Summer Safety Concerns

Schools are out, which brings children and teens outside. They are eager to enjoy the beautiful weather and all that summertime fun entails. For a fun-filled summer vacation free of avoidable injuries, expert tips can help prepare children and those of us working with children during the summer months.

Tips for pedestrians: Of course the obvious guidelines apply, like look both ways before crossing, hold hands with the little ones, listen for oncoming traffic, etc. However, now that the average American 5-year-old has his own phone, adults need to be especially cognizant of the distractibility that phones bring. For day camps or sleepaway camps, children and teens will likely have a smart device with them. While walking, especially in areas with heavy traffic, children should forego the phones. Babysitters, nannies, camp counselors, etc., must encourage walkers to be vigilant while walking. Not only is traffic an issue, but distracted walkers are more likely to incur injuries from stumbles or falls. Earbuds are an added distraction, as children are not able to hear what is happening in their surroundings.  

Tips for the heat/sun: Those of us working with children in the summer must be aware of the early signs of heat exhaustion and dehydration. Camps, pool days, sports—all of these activities can pose a threat when the temperatures spike. Adults cannot assume that children show up to these outdoor activities prepared for the sun. It is imperative to have sunscreen, water, snacks, and basic first aid items on hand.

Knowing the symptoms of heat-related emergencies is also essential. Children on the verge of heat exhaustion may exhibit an unusually flushed or pale face, profuse sweating with chills or goosebumps, clammy or cool skin to the touch, nausea, fatigue, or dizziness. Remove them from the sun or outdoors as soon as possible. Provide them with water and/or fluids with electrolytes and monitor them for faintness, vomiting, or diarrhea. Drinking plenty of cold water during the day is crucial, as well. While in the pool, children may neglect their thirst or need for water. Make sure that children are drinking plenty of water, not just swimming in it!

Tips for safe play: Summertime play can also pose issues if supervision is lacking. Even the most experienced bicyclists, roller bladers, and skateboarders must be cautious. Helmets and other protective gear are a must—no matter how confident the rider may be. Adults should always supervise these activities and ensure that children are wearing visible or reflective gear in the evenings.

Jungle gym and playground enthusiasts need to be monitored carefully, as well.

Experts say that, statistically, monkey bars are the most dangerous playground equipment due to falls. The CDC reports that emergency rooms see around 20,000 traumatic brain injury-related accidents each year caused solely by playground falls. Educators, camp counselors, and sitters must be vigilant while children enjoy the playground—and any indication of a head injury should be checked out by a doctor immediately.

Because of the possibility of bug bites and stings, adults working with children must be up to date on EpiPen training. In order to properly administer Epinephrine Auto-Injector to a child experiencing anaphylaxis, adults must be trained and familiar with each child’s individual allergy threats.

Finally, while no child should play with or anywhere near fireworks, each summer brings firework-related injuries. Even popular items such as firecrackers and sparklers can result in serious burns and other injuries—it’s just not a good idea.  

Positive Behavior Begets More Positive Behavior: Advice to Use at Home

I vividly remember being told things like: “Do the right thing, even when no one is watching.” “Treat others the way you’d like to be treated.” Or, “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.” These go-to one-liners stayed with me, not because the deeper meanings sank in right away, but because it took experiences with others to see the impact that following—or not following—these adages had on myself and those around me.

As a middle school teacher, I find myself uttering these notions to teens and preteens regularly, but the truth is, these important messages should be instilled long before my 7th graders have reached my classroom. So, how can we school our children on these important, non-academic lessons before they reach the classroom?

Learn to deflect the “no” response and set the tone for future conflict resolution. This new favorite word seemingly begins as soon as children begin to speak. After “mama/dada” the word “no” becomes a frequent response to any question. Once children get a bit older, the cute “no” becomes a more defiant situation. For questions or statements that do not allow for yes or no options, remove the opportunity for children to respond with “no.” Phrase things in ways that provide children with choices: Would you like salad or peas? You can either take out the trash or fold your laundry. Would you like to stay up 15 minutes later or sleep in 15 minutes longer? Complete your homework now or lose screen time before bed.

