Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neuro-developmental disorders of children and adolescents. The characteristics of ADHD include inattention with difficulty focusing, being unable to sit still and perform tasks, and acting without concern for the consequences. The characteristics of hyperactivity and impulsivity impact a student’s performance in school because remaining on task and paying attention during classroom activities are very important for acquiring knowledge and skills, while the inability to stay on task strongly impacts academic learning and achievement.

Students with ADHD often have difficulty sustaining attention, presenting excessive hyperactivity and poor impulse control. The symptoms of this disorder can include a general inability to delay responding to the environment and a lack of self-management skills—a core deficit of these individuals. Adolescents with ADHD are more likely to struggle in school and become academic underachievers or recipients of special education services. Managing behaviors of these students in class has become a challenge for teachers, especially attracting their attention during structured instruction and making sure they complete assigned tasks during independent practice.

Treatment often includes prescription of the drug Ritalin. Because of concerns about some side effects of such stimulant medicine, behavior modification with positive reinforcement—as well as a combination of both treatments with stimulant medicine and behavior modification—is often considered in order to reduce students’ behavior problems. In either treatment, teachers or parents play the role of “managers” to design and implement the way for developing desired behaviors, while the student is a passive learner to be managed.

On the flip side, self-monitoring outlines procedures for students to participate in systematically monitoring their own behaviors. This method has two steps: 1) teaching the student to recognize whether the target behavior has occurred, and 2) self-recording their own behavior. Self-monitoring has been shown to improve on-task behaviors, as well as increase students’ motivation. It is theorized that the improvement comes because students are taking responsibility for their own behaviors.

Benefits of Self-Monitoring

Incorporating visual prompts into self-monitoring provides an opportunity for students with behavior problems to learn appropriate behaviors. Self-​monitoring allows students to observe themselves performing an appropriate behavior in previously recorded visual images. Typically, these visual images are viewed either on a television or computer screen prior to skill engagement, and the learner is expected to perform the skill shortly after viewing the images. These images can be designed to encourage students to verbalize to themselves overtly and covertly. Visual demonstrations provide the repetition of a visual model (and practice for the learner) that offers a clear and detailed display of an appropriate behavior available to view and imitate. The only problem is that the teacher must find time for the student to view the visual images while the rest of the students are assigned to other activities. In a general education classroom, it would be a challenge for the teacher to manage the entire class, as well as the particular student who needs additional support.

A tablet computer, such as an iPad, is an alternative avenue for individual students to use privately without interrupting others in class. This hand-held device has the capacity to display visual models in a portable instrument, providing a unique means for displaying picture prompts. It displays multitouch functions operated by applying pressure to the screen with a fingertip, and the learner is able to use it privately with headphones without disrupting any others in the class. In addition, the program apps are easily obtainable, affordable, customizable, and user-friendly. Tablets are effective in reducing teacher prompting and assistance, which allows the teacher to spend more time on engaging students in lessons and less time on managing behaviors. This new technology may provide an opportunity for students with ADHD to learn self-monitoring skills.

Using Choiceworks

We used the Choiceworks app in a resource room for three 11th- to 12th-grade students identified as having ADHD according to their medical diagnosis. The teacher modeled how to use the iPad’s basic functions, such as powering it on and off, locking and unlocking the device, and opening and closing apps. The Choiceworks app was downloaded on each student’s iPad. The program schedule board focusing on task completion was customized into a self-monitoring tool for students, and an image, photo, or video segment was incorporated.

In class, each student was provided an index card with a list of two on-task behaviors that illustrated paying attention: facing forward and listening, and working on their own assignment without interrupting others. The teacher modeled each behavior for students to role-play, then created a board on which these on-task behaviors were posted. Students were guided to create their own board, take pictures, record their images of the desired on-task behavior, and upload the pictures individually. At the beginning of the class, students observed their own images. At the end of the class, they were required to check the images to see whether their target behaviors were present. If one was missed, they had to meet the teacher individually and rewatch the image about this particular behavior. If the desired behavior occurred, the student would touch the screen and slide into the “all done” column, then email the teacher for reinforcement (e.g., reading a story). Their emails were compared with the teacher’s observation for accuracy. This process was followed in each class, four days a week for four weeks.

During the four weeks, all three students increased their on-task behavior compared with the time spent without their iPad. Two students increased on-task behaviors from 25 to 90 percent, and one student increased to 75 percent, indicating an iPad as an effective tool. At the end of the fourth week, students were given a survey to examine their satisfaction with the iPad use in their learning experience. All students agreed that they enjoyed using the iPad to view their own images. They indicated that their pictures posted on the screen served as a reminder of their behavior. Similar results were found in the teacher’s responses, indicating how the iPad engaged students in monitoring their behaviors and showcasing its convenience in the classroom. An iPad can be placed at the corner of the student’s desk for private use without interrupting the teacher’s instruction and distracting peers. This will reduce the teacher’s supervision time, while allowing the students to spend more time on instruction.

At the high school level, the majority of students have smartphones or some type of tablet in their daily lives. The use of an iPad could be beneficial for students in many ways. In addition to helping students set and meet individual goals using the Choiceworks app, it could become a means of assisting students with managing their time and daily schedules. The program easily provides a way for students to create a daily schedule board to remind them of activities and class schedules, such as meeting with a teacher or participating in peer group activities. School principals may consider this opportunity for students to have access to an iPad and related apps to build their self-reliance and responsibility. They may consider purchasing popular mobile devices for class instruction based on students’ needs. Incorporating iPads into daily lessons and behavior management can benefit both students and teachers.

Joy Xin, EdD, is a professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary and Inclusive Education at Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ. Christina Bamford, MA, is a high school teacher and learning consultant at Kingsway Regional High School in Woolwich Township, NJ.