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New elementary teacher, looking for advice for handling the students with attention difficulties.

New elementary teacher, looking for advice for handling the students with attention difficulties.

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I'm a new teacher working in a very good bilingual school in Colombia. In each class I have a few students that find it difficult to stay put during my classes. For example if we are reading a class book they are often finding it hard to sit still or feel the need to get up and maybe walk over to another student.

I am new to this website and new to teaching. I really appreciate any advice. Thanks.

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Melanie Link Taylor's picture
Melanie Link Taylor
Educator, Blogger, Southern California

All teachers have students that it seems have attention issues, so, first of all, it is wise to unmistakably clarify what your classroom rules are to guarantee the students realize when it is time to focus individually on classwork. Follow up consistently on reminders and consequences. If the distracted/unfocused behavior continues, check with the parents if the student has or has had attention, behavior, or medical issues. I always also check my lesson plan sequence to see if I've included enough 'brain breaks' and if maybe I'm not expecting too many minutes of concentrated work at once. Not only are all classes unique, but every day is different, too! Sometimes I need to remind myself we are involved with a process with growing kids, and I'm not computer programming; the class may not be able to take in the same number of minutes of concentrated work every day. By that point, you would have enough data to bring to a special education or educational psychologist for review to see if you really have ADD or ADHD or just a student feeling antsy or defiant. Teaching is quite an analytical challenge sometimes!

John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct Faculty Antioch University New England, former Elementary Principal

Sometimes a couch sized pillow or chair cushion can help. I suggest you find a few to rotate between all students but try it with your wiggly students first for several days in a row and if it works for any of them assign the cushion or pillow to them and rotate some of the others between other students. There are different sorts of cushions- some let them wiggle somewhat (foam or air filled) or others allow them to settle in (memory foam) and they actually stop wiggling. Here is an example of one of the cushions I use. It is foam so allows some wiggling but not too much.
Here is another type which allows much more wiggling. Wiggle/wobble cushion.
Another idea is to do movement breaks with all your students or just the small group of students. If you have support from another adult for 3-5 minutes, sometimes a movement break for these students can help. Taking them to the gym, cafeteria, or outside for a run, jump, or throw can help. Other movements include doing wall push-ups, wall-sits, or even jumping jacks in the hallway can help. If you do any movements with the small group or even your whole class, be sure to spend at least 1-2 minutes getting them a slower, quieter movement which helps them focus and bring their energy down. Try walking heel to two slowly down the hall, silently passing or tossing a ball or stuffed animal around a circle, or playing a quiet game of "copy cat" where students copy the motions you do. Doing a yoga move or two is also a great activity to settle down the group getting them ready to learn.
Some teachers allow students to lay down during a read aloud book.
I hope this helps.

Jennifer Vallot's picture

Some students also may attend better if allowed to stand in a designated area during work. I have allowed students to stand at their desks vx. sitting, to use alternate surfaces/angles to work (such as at a vertical white board to solve math problems, or an easel or slant board for writing assignments.) You can also create a wiggle box at the back of the room using tape that allows a student to move while listening. Keep the size reasonable in proportion to the size of the room, usually 2-3 feet square is enough. Also small fidgets that are quiet, but can keep hands busy during times when sitting is a must (nuts and bolts, rope or cord with various knots tied it it, a cord with beads that can slide back and forth, squeeze balls with various textured surfaces, bean bags with different sized objects inside that can be felt and manipulated, etc.)

Of course there must be set expectations for the use of these accommodations/privileges.

Keep in mind that students with learning, attentional, and/or sensory difficulties may have any one of the numerous neurodevelopmental issues. Try different textures, surfaces, and setting modifications to find what works for individual students.

Also keep in mind that behavioral displays are a way of communicating when the child cannot find the words to express what they are feeling.

San VazCarr's picture
San VazCarr
I'm a parent seeking partnerships with organizations and/or programs to assist us with parent involvement at my son's High School.

As an ADDer and having two ADD boys, I've found that all three of us need different attention strategies. What has worked for me doesn't necessarily work for each of my boys and vice versa. Also, some strategies may work for periods of time then you will find yourself looking for other strategies.
ADDitude magazine offers good information for parents as well as teachers. Here's the link:
I hope this helps!

Kathryn Roe's picture
Kathryn Roe
Professor of Education, William Penn University

Negative consequences rarely work if the attention problem is developmental or if the student has ADD. Negative consequences only work if the student is capable or choosing differently. You may want to try many of the excellent suggestions offered by others. In addition, find ways to encourage these students when they are attending -- not tangible rewards, but specific verbal encouragement. Adding to what another person suggested above regarding "fidgets", we've had good results from tying an elastic exercise band around the legs of the student's chair. S/he can hook his/her feet in it and fidget to his/her heart's content without bothering others.

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