The key is to provide options that lead kids in the right direction, while giving them a sense of agency as well.  

Encourage kind gestures, especially when others make it difficult. This is a challenging concept—even for adults at times. The instinct is to respond and react based on the behavior of those around you—if someone is cold or rude, it may subtly influence us to be standoffish. However, meeting rudeness with rudeness does nothing to allay the moment. Teach your child to challenge himself to rise above any perceived negativity from others. Positivity is often contagious, but in the off chance that the other person still does not reciprocate, your child can still feel good about the genuine attempt. Remind him that kindness does not have to be received before it is given—again, this notion is a hard pill to swallow. The more we practice the art of spreading kindness, the more intuitive and automatic it becomes.

Praise honesty, even when the truth is testing. Again, the instinct is to self-preserve, which means that kids may put themselves in the position of lying to stay out of trouble. This is totally understandable, as we have all likely fibbed to save ourselves from the truth. However, we have also learned that while dishonesty may temporarily alleviate the heat from the hot seat, it also creates bigger issues down the line. Teach your child that, even when owning the truth can be uncomfortable or damaging, it will never be as harmful as the lies you tell yourself. When your child gets into trouble, but remains honest about the situation, be sure to praise the honesty piece. Yes, she made a mistake, and that will be dealt with accordingly, but the optimistic view is that she owned her actions honestly, which exhibits maturity, morality and accountability.

The Rise of the Fidget Spinner: What, Where, When, and How

Anyone outside of the education realm, or who does not regularly interact with children, might assume that a fidget spinner is some sort of spaceship contraption or an obscure item found on the shelves of a home improvement store. However, teachers, parents and, of course, children know all too well what a fidget spinner is—and we know that you will likely hear one before you will see one. Silly dramatics aside, the fidget spinner has swiftly entered classrooms and become a staple in many pencil pouches. Before we purchase, shun, recommend, or loathe these gadgets, it is important to look further at the intended purpose.

What are fidget cubes/spinners/balls/blocks for?

The colorful, handheld, spinning, clicking, toggling, shifting devices were initially intended to serve a therapeutic purpose. Research of students (and even adults) with ADHD, autism, anxiety, or PTSD has shown that small, repetitive motion can alleviate stress, anxiety, or the urge to move. The handheld devices are also thought to improve focus, memory and attentiveness. Much like the concept of the stress ball, the fidget craze began as an attempt to discreetly busy the hands while centering and focusing the mind.

Where should they be used?  

If looking solely at their cognitive or therapeutic purposes, fidget spinners and cubes can be seen in classrooms, small group academic settings, or at a study/homework work session. Since the repetitive motion and occupation of the hands are said to alleviate stress and anxiety, children could also make use of them at the doctor’s or dentist’s office, in the car while running errands, or any other instance in which a child or teen may need to center themselves to assuage any stressors.

When should they be used?

Students should feel able to use them at specific times only—not the entire school day for any purpose. If students are nervous or stressed about an upcoming presentation, quiz, or assessment, a fidget toy can act as a much-needed distraction from the nerves. A child could also benefit from a spinner or cube when she recognizes that her focus is waning. The movement and repetition provides mindless movement for the hands, while allowing the mind to focus on the reading, handout, etc. Fidgets can also be used during a sudden need to expel energy. Since it is not always plausible to stand up, do jumping jacks, or stretch out in the classroom setting, a fidget toy allows for inconspicuous movement in order to placate the restlessness.

How should they NOT be used?

