Friday, July 1, 2011


I was in Philadelphia yesterday as the keynote speaker at the Children's Literacy Initiative. During the Q&A a teacher asked me the question: did I have any advice for how to handle kids with ADD, with reading problems, during school. For those of you who don't know - I had major attention problems. I thought I'd talk about my thoughts here since I always think of better answers after the fact.

A few things: One, I remember that we had reading groups in elementary school. There would be three levels. I think I was in level 2. The smart kids were in 1 and the dumb kids were in 3. Obviously 2 isn't a bad place to be... it's just mediocre. I mentioned this before in front of my sister. I said "Why did we have different levels? It made any of the kids not in level 1 feel insecure and stupid." She said, "Well, what about the level 1 kids. It's not fair to them to be with the other kids. They need to be challenged." Well of course she'd say that since she was always in level 1. But here's the thing: Why assume that the other kids wouldn't have valuable things to contribute to a conversation about books? Just because I had problems paying attention doesn't mean that I was stupid. I am convinced that having these levels kept the kids under level one staying in those levels because they were convinced that that's where they should be. I also had to leave class to go to a special teacher for math tutoring. My mother says this is because the teacher couldn't figure out how I was getting the answers - what my method was. I don't care what the reason was - leaving class like that also made me feel stupid. I knew what remedial class was. And TALK to the kids! I remember being brought in for testing in the 4th grade and no one told me what it was for. I thought my intelligence was being tested! No one told me it was for ADD. I knew I had problems paying attention. If some one sat me down and said, "Meghan, we need to find ways to help you pay attention better and to help you read with more ease," I would have understood! I wouldn't have felt stupid.

What I'm saying is that there has to be better ways of structuring classes.

Another thing teachers could do is allow kids with attention problems to listen to books on audio (maybe when they get home). Allow them to listen to several chapters on audio and then tell them to read the next several chapters by themselves. My problem with reading is that I have trouble getting going. Once I get into a book I can sail through it. Also, the key is finding something the child is interested in. When I was negotiating my book contracts I read the most boring law books with ease. Most people would not be able to get through them yet I did without a problem. Why? Because it pertained directly to me and was something I was currently dealing with. Perhaps a kid is really interested in robots. You might be surprised that he or she can eat up some adult-like material on the mechanics of robots without a problem yet can't seem to read a really short chapter book. It's all about interest level!

So those are my thoughts on helping kids with attention problems. If anyone else has any suggestions or disagrees let me know!

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