Everybody needs a little help focusing now and then. While ADHD students diagnosis have certainly brought our attention to the recurring dilemma, any child can have a rough time paying attention on a given day.
Maybe she’s anticipating her favorite dessert tucked away in a Justin Bieber lunch box. Or his mind is still on the basketball court. Or she could be studying another student’s fashion choices instead of what the teacher’s demonstrating at the front of the class room.
1. Grab their attention.
Ring a bell or flash the lights to get everyone’s attention. The concept may sound counterproductive, but it works. Imagine that you see four boys distracting each other or a couple of girls giggling and talking. (It wasn’t a great stretch of your imagination, was it?) Rather than singling them out, you can bring the focus back by reminding everyone of what’s happening next. For example, you could announce that everyone has only 10 minutes before the classroom assignment will be collected. Voila! A new focus takes center stage.
2. Strategically Drop a Name.
Working a child’s name into what you’re teaching should be done in a neutral or positive manner. For instance, “Ariel, did you notice that Tom Sawyer’s Aunt Polly only used two colors of thread when she mended?” When she hears her name, the student’s eyes are back on you. And a few others in your class may wonder, “Am I next? I’d better look alert!”
3. Fidget proof.
For individuals who seem to be in constant motion, it helps to offer something for the hands. A piece of Velco secured under the desk can keep fingers busy when the mind’s processing something else. For other students, a pen with a colorful topper offers excellent finger calisthenics opportunities.
4. Change the Scenery.
Remember centers? They work for students of all ages. A little freedom of choice can inspire great creativity and focus. Encourage choices of a table or cubby to get certain types of work done. One very creative fourth grade teacher brought an old claw-footed bathtub, filled with a few pillows and blankets into her classroom to serve as a place to read for her students.
5. “I move, therefore I think.”
More and more studies show that physical activity helps an individual focus and think. Breaking for recess or a physical education class may be the jump start that everyone needs to finish what was started. So maybe Rodin’s “The Thinker” should’ve been running or throwing a discus instead of sitting.
6. Break. It. Up.
Sometimes it’s raining, or the P.E. class isn’t scheduled for another hour and a half. A short break could be as simple as encouraging everyone to stand up and stretch. Or you could time everyone for 90 seconds of talking. (A very loud timer is a great tool to keep time boundaries in place.)
7. Front and Center.
Successful students (ADHD or not) often use this tip. It’s easier to keep focused on what the teacher’s saying when other distractions are minimized. Hot spots to avoid would be near the window, door or pencil trimmer…or near any other student who wants to be the center of attention.
8. “Explain it to me, please.”
When you wonder if the math concept is understood, the best way to assess a student’s understanding is to ask him to explain it to you. “Do you understand?” is very easily answered in the affirmative even when the actual answer is negative.
9. Stand up and work.
Before the corporate world buzzed about desks configured for a standing office worker, some folks discovered that certain children may focus better on certain tasks while standing. It’s an easy tip to try.
10. Are your ears burning?
Some ideas sound silly, but if an idea captures a child’s imagination, you may have discovered a winner. One 5th grader insists that his teacher’s tip works and now he rubs his ear briskly to help himself focus. Similarly, an entire generation of children received instruction to “put on your thinking cap.”
The funny thing about paying attention is that what works today may not work tomorrow, so it's important to have lots of strategies. I hope these ten will give your child - and maybe you - some more tools to work with as you try to focus, focus, focus!
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