And herein lies the issue with the rise of the fidget spinner—too much of a good thing can become a whirring, buzzing, spinning nightmare. Since the therapeutic toy crossed the boundary into “fad” territory, it has become problematic in many classrooms and academic environments. When crazed middle schoolers created such a rapid demand for spinners and cubes, the market responded with what I’d call “spinners on steroids.” What began as a subtle, silent, handheld trinket now has flashing lights, sound effects, and stainless steel mechanisms for extra heft. Outside of the classroom, there is no problem with these fancy fidgets; however, the attention tool has now become a big distraction for many students. Whether one is fidgeting or not, the constant murmur and spinning can be heard and seen in the periphery. YouTube has exploded with fidget spinner “tricks” and competitions. Schools are having to either ban or temporarily confiscate the more boisterous students’ spinners, only to be met with the issue of deciding which students need them versus which students want them. The pendulum has now swung in the opposite direction for some preteens—now diminishing their focus and motivation, which conflicts with the intentions of these gadgets to begin with.

Bottom line—if it helps the child focus, relax, and release, allow it. If the spinners are beginning to spin out of control, leave them for recess or settings other than the classroom.

Stress Awareness Month: How Parents Can Monitor and Manage a Child’s Stress Level

Adults are all too familiar with the concept of stress—we live with it almost every day to some extent. Not so surprisingly, American children are sadly experiencing chronic stress as well. In fact, data indicates that pharmaceutical use for children with emotional disorders has risen to an alarming rate, as has the suicide rate for adolescents. We know from our own personal experiences that mounting stress has an enormous ripple effect on our day-to-day lives. Sleeping patterns, eating habits, productivity, social/emotional well-being—all of these factors are very much correlated to stress levels. If we adults sometimes find ourselves in the weeds when it comes to stress, how can we expect children to react to an increase in stress?

The solution to stress in children should not involve managing stressors once they have reached their peak, but rather helping children avoid getting to that point of eruption. Here are a few tips to help parents take a proactive approach to stress:

Pack the schedule with pockets of “downtime,” as opposed to more activities. Of course children yearn to participate, whether it be dance class, soccer practice, after-school camp, science club, etc. This enthusiasm should not be discouraged, but it is a parent’s job to manage a realistic schedule and to keep it manageable. Yes, things will pop up—parties or sleepovers or field trips will emerge from the woodwork. However, downtime is essential for children to maintain their mental health. Often times, a child or adolescent’s stress levels mount when they feel incapable of maintaining the balancing act. To avoid this, allow time in the family’s daily schedule to do absolutely nothing. These pockets of time can be used for anything—a school project, extra violin practice, reading, or simply relaxing. The key here is that the time is used to keep that overbooked sense of urgency at bay.

Explicitly discuss stress and where it comes from. The more your teen recognizes where and when his or her stress emerges, the better equipped he or she will be able to anticipate and circumvent the stressor. For instance, if procrastination or last-minute rushing is the catalyst, teach time management strategies and how to plan ahead.

Similarly, if you know your child’s stressors, help him or her to prepare for upcoming events that might cause anxiety or stress. If you know that your child despises the dentist, give him or her a heads-up about an upcoming appointment. Explain that nervous feelings are valid, but that the pros of going to the dentist far exceed the temporary uneasiness.

Think of outlets for stress. In the same way that we hit the gym to expel the stress of the day, allow your child to explore options to clear his or her mind and body of any angst. If a walk around the block the morning before an important recital keeps the jitters at bay, make that a routine. Or, bring a stress ball to the dreaded dentist appointment. When said event is over, celebrate your child’s bravery, tenacity, and composure.

International Ask a Question Day: An Educator’s Observation

March 14th marks the somewhat underrated “holiday” devoted to asking questions. Suitably falling on Albert Einstein’s birthday, International Ask a Question Day is meant to encourage the practice of seeking knowledge. In the world of education, questions are paramount in the learning process. In my own experience—and I think most teachers would agree—our job in the classroom involves asking, answering, and clarifying questions.

