In a time when attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children is still not completely understood, Dr. Julie Owens, Ph.D., is working to educate teachers to help affected children succeed in the classroom. Her research provides elementary school teachers with classroom management strategies shown to have a more positive effect on the disruptive behaviors of children with ADHD than traditional counseling practices.
Owens co-directs Ohio University’s Center for Intervention Research in Schools, whose work focuses on developing strategies and intervention programs for children with behavioral challenges. Dr. Owens, in collaboration with community partners, also developed the Youth Experiencing Success in School (YESS) program, which evaluates the effectiveness of evidence-based classroom interventions, offers professional development to local educators as well as training opportunities for Ohio University’s students and provides much-needed services for local youth.
More is known today about ADHD than 30 years ago, but there are still myths and misconceptions, Owens says. For instance, there is no single test to determine if a child has ADHD; diagnosis is based on a comprehensive evaluation of the child’s development coupled with parent and teacher ratings of their symptoms and areas of impairment. It is commonly thought that if a child responds well when put on medication, then he or she must have ADHD. But response to medication is not a diagnostic test for ADHD.
Owens also says one-on-one counseling or therapy being more effective than behavioral interventions in the classroom is somewhat a myth as well.
“A classroom intervention is taking place at ‘the point of performance,’ or where the child is having problems,” she says. “Pulling the child out of the classroom to talk about it for an hour a week is not as effective as offering guidance in the moment.”
Classroom management strategies, what Owens calls Tier 1 strategies, are designed to prevent and reduce disruptive behavior while encouraging student engagement in learning, Owens says. Teachers may use specific praise, corrective feedback, rules, structures, routines and mild consequences for violation of rules to improve disruptive behavior. To engage children in learning, an educator may use attention check questions to assess if students are following along and paying attention, or give the students opportunities to respond to questions to increase interaction.
Tier 2 classroom managements are more individualized to the child, who may need behavioral supports beyond those provided in Tier 1. One such intervention is the daily report card which gives the child an individual set of desired behaviors to follow. In turn, the teacher provides feedback as the child works towards achieving these set behaviors. Using a daily report card intervention has shown to be cumulatively beneficial for children’s behavioral and academic goals from month to month when implemented correctly, Owens says.
Owens’s research found that many teachers lack the professional development and training to properly implement interventions, or have had unsuccessful experiences with previous interventions. Schools may also lack certain resources and personnel needed for interventions, such as mental health professionals.
Part of overcoming these barriers involves listening to teachers and their experiences with implemented interventions, Owens says.
Owens and her team are completing a three-year study where they developed a consultation package to support teachers as they implement Tier 1 and Tier 2 strategies. The project is being conducted with educators in Lancaster, Ohio and Miami, Florida as part of a clinical study. Once completed, Owens plans to share the findings with the local and national communities and build upon the lessons learned in the project. Eventually, she hopes to have strong enough evidence to enact change in school policy related to consultation services provided by mental health professionals on staff and better training for educators.
With a grant from the Centers for Disease Control, Owens and her colleague, Dr. Steven Evans, will be working with all students from kindergarten through 12th grade in the Lancaster School District to screen for social, emotional and behavioral problems. For students screening positive, they will then work with district personnel to develop a model for school mental health, determining what supports and services already exist and what should be implemented to meet the needs of all children in the district.
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