Wouldn’t it be wonderful if school were so engaging that all kids would be riveted by their activities? Allowed to move as needed? Where teachers and classmates assumed the best? Do teachers believe that students come to school deciding that they will be distracted all day? The truth is that no one can maintain attention for hour after hour. It’s not how the brain functions. For kids who struggle with attention, it may be a constant battle to stay focused. This student video on Understood provides powerful insights into the conflict that students experience as their bodies and minds pull against their best intentions. After months or years of this struggle, many students give up and become serious classroom disruptors.
Here’s a rubric I’ve used with kids struggling to pay attention. Many of these kids were medicated and just as many had parents who were adamantly opposed to meds. Regardless, we can help kids feel better about themselves by rehearsing strategies for paying attention. Students’ sticky notes can replace impulsive comments and record positive efforts to focus. Other elements of rehearsal include practice finding the best places to sit in a group, such as on the sides, near the teacher, and/or next to a supportive partner. Students should also practice making positive self-statements to combat that inevitable sense of failure. Getting the classroom teacher to support their plan is huge. These students should be allowed time to leave the group in a socially acceptable way, should be encouraged to advocate for privacy but not continuously excluded, and their efforts should be praised. They may respond well to a fidget item; a wristband can work if they have rehearsed keeping it in place (and not using it as a slingshot!). May parents can provide an after school outlet for energy, such as martial arts or sports. Some students benefit from an external reward system, especially one administered by parents. One student’s dad took him to the gym after a predetermined number of earned stars. Finally, these students should NEVER be denied an active recess.