True story: Purely out of my own curiosity, I decided to tally the number of questions I was asked during a random school day. Any question counted—from, “Can I go to the water fountain?” to, “Should I underline the title of an article?” By the final period of the day, I knew I had a significant number of hash marks, but the exact amount of questions that had been asked far exceeded what I had anticipated. The number of questions was somewhere in the 300’s—and it was an early-dismissal day.

The point of this anecdote is to express the extent to which questions drive our work in the classroom. Students expect to get answers. Many may quantify those answers as learning. However, the real learning occurs when questions are formulated. To drum up a question, a student must first separate what he knows from what he does not know. This practice of sifting through knowledge and categorizing skills by competency takes a great deal of reflection. The saying “You don’t know what you don’t know” is thought to ring true for many students, yet in my observations, students are somewhat experts at recognizing what they do not know.

So, how can we use this almost innate penchant for curiosity and inquiry to best benefit our students?

Encourage your quiet students to “speak up” by allowing multiple ways of asking questions in class. This could mean keeping a question box or post-it notes available for students to jot down questions that they may be too shy to ask. You could also take a similar digital approach using Padlet or Google Classroom. Students are able to post questions to an online forum or webpage; they can also respond to others’ posts as well.

When reviewing for an assessment, have students create practice questions that they would anticipate seeing on the test. Have students submit or swap questions so that students can practice answering each other’s questions. If questions are well-written and relevant, use some student-derived questions on the actual assessment. This is also a way for teachers to gauge the students’ preparation for an upcoming assessment.

Play the well-known party game “just questions” in which students are only able to communicate using interrogative statements. This improv theater exercise encourages students to practice consciously phrasing and rephrasing questions. Students must think on their toes and apply knowledge of appropriate word choice and sentence structures in order to continue the conversation.

Provide students with broad or general questions like, “What is the setting of the story?” Then have students kick that question up a notch by adding another component or more complex level of inquiry. For instance, they might change the original question about setting to, “How does the setting affect the conflict that the character faces?” This practice allows students to add a layer of deeper analysis to a general question. Furthermore, this activity allows for plenty of differentiation depending on student ability.

Behavior Management

A few years in the classroom has taught me a lot in terms of managing behaviors. I can honestly say that behavior management can make or break a classroom environment. As amazing as your planning and delivery might be, without the proper management in place, an unruly classroom will derail any lesson. If you have hit a speedbump in your management style, which happens to even the most seasoned teachers, consider these pointers:

Be the adult.

When it seems that your buttons are being pushed from all angles, remember that these are children or adolescents with whom you are dealing. There is no negotiating unless you feel the need to open that door. When students push back, keep your head and say something like, “I’m sorry you are upset, but I gave you my answer. This conversation is over.” This lets them know that you are in charge and that no amount of effort on their behalf is going to change the decision you have made—because trust me, they will try to convince you otherwise. Once you have made your decision, close the door on negotiating, begging, guilt-tripping, etc. Be sure to stand your ground—the second that you go back on your word, you’ve lost. Explain that no amount of disrespect or anger is going to help their cause, regardless of how much they argue, question or try to manipulate you.

Remain calm.

Similarly to standing your ground, teachers must remember to try to remain calm and keep cool—even when the students are not doing the same. Easier said than done, I know. We teachers know all too well that emotionally engaging in an argument or tiff with a student is never beneficial. Again, you are the adult. The conversation ends when you end it; no need to fuel the fire. As much as we are inclined to be kind, supportive, and nurturing towards the young people in our classrooms, we must remember that we do not need to seek their approval. Every student will not always like you all the time, but building a respectful relationship is what matters most. When you start to feel bad or guilty about managing behaviors strictly and swiftly, remember that being their friend is not your prerogative.

Wield power with responsibility.

