September 30, 2014

Long Blocks, Low Tolerance for Stillness

I have some seriously antsy students. They are pencil tappers, foot jigglers, pen clickers, finger strummers... You name it and they will find a way to wiggle it and make noise. On Friday afternoon they were bursting with energy. They were supposed to be taking a test and everyone was squirming in their seats. Some successfully settled by taking a walk to the water fountain, others needed a stress ball to move without making noise and the final student needed to sit out in the hall to stay focused.

I teach kids with ADHD. I teach kids with learning disabilities that make focusing for longer periods of time tiring. I also teach kids. I get bored sitting and listening without doing anything. Kids shouldn't have to sit still and be quiet. It's not natural or healthy. Here's how I help my kids balance learning with their inclination to wiggle.

A 90 minute block is a long time. My co-teacher and I happily allow students to use the bathroom or get some water during work time. The school has a rule of no passes during the first 10 minutes or the last 10 minutes of class which means they won't miss the do now or exit. Otherwise, we let students go whenever they ask. Luckily we haven't had any issue with students wondering the halls - the bathroom is close to our classroom but even that brief chance to stretch their legs is often enough to get blood flowing and refocus. Some kids are in the habit of asking to "go for a walk" which we do not allow. They are welcome to walk but they need a destination.

Fiddle Toys:
I tried telling students to strum their fingers rather than tap their pencils, but they were just as loud with that so we needed to find some alternatives. Stress balls are working great so far (I have a variety - plastic-y, cloth, cloth and fuzz combined - they are all squishable and quiet). If students struggle with these (some are tempted to throw them rather than keep them in their left hand while they write with their right hand) we will try sticking some velcro to the desks next. If you put the two pieces side by side the texture difference between the loops and hooks can be enough stimulation to quiet the busy mind.

Balance of structure and flexibility:
At the beginning of every class students come in, get their binders from the crate, put their homework on their desk (assigned seats) and set up their notebook according to the goals on the board (ready, on task, off task go down the margin). Then they start the do now. A minute after the bell rings I walk around the room, check homework and stamp everyone's 'ready' if they have the goals written and have started the do now. This section is very structured so students know what to do when they arrive and can transition into math class.

In the middle of class students can choose to work with other students or independently. They can stay at their assigned desk, join another person at their desk (this part of the room has desks positioned in rows to face the front) or move to one of the groups of desks. We frequently set up stations so they have to move from one group of desks to another. This part of class is self paced. When students finish the assigned task(s) they are allowed to take something from the puzzle table. We have decks of cards for playing integer war, jigsaw puzzles, math bingo and more. They help kids develop logic and perseverance but the kids think they're getting away with not doing math!

At the end of class students return to their assigned desks to reflect. They have to respond to two questions - one about goals or more general things and one about a specific math concept from the day. Then they need to clean up their areas and return to their assigned desks at which point they receive their homework. 

Some things are still works in progress but overall this flow is working for us, and more importantly, it's working for the kids. They are learning and the pen tapping isn't driving me insane!

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