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Help! My student doesn't know how to sit still....

So I am a music education student and I need help with classroom management. I run a choir of middle school girls whom are mostly well behavd, but I have one student who I have had to stop rehersal over 15 times in an hour to disipline. She has ADHD, but her parents don't like giving her medication every day of the week, so Sundays (our rehersal days) are her day off. She bounces off the walls, can't keep to herself, and is extremely frustrating. Her parents even give her sugar before rehersal some weeks which makes it worse. I have tried seating charts, a discipline plan where she can sit out to calm down, talking to her parents about ways they handle when she gets too over active, but nothing has seemed to work. Because of this, I've had to cut my spring concert program in almost half so we can actually learn the music in time due to not getting through music well with her in rehersal with having to discipline her so often. 
So please, anyone have any advice? I am at a loss here.
Replies (7): Threaded | Chronological
on April 12, 2014 10:10am
Hi Erin,
It is very common for ADHD kids to have a "meds holiday" one day a week...the meds, while helpful, do things to a child....I totally understand why her parents want to give her a break. I have a few questions and  suggestions to start off old is the child?  And what time a day is your rehearsal?  If your rehearsal is in the late afternoon and she had brunch after church, her parents probably let her have something sugary...and they are not doing it on purpose....she is a child afterall.
I would change a few terms you are using....and it may help YOU see clear how to get this situation under control.  I use the term BEHAVIOR MANAGEMENT rather than classroom management since you are having to deal with ONE SPECIFIC CHILD'S BEHAVIOR, not the whole choir/class. 
Does she know what is happening, when?  Often, if you tell a child with ADHD the order of things---first we warm-up, then we'll work on "this  song", then "that song" and finally we'll review "the other song"--it helps keep them on track.  If you have a black/white board, you can write it on the board before rehearsal, read it through at the beginning of rehearsal and as you move along in rehearsal, mention we are now "working on that song."  You did not mention what her disruptions are, but I bet some comes from her not understanding what is coming next.  Kids such as she really do well with ritual and structure.
Have you tried a system of reenforcers?  It can be as simple as telling her for every five/ten minutes she goes without interrupting or getting up in rehearsal, she gets a gold star/sticker on a card--index card or you can purchase a pad of cards/charts for this purpose from an educational supply store--and if she gets a certain number by the concert, she gets something special (consult with the parents).  Seeing the stars/stickers--something tangible--will help. She may not get any or only one, the first time, but soon it will click.
Is this a lot of work? Yep.  Is it worth it? YEP!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on April 12, 2014 1:30pm
Dear Erin:
The parents' CHOICE not to medicate the child on weekends, and still expect that she will "hold it together" on a schedule filled with activities, is unfortunate and frankly, a disservice to the other children and adults that must interact with her... These parents are setting their child up to fail!!
It is an established fact that ADHD meds have side effects, such as a loss of appetite. However, the choice they are making is a very big disservice, since it impedes everyone else's ability to learn and function in the ensemble... all while having to "put up" with the antics of an unmedicated child that needs to be on their medication.
Suggestion: Sit down with the parents and lay your objective situation (not subjective feelings) on the line... If the parents are expecting their child to function in weekend activities, the child needs to have some aids and assistance to make these activities a success --
* Maybe the parents need to check with their physician and find a "weekend dose" that will help their child through these activities;
* Maybe the parent can "sit in" during rehearsal and help to keep the child focused and on-task. (This may have one or two unintended consequences: the child will see that they are the only one with a parent sitting in, and choose to self-regulate their behavior... or the parent will see first-hand the problems created by put an unmedicated child in such a situation that requires supreme concentration and focus...)
I have seen this as well. I tutor on weekends, and there are students who sometimes arrive for their lessons "not ready to learn". I ask the parents to sit in, and it works wonders -- either the parent sees the negative effects of no meds during times when they should have meds, and/or the child realizes that if they do not want their parent 'in-tow', then they need to self-regulate the situation.
If you approach the parents from a data-driven, objective standpoint -- you need their help to resolve the situation to the betterment of the child -- they will, in almost all cases, be willing to help.