Frame every decision so that it is in the best interest of your students. Demonstrate fairness to the class by explaining that you are not making decisions just to assert control or power. They need to understand that teaching is a decision-making role that involves a great deal of responsibility. Teachers are responsible for the safety and education of every student—so any behaviors that disrupt that must be redirected for the good of the whole. Yes, students will have plenty of opportunities to make their own choices, but for now, they need guidance from the adults in the room. They may not show it, but they will eventually understand your sound reasoning.

Recognize trends and triggers.

Finally, gauge emotions and recognize triggers for your many students. After years in the classroom, teachers are masters at recognizing behavior patterns, trends, and triggers for different personalities and age groups. So, take mental note of when a student begins to exhibit frustration. Isolate the root of the emotional response and act on that—they may be whining about homework, but the frustration may stem from a lack of confidence, knowledge, or patience. Of course, every student is different. So it is important to manage behaviors accordingly. What works for one student may not work for another.

Teacher Hacks to Use at Home Part I: Behavior Management

Teaching is often more than a job or career pathit is something that we educators practice even when we are outside of the classroom.  Much of what we do in class, while content-oriented, is meant to be translated to the real world. From study skills, to organization, to behavior management, teachers have a whole repertoire of strategies that could be of major assistance at home. So parents, what can teachers teach besides their subject area? A lot!

First-year teaching has sometimes been compared to bringing a baby home for the first time. It is terrifying, overwhelming, exhausting, stressful, emotional, and exciting—basically a whirlwind of significant moments strung together. While teaching is not as dramatic as raising a newborn, it is a profession that involves constant giving. So, with regard to giving advice to parents struggling with behavior issues at home, first things first—we know your struggle. We too have had moments (probably many) when it seems as though we may never have a breakthrough with a particularly “feisty” child. But, there are certain keys to remember:

  • You are the adult. When it comes to those knock-down, drag-out tantrums or battles, remember that this is a child that you are dealing with. There is no negotiating unless you open that door. When kids push back, keep your head and say something like, “I’m sorry you are upset, but I gave you my answer. This conversation is over.” This lets them know that you are in charge and that no amount of effort on their behalf is going to change the decision you have made. Once you have made your decision, close the door on negotiating, begging, guilt-tripping, etc. Be sure to stand your ground—the second that you go back on your word, you’ve lost. Explain that no amount of disrespect or anger is going to help their cause, regardless of how much they argue, question or try to manipulate you.
  • Once you have stood your ground, you must try to remain calm and keep cool—even when the child is not. Easier said than done, I know. We teachers know all too well that emotionally engaging in an argument or tiff with a student is never beneficial. Again, you are the adult. The conversation ends when you end it; no need to fuel the fire.
  • Frame every decision so that it is in the best interest of your child. Show your child that you are not making decisions just to assert control or power. They need to understand that parenting is a decision-making role. Yes, they will have plenty of opportunities to make their own choices, but for now, they need guidance from the person who cares about their well-being above everything else. They may not show it, but they will eventually understand your sound reasoning.

Finally, gauge the emotions and recognize triggers for your child. After years in the classroom, teachers are masters at recognizing behavior patterns, trends, and triggers for different personalities and age groups. Of course, you know your child better than anyone. So, take mental note of when he or she begins to exhibit frustration. Isolate the root of the emotional response and act on that—they may be whining about homework, but the frustration may stem from a lack of confidence, knowledge, or patience.

Behavioral Techniques for Children with Learning Disabilities

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When it comes to education, there are few things that make or break a lesson like behavior management. Instruction is only as good as a student’s ability to receive it. If behaviors are out of control, the learning environment will be undoubtedly compromised. With classrooms of 30 or more students, effective behavior strategies can range far and wide—just like the many personalities in the classroom. While it may often come down to trial and error, some specific behavior techniques are known to be more effective for students with learning disabilities.

One important aspect of behavior management for students with learning disabilities is to create a classroom environment that is structured, but not rigid. Structure provides students with distinct expectations, both academic and behavioral. To set a standard or expectation from the beginning is a proactive way of staving off unsavory behaviors before they even emerge. However, as we all know, behaviors are typically an effect of some specific emotion. When emotions or reactions take over, especially for students with learning disabilities, it is beneficial that educators have a repertoire of behavioral techniques to try.

