1. Incorporate regular body breaks into the classroom routine - Research shows that typical students are able to pay attention for their age in minutes +/- 2 minutes, which isn’t very long! To keep your students focused and ready to learn, break up a lesson with movement breaks at regular intervals. Movement, especially aerobic exercise and “heavy work” (work against resistance) will get your students’ brains ready to learn. Consider using a 3-part movement break: 1) active movement for 1-2 minutes (e.g. marching in place, jumping jacks, crab walks), 2) heavy work/resistance activity for 1-2 minutes (e.g. chair or wall push-ups, plank position, wall squat) and 3) 5 deep belly breaths (this will help to calm and focus students).
2. Desks that fit - In order to support good seated posture, a student should be able to sit with his/her feet flat on the floor (hips, knees and ankles at 90 degree angle) and the writing surface of the desk should be no higher than 2 inches above the elbow when the student’s arm is resting at their side. Although it is not always possible to provide students with desks of a perfect fit depending on what size and type of desks are available in your school, there are ways to adapt the desks you do have so that students are more comfortable. Some ideas to try include: 1) switch desks between students in the class to ensure best fit, 2) use an old phonebook wrapped with duct tape as a footrest or 3) create a firm seat cushion using upholstery foam.
3. Visual environment should support learning - Research shows that students’ visual attention is most drawn to visuals that are novel and/or brightly coloured. For students who struggle with attention or have difficulties with visual processing, a visually busy main teaching area is distracting and will interfere with learning. In order to highlight those visuals that are most salient for the lesson/day, place visuals on a neutral background and consider leaving up only those that are referred to on a daily basis.
4. Use a visual timer - A visual timer (Time Timer) can help students focus as it allows them to know how long they must focus for. They have been found beneficial for classroom use pre-kindergarten through high school. These can be purchased from SuperDuperInc.com - $40.
5. Use a dynamic visual schedule - A visual schedule will help students focus, prepare for transitions and teach planning and organization. A dynamic visual schedule consists of movable cards that begin in a “to do” column and can be moved by students to a “done” column once the activity or period is completed. Make sure to place your visual schedule in a clearly visible location in your main teaching area, preferably on a neutral background and with little competition from adjacent visuals.