Focus can be hard for students, especially in the classroom. Often, they are expected to sit still for long periods of time while trying to take in and understand new content. Many adults would find this to be a challenge, so why do we expect our children to be able to do it? There are students who are quite happy and content in this type of learning environment, but for right-brained learners, who need more kinesthetic and tactile activities to learn best, a little creativity will make all the difference.
Expectation vs. Reality
I grew up in a time when we were supposed to sit at our desks, face forward, and pay attention. So, when I started to teach, I arranged my desks in rows, and expected my well behaved students to sit, face forward, and pay attention.
One of my first graders taught me that while this arrangement might be convenient for the teacher, it was not workable for him. My new first grade class was a real challenge - lots of learning issues, behavior issues, and more.
One boy, I will call Zeke, seemed pretty defiant to me. He was constantly out of his seat, and the more I insisted that he SIT DOWN, the more unmanageable and contrary he became.
I negotiated with Zeke one day. I told him I would let him stand up all day if he wanted to, but the conditions for this freedom were that he was to get his work done, and he was to not disturb anyone else. He was good with these stipulations, so I moved Zeke's stuff to an outside seat so that as he stood he would not be in anyone's line of vision.
Eureka! I had a totally different child! For the rest of the year, and during his second grade when I looped up with my class, Zeke was a pretty cooperative child, and best of all his learning skyrocketed.
I taught a boy, I will call him Mel, in Kindergarten who found it nearly impossible to focus on his own work for watching any movement that occurred within the range of his vision. In discussing our goal for focus together, we determined that Mel needed to sit and work in a place where he would not be able to see the movements the other children made while learning. Mel bought in to this decision enthusiastically.
Fast forward to his 1st grade year. Mel's father went to Mel's first grade classroom to volunteer. When he entered the classroom, he saw Mel sitting at a lone desk facing the wall. Naturally, Dad assumed Mel had been placed there by the teacher possibly for being naughty. When he questioned the teacher about why his son was sitting alone facing the wall, the puzzled teacher shared with the father that Mel himself had requested to sit there, telling the teacher he needed to focus.
Children Have Varying Needs
There was a story that made national news about a teacher who had special desks crafted that would allow her children to stand if needed. The desks were really cool! They had foot rests that allow a child to swing his foot while working, calculated to meet the need for motion some children have.
One thing that occurred to me was that most of us cannot find the funds to have special desks made.
The next thing I noted was that the room was full of these special desks. Every child had one.
We tend to use a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to our kids and their learning. We try something new, and then try to apply it to all our learners. Children learn in many different ways; they have greatly varying needs when it comes to how they perform best in the classroom. While some of the students in that classroom might have truly been helped by these special desks, I suspect that others in the room found it distracting to have the variables to deal with. Some children actually learn BETTER and focus BETTER when sitting at a normal desk on a hard chair.
While Zeke was able to focus when I gave him the freedom to stand and lean over his desk to do his work, my other students, A through Y, would have considered standing during class a punishment and would NOT have been able to focus.
Increased Focus Is The Goal
It doesn't have to cost a lot of money to meet the learning needs of our children. We can find out by observation if they do better sitting in a desk on a hard chair, or sitting on a soft surface, or standing, or lying on their tummies. Children, even very young ones, have the ability to become their own best friends by learning what helps them the most - by asking themselves the question: "What helps me focus the best?"
We can provide a few low cost pillows (four or so), some inexpensive whiteboards to use as mobile desks, and give the class the option during classwork to choose the situation that will allow them to focus the best.
4 Tips for Success
- The spot you choose for working must allow you to work BETTER.
- Once you are there, you will not have the option of moving somewhere else.
- You must not distract or disturb fellow classmates.
- If we note that you are LESS able to get your work done where you have chosen to do your work, you will return to your desk.
While the thought of meeting each student's needs can be overwhelming, it doesn't have to be a complex solution. Take one step at a time, making small adjustments, which will add up over time. When you are able to help your students with their learning styles, their focus will naturally increase, creating a learning environment that fosters a love for learning!
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