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Teaching Multiplication to Kids with ADHD

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Teaching students with ADHD can be very challenging, but it is also rewarding and important. This lesson discusses challenges and strategies associated with teaching multiplication to students with ADHD.

Multiplication and the ADHD Student

Grace is a third-grade teacher who prides herself on her ability to teach math. Every year, parents, students, and colleagues comment on her unique capacity to teach her students conceptual frameworks and concrete skills.

An important part of the third-grade math curriculum is multiplication. Grace knows that what her students learn about the concept behind multiplication as well as strategies for accomplishing it will be important to their mathematical development in years to come.

This year, Grace has two students with ADHD, or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder in her class. A colleague comments that maybe Grace will not be able to help these students learn multiplication since they tend toward impulsivity and struggle with memory issues as well.

Grace knows, though, that students with ADHD are very capable of learning multiplication. At the same time, she understands that she may have to make some modifications to her general approach. She sits down to think about the relationship between ADHD and learning multiplication.

Frequent Challenges

Grace knows from past experience that no two students with ADHD are exactly alike, and the struggles they have mathematically will depend on their overall learning profile and how their ADHD is treated. However, she also knows that these students might experience the following challenges when it comes to learning multiplication:

  • Many students with ADHD have short attention spans and will not be able to sit through an extended conceptual lesson, making it hard to internalize newly complex concepts.
  • Students with ADHD may tend toward impulsivity, calling out answers that they have not really thought through or growing easily distracted from the problem or concept at hand.
  • ADHD is sometimes associated with struggles in memory and retaining information, so these students may have a harder time than peers simply memorizing the multiplication table.
  • Students with ADHD can be very disorganized and have weak executive function skills, meaning they struggle to manage time, thoughts, and materials. This means they may lose track of their own strategies for working on multiplication, and they may not be able to present their thought process neatly on a page.
  • Often, ADHD is not really diagnosed fully by third-grade, and these students, therefore, may not have received needed support in early years. They may have a weak foundation in addition and number sense, making multiplication particularly challenging.

Teaching Strategies

Now that Grace has thought about the challenges her students with ADHD might be more likely than others to face, she thinks about some of the teaching strategies she can use to make sure that these students develop their multiplication skills.

Timing

First of all, Grace realizes that for students with ADHD, timing is everything. She learns as much as she can about the times of day when these students have the most focus and energy for learning. When introducing new math concepts, she ensures that the math periods are in these more successful time periods.

Visual and Tactile Strategies

Grace also knows that many students with ADHD will have better focus and retention if she uses visual aids and manipulatives in her multiplication instruction. For example:

  • She has students frequently draw pictures of groups of things or look at images of things that come in groups.
  • She has students build arrays out of colored tiles to represent multiplication.
  • She learns card games associated with multiplication and teaches them to her students, as well as letting them play games with cards that represent arrays.
  • She challenges her students to remain alert to multiplication situations in their daily lives, then act them out for others in the class using their bodies.
  • She fills her classroom with visual posters representing each multiplication strategy they develop.

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