For students with ADHD…

Consider what is and is not within the child’s control before issuing a punishment or redirection. A child with ADHD is often impulsive and unaware of his or her own outbursts or comments. There is a difference between a child who is disruptive and a child with attention issues who is not intentionally troublesome. Therefore, the behavior techniques for an interruption must fit the circumstances. Instead of harping on the outburst immediately, as in the case of a disruptive student, give the student a silent cue to remind him or her of appropriate behavior in the class setting. Often times, simply making eye contact with a child will remind him or her to think and raise a hand before speaking out.

Another helpful behavior technique for students with attention issues is to use proximity. When a student is placed closer to the adult in the classroom, he or she will be more inclined to listen, track the speaker, and remain focused. Proximity also helps to remind students that they are in plain view of the teacher at all times. This technique assists when executive functioning is compromised and a student’s focus strays easily.

If a student with ADHD seems unusually fidgety or distracted, allow him or her to take a brain break. This one to three-minute movement break allows students to expel pent up energy or anxiety. The small time gap of movement also helps students to refocus and check back in if attention has been lacking.

For students with non-verbal learning disabilities…

Create a simple, structured outline for the day’s lesson. This will help a student who struggles to transition from task to task, or becomes easily frustrated if he or she feels “left behind.”

An outline or small sticky note indicating the day’s lesson will also prevent a student’s need to ask repetitive or unnecessary questions. These behaviors are typical for student with a non-verbal learning disability (NVLD)—including the inability to read facial expressions or interpret body language.

A student with a NVLD may also appear clumsy, careless, or uncoordinated. Preferential seating, either close to the teacher’s desk, pencil sharpener, door, etc., helps keep this type of learner from unnecessary roaming.

ADHD for Parents: Looks Can be Deceiving

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The Center for Disease Control reports that over 10 percent of children and teens suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  Even more shocking, many cases go unreported or are misdiagnosed, providing families with improper information and treatment options. With such a prevalence of attention difficulties among America’s youth, it is no wonder that the disorder can easily be misunderstood or misjudged.

For parents, this unknown or variable aspect of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can be frustrating. Since every child is unique, children who suffer from ADHD may exhibit drastically different symptoms from one another. What many parents do not know is that ADHD does not have just one cause, or cure, or treatment. Other prevalent myths about ADHD are listed below, as we seek to understand what this disorder is—and what it is not.

  • Myth #1: ADHD mostly affects children at school. This is simply not the case. Children are often diagnosed once they hit school age, typically around age 6-7. While ADHD is most obvious in school because of the attention needs and self-control that is necessary to complete classroom activities, the disorder is not solely confined within the walls of the school. Any activity or conversation, whether academically-related or not, will be difficult for a child with attention issues. This impulsivity, inattentiveness, or lack of focus can happen anywhere—the car, the house, while having a conversation, or even when playing a game or watching a movie.
  • Myth #2: ADHD reflects a lack of care or eagerness on behalf of the child. Again, this is false. In fact, children with ADHD, when made self-aware of their inattentiveness, work even harder to compensate for the lack of focus. Imagine trying to watch a television show while listening to music using headphones. This is similar to how students feel in a classroom when multiple conversations are occurring at once. The multi-sensory distractions become so overwhelming that tuning out is the only reasonable option.
  • Myth #3: Children will outgrow the attention disorder. Unfortunately, this is not the case either. While children and teens, with appropriate behavioral and/or medical interventions, may better manage their symptoms as time passes, the disorder is never truly absolved
  • Myth #4: ADHD is considered a major roadblock when it comes to success in academia and in the work force. NOT TRUE. While the condition is titled a “deficiency,” ADHD has its own unique set of advantages, as well. If children and young adults learn to channel the disorder properly, the hyperactivity can be transformed into hyper-focus. That said, a person with ADHD may be able to focus on a difficult task for hours on end—determined to finish or solve the problem. ADHD also forces children to be self-sufficient and self-aware. Often times, after managing the disorder in school for a while, children learn to self-check and gauge their own level of attentiveness. They also find it easier to pick themselves up after setbacks or missteps. Similarly, people with ADHD are often forced to think or learn a little differently—their success is determined by the ability to streamline information, block out insignificant details, and question their comprehension of the task. Therefore, a person with ADHD will often hone these practices and exhibit ingenuity, creativity, and resourcefulness. ADHD should not be seen as a wholly detrimental learning disorder— in fact, people can use the symptoms to their advantage with practice and patience.

