Personal goal setting helps focus children with ADHD

2 April 2012

Personal-best (PB) goals for children with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) may be one way of closing the achievement gap in schools, according to new research by Professor Andrew Martin.

Professor Martin's research, involving more than 3400 Australian high-school students, showed the positive role of PB goals in ADHD students' achievement, homework completion, planning and perseverance. It also found PB goals were associated with lower levels of academic disengagement.

"In fact, not only did PB goals benefit ADHD students in achievement and engagement, but in many cases the benefits of PB goals were greater for them than for non-ADHD students," Professor Martin said.

"This is a significant finding because if the benefits of PB goals is greater for at-risk students, then PB goals may be one way to help close achievement gaps."

PB goal-setting guides students' to focus on their progress measured against personal achievements and milestones rather than comparisons to their classmates. It involves trying to do a bit more or a bit better than previous efforts each time important schoolwork is attempted.

Professor Martin's findings were published in the international journal Contemporary Educational Psychology, as the first empirical study on PB goal setting to include children with ADHD. Previous research had demonstrated PB goal setting for general student populations, but Professor Martin's study showed its benefits were amplified among children with ADHD.

Students who struggle academically may be at particular risk of giving up on school. They can become demoralised by the difficulty they have competing against other students. Professor Martin's work has shown that when students compete against their own prior efforts, success becomes personally defined - and accessible - for all.

"In early days, it may not be realistic for kids with ADHD and other academically at-risk groups to focus too much on outperforming others. However, if they pursue PB goals, and aim to beat their prior performance, this is a solid footing for academic growth," Professor Martin said.

"In fact, the many cases where PB goals had stronger positive effects for the students with ADHD, suggest PB goals be used as part of a broad intervention approach to help ADHD students catch up and potentially move ahead."

More generally for all students, the study further confirmed the importance of recognising individual academic growth alongside the comparative feedback that students usually receive.

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