Good luck!!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on April 13, 2014 5:31am
Several of my all-time favorite singers have been kids with ADHD (I teach 7-8-9 men's choir in a public school.)  Instead of focusing on how these boys should adapt to the rest of us, I build in ways that we all can get up and move.  The non-ADHD kids appreciate the movement, and it gives the kid who needs it most a physical outlet.  
One of my most active past students would get up and pace at the back of the room while we rehearsed.  He and I established that, as long as I could see that he was singing, I would trust that he was pacing because he was managing his "wiggles."  When it got near to concert time, I would talk with him in advance and let him know that it was time for him to show that he could stand still and match the behavior of the choir.  Since he knew it was coming, he was almost always able to join the group successfully.  He sang all three years and was a neat kid.
Applauded by an audience of 6
on April 13, 2014 4:06pm
Thank you! This soulds like a fabulous in rehersal technique!
on April 13, 2014 6:04pm
You might also suggest the parents get her a "sensory cushion" such as this one:
It might help her to sit for longer periods of time during rehearsal. 
on April 14, 2014 7:36am
I was (am still) that kid and diagnosing ADHD was very rare when I was in school. I got diagnosed as an adult and I love my meds, but I am not ready to medicate my 9 yr old ADHD daughter. (Their brains are still developing and making connections, and although the meds help me tremendously, I don't believe the meds won't affect their neurological development...) I'm sure it will happen in the next year or two, but there are very serious side effects and not enough research on the long-term affects of these meds.
There are some excellent suggestions already!
We call the "sensory cushion" a Wiggle Seat and you can get them cheaper at walmart or other retail stores. It's an "Inflatable Balance Disc":  We've had some success with that and it's totally worth a try.
I completely agree with allowing the kid to pace as long as she's still singing. Other things to try: put a small object in a sealed envelope: a paper clip, safety pin, rubber stamp. She can spend the entire rehearsal trying to feel what it is in the envelope and can open it at the end of rehearsal if she behaves. This distracts her and lets her multi-task (I can only comprehend books if I am actively moving my hands.) Make small goals: if she can go 15 minutes without being disruptive - add a sticker to the chart. Sometimes the completed sticker chart is enough reward!
Definitely talk to the parents. Keep it positive and objective. I'm not sure giving her a dose of meds on Sunday is the right answer, but you can ask them to hold off on the sugary snacks until after choir. Also - ask them about red food-dye. We figured out the hard way that red (kool-aid, fruit punch, cheetos, doritos....a LOT of snack foods) tends to set our daughter off into uncontrollable non-stop movement.
Lastly, is she squirrely or is she disrespectful? These are two very different things and I feel like we punish and label squirrely kids as "bad kids" far too often. Yes, they need to learn to sit still and focus (I did, and it was awful...). But, they are not intentionally being disrespectful, disruptive and they are not mean-spirited. We all know those kids - who need to be the center of attention and it's usually not in a positive way; they are just trying to disrupt class. They're a totally different issue. But with ADHD kids, it's amazing what a little bit of positive reinforcement, even for something really trivial, can do. If she makes it 5 minutes totally engaged, you don't need to stop class and make a big deal, just walk by her and give her a little high-five and say "nice job! I can tell you're really trying to focus." Also, talk with her when you talk to her parents - ADHD does not mean unintelligent either. I hated it when people talked AT me and around me and to my parents instead of me - it was MY behavior that was the issue.
I hope these things help. Some of it depends on how old she is, how long rehearsal is, what she has had to do before rehearsal, etc. (phase of the moon, barometric pressure, etc....I swear these things affect my students' and my behavior!) But keep it positive and keep encouraging her. I know it's frustrating, but you never know what her full potential may be!
Applauded by an audience of 2
on April 14, 2014 10:13am
By all means, try different approaches and bend over backwards to help every student participate in and enjoy music.  However, don't expect that you will solve every problem, and don't accept the unreasonable, blame-shifting demands of some administrators or employers who are not music educators and can offer no solution other than to expect you to solve their (the administrator's problems).  There comes a point when some students and parents need to be removed, or moved to another program or setting, because they are ruining the program for everyone else.  
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