated learning area for your students. And the third thing would be to make sure that you and your students know and understand how to use any of the technology or software that's being required for virtual learning.

Sarah Brown: Okay. Now that's for parents. Now I'm going to ask for tips for teachers.

Laci Culbreth: For teachers, it would be, Ooh, this is a hard one. Make sure that you give your kids work, that they can do independently. You can increase their learning, but to start off, you have to give them something that they know how to do first. Then you kind of work additional things into the schedule in the daily structure. The kids don't need new unfamiliar stuff on the first day of virtual learning. Second would be to provide as many ways for a child to engage and participate in the lesson as possible and provide as many ways of presentation as possible. Make sure they're seeing it, hearing it and have the opportunity to hands-on learning whenever possible. And third would be to collaborate with other teachers. I can't tell you how much of a resource all of my teacher connections were for me. And if you support each other and say, “Hey, I'm really struggling with this.” Reach out to a colleague, reach out to somebody you went to college with seven years ago and say, “Hey, I'm struggling. What are you doing? What works? What doesn't work?”

Sarah Brown: This has been wonderful. Thank you so much.

Laci Culbreth: Well, you're very welcome.

Sarah Brown: Have a great day.

Laci Culbreth: You too. Bye.

Susan Buningh: Now more than ever, you need the best information on ADHD. It's the perfect time to subscribe to Attention Magazine, with articles from experts on children, as well as adults. Find out more about subscribing to the digital or print editions at CHADD.org.



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