How to support wiggly students
Serena Pariser
April 5, 2017

Having students who just can’t seem to sit still is one of the most common concerns shared by teachers in all grades, across all subjects. Progressive teaching is starting to encourage more movement around the room for students throughout their lessons. Regardless of the lesson though, we still need students to listen and focus in order to gain meaningful experiences from each and every learning session. Physical Education teachers may even share this concern when they need to teach important health concepts in a traditional classroom setting. More often than not, we find ourselves demanding students to stop moving and proceed to give consequences or become frustrated and overwhelmed when it appears some student just can’t stay still like the others.

There are many reasons why certain students seem to have this difficulty, while sitting still in class appears to be effortless for others. For example, some students are kinesthetic learners. This is tactile learning, where learning takes place by the students carrying out physical activities, rather than listening to a lecture or watching demonstrations. Simply put, when they are moving, their brain is working. Contrary to traditional learning, they learn best when their body is in some sort of movement. So, if and when they are still, their mind may be still as well. Or, perhaps the student is not a kinesthetic learner but they simply ate too much sugar that day or aren’t getting an optimal diet. Other times, distressing situations at home, such as chronic arguing between parents, translates to unrest in the classroom. These things happen. Whatever the reason for the jitters, spasticity, or lack of focus, the lesson must go on.

In fact, according to Nea.org, “A 2008 study found that children actually need to move to focus during a complicated mental task. The children in the study—especially those with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—fidgeted more when a task required them to store and process information rather than just hold it. This is why students are often restless while doing math or reading, but not while watching a movie, explained Dr. Mark Rapport, the supervisor of the study and professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.” (Full article found here.)

Instead of giving students harsher consequences, why not increase the scaffolding (a teacher’s word for “support”) for the fidgety few. Here are a few creative kinesthetic scaffolds you can use with these types of students:

  1. Redirect. If you notice a student is extra fidgety on a certain day, let them be the student who helps you pass out papers, etc. Make it a challenge by saying something like, “Sarah, let’s see if you can pass out a paper to every student in the classroom in under a minute.” This not only serves to give them something physical to do and keep their brain busy, but also naturally helps them feel like an important contributor to the class.
  1. Experiment. I’ve heard of teachers, such as Ms. Foreman, M.Ed. in New Mexico, that have tied bungee cords around the bottom of their students’ chairs to allow them to bounce their feet as they work. I did some research to save you time. Here are the materials you will need to make this simple device:

I’ve also seen teachers get small stress balls for their students to use in one hand as they’re working. Caveat: I’ve also seen the stress balls be more distracting than helpful, so you’ll want to pay close attention during your initial implementation.

  1. See what’s on the market for support. Invest in a few of Hokki Stools for creative support. I saw these in a fifth-grade classroom recently, and have heard many success stories. You can find less expensive versions, but these Hokki Stools are durable enough to help you get your money’s worth. Some districts do set aside a budget for such items, so it would be a good idea to ask your administrators about these specialty items—be ready to make a case. Alternatively, businesses, such as DonorsChoose.org, actually give you the opportunity to ask for donations for specific classroom items. Requesting two or three stools is a great way to start helping your fidgety students. If you don’t have the budget for as many as you need right away, you can always try rotating them throughout your class or setting one or two per group of students. I suggest having a mix of stools and traditional seats so students can choose what works for them.

Every student needs some movement throughout their school day, and some definitely need it more than others. If you find yourself constantly trying to control fidgety behavior, it might help to take a closer look at your lesson plans and determine if you are including sufficient whole-class kinesthetic learning (for example, at least once a week). The younger the grade, the more often they need kinesthetic learning. Make sure to visit again soon for an article on revamping your lesson plans to meet multiple intelligences.

Happy teaching!

Serena Pariser lives in San Diego, Calif. She served as a middle- and high-school English language arts teacher for 10 years, where she earned Teacher of the Year. In addition to her recent coaching work in Botswana with Fulbright, Serena now facilitates online continuing education courses in character education and presents at local as well as international conferences on educational topics. Read more of her work and receive her free e-guide at www.serenapariser.com. Follow her Twitter @SerenaPariser, Facebook at www.facebook.com/SerenaPariser, or email her atserena.pariser@gmail.com.

____________________________________

Like this article? Sign up for ASCD SmartBrief to get news like this in your inbox, or check out all of SmartBrief’s education newsletters, covering career and technical education, educational leadership, math education and more.