I might catch a little fire for this title.
And thank you in advance for reading.
Every classroom has them- fidgety student(s). You know the ones who cannot get comfortable to sit still, are unable to focus for longer than 8 seconds (there are statistics for that), and are constantly in motion. Some days you see your classroom is more like a garden filled with hummingbirds flitting, buzzing, and appearing to faff about even when totally engrossed in a task.
Are they learning? Can students learn when their distractedness is a distraction? You’re thinking about your students right now(past and present) aren’t you? I am, and yes like yours are incredible capable learners, each of whom possess a curiosity and creativity that we allow to flourish.
So, how do(did) we manage to harness a student’s abundance of energy without blowing a fuse or short circuiting the individual? For me, working with* a ‘busy’ student, whether officially identified with ADHD or not, requires a deft balance of patience, structure, and at the same time flexibility. Inside of this is an expectation of great things that is mapped out and shared with the help of the individual learner. It is not my agenda that gets carried out. Student voice is crucial in this process. Negotiation skills training is included in the deal.
Do you allow students to doodle? This simple artistic expression allows students a place to focus the fidgety moments onto the paper while freeing their attention to concentrate on the lesson. How about a soft foam squeeze toy? In my class we have several available that are specifically dedicated to any students who might feel a bit of stress or the need to keep their hands occupied. Plus they’re fun to throw around the class as a kinaesthetic activity and to practice Math facts or French verb conjugation.
Doodling and fidget toys seem counter-intuitive to many teachers who were educated annually in the art of rote in row after boring row, but can be great ways to support your busy students. Sadly, the education from the good old days doesn’t always honour the progress of humanity in the 21st Century. Especially, when it keeps referring to what worked or is rooted(stuck) in the last one as the only path to knowledge. In my opinion this is antithetical to the needs of modern learners who, as a result of innovation, technology, and pedagogy find themselves barely coping in some classes while thriving in others.
My teachers had a kid like that, me. My mom shared, that after some tests and upon the school’s urging our family doctor prescribed some meds which were intended to help channel my “energetic” demeanour. My parents refused. Thanks mom and dad!
Although some of my colleagues might volunteer to renew the prescription for me, I am glad my parents decided not to take the pharmaceutical option. Instead they chose to work with my teachers on implementing strategies which would keep me busy, moving, and engaged.
Do you know how many notes I delivered around the school, erasers I cleaned, or how many times I helped the caretaker sweep? And that was during instructional time. Every recess(2 x 15 mins + 60 mins lunch) was spent running, jumping, climbing, and playing. It was the time outside, in motion, that made the time inside learning tolerable. So it makes me wonder how many others went through, or are going through the same thing as I did?
Without apologies I wish to proclaim and thus forever own my ADHD. In fact I wear it like a badge knowing it was a blessing in my life as a learner and is a gift in my life as an educator. The challenge for learners and educators comes in finding that Goldilocks Zone between perpetual motion and learning progress each year that is just right.
As the researchers note, “in the school setting, the challenge becomes how to create an environment in which creativity is emphasized as a pathway to learning as well as an outcome of learning.” from The Creative Gifts of ADHD by Scott Barry Kaufman in Scientific American
And therein lies one of many Catch-22s in our profession. We have some who have blessed their classrooms for 35 years or more, and others who are just being hired. The gap between youth and experience is not going anywhere? How do we re-invigorate mindsets, open ourselves to greater collaboration, and sharing the wisdom gathered from experience. There is much to gain from having both. Now the challenge is preparing, pairing, and finding some playtime between the two sides.
* I had originally considered using the word ‘handle’ instead of ‘work with’ as I wrote this post. Upon reflection it was wiser to be considerate of the fact that handling a student conjures negative thoughts, whereas working with a student evokes a working opportunity.