ADHD MONTH: Looks can be deceiving

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Since the classroom environment lends itself to tasks involving focus, attentiveness, attention to detail, cooperative learning, and time management skills, educators are sometimes the first to notice the growing prevalence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and the symptoms that accompany the disorder. More and more children are exhibiting attention issues in and out of the classroom—the CDC reports that over 10 percent of children and teens have ADHD. With this significant percentage of cases comes just as many ways for the disorder to manifest itself—and every child is different.

As educators, we pretty much get a daily bird’s eye view of how each student learns, or struggles to learn. Even so, we occasionally (and inadvertently) forget that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can reveal itself in drastically different ways. On a personal note, just last week, I held a student after class to discuss his constant roaming around the classroom. After asking him to be seated several times during instruction, my patience had admittedly dwindled.

He very calmly and candidly explained that, especially during the long block periods, he finds it difficult to focus while seated at his desk for too long. While this particular student did not show up to my class with documentation of an attention disorder, his need to move, at first misunderstood, is no less legitimate.

As demonstrated above, students with ADHD symptoms can be mistaken as disruptive, disinterested, disorganized, etc. It is important to be mindful of the catalysts to those behaviors—i.e., what do these behaviors truly mean?

ASSIGNMENT COMPLETION

When a student’s focus drifts during class or at home, assignments can be left by the wayside, going uncompleted or altogether neglected. Educators need to distinguish the difference between carelessness or disinterest and a student’s tendency to be distracted and drift. An incomplete project or homework assignment does not necessarily signify a lack of attempt. Anything from noise in the classroom to a transition during instruction can deter a student’s focus, making it difficult for him or her to complete the assigned work in the provided block of time. Again, this is not due to laziness or lack of interest.

Group work can also add a layer of difficulty to assignment completion. Students with ADHD can benefit from the conversation and movement that group work provides. However, these components can be just as equally distracting if the group’s conversation shifts off task. The group work can become overwhelming to the point that the student will drift and separate from the group. Again, this is not indicative of the student’s unwillingness to participate.

BEHAVIOR

As in the case of my “wandering student” above, children and teens with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder often find it beneficial to move about the room. This constant need to move is not only distracting to other students, but may also be seen as an avoidance technique. While this may be true in some cases, most often the student is moving because it helps him to focus or expend any excess energy. Frequent breaks, rotation stations, or standing and working from a clipboard are all methods to help alleviate the need to roam. These small bouts of movement also allow the student to focus.

If a student appears to be reading, doodling, or is otherwise “off task,” it may not be an indication that she is intentionally ignoring instruction or avoiding work. These seemingly defiant behaviors are actually a method of channeling a student’s focus—a self-soothing method, if you will. For some students, especially those with ADHD, putting their hands to work is a way of keeping themselves centered and attentive. A stress ball is also helpful for students whose attention is benefited from multitasking.  

As educators, we need to focus our attention not only on what we are teaching, but also to whom we are teaching. By paying careful attention to the learning needs and styles of our students, we can not only help our easily distracted students to learn more effectively, but also improve the overall learning environment for our entire class.