Learning at home is very different than learning at school and we need to support our students to do their best in this new environment. We can use strategies we already use in the classroom and share them with students and families to help them focus and be successful.
Directions to support independence
Helping children focus on their work starts with making sure they understand their work! Giving directions need to be clear and simple. It helps to have visual steps that break down the task and that stay up so students can keep coming back to if they are stuck. Seesaw is great at this. Keep the language as simple as possible – just say exactly what’s expected. When students seem off task, ask them what they should be doing. If they aren’t sure, show them where they can look. Whenever students struggle, take this as a learning opportunity. Teach them to be independent by using the resources you provide. I always like to provide an example for my students to see what the finished product should look like, and that students can keep coming back to in order to keep track of the different steps.
Tools to help students stay focused
I love timers to help my students stay focused. In the classroom, I use these sand timers all the time (Items have Amazon affiliate link for your convenience) as well as this visual timer for the whole class. Well, it’s a little harder to use these tools with my remote students. So, I found this wonderful online timer. There are many different options, but I like the visual of the circle going down, along with the numbers going down. You can also use a variety of timers on YouTube that include relaxing music or beautiful imagery. I find these can be distracting to some students, so I try and find simple ones with just the numbers.
In the classroom, I use headphones and privacy shields to help my students focus. The headphones help the students block out any noise from around the classroom that could be distracting, and the privacy shields help the students to focus in on their work, instead of seeing what other students are doing. At home, these options may not be available to students. However, we can still support our students to use similar strategies at home. For example, can they turn their computer to be looking at a wall, instead of out into the living room.
Loosen your control
In the classroom, but especially at home, there are so many little things that teachers often want to control to support their classroom management that actually may not be the best for our students. Some students may want to stand while working. This is true at school and its true at home. You may want to look and see your students sitting calmly at their desks working, but it may not be what’s best for them. Does it really matter if they are standing or bouncing while they work? No, it doesn’t. At school, I like to offer wiggle seats to students or put bands around the chair legs, as well as let my students stand if they want, or lay on the floor. I want my students to choose the spot that works best for them, and same for them at home.
Another place that teachers might feel the need to control is over the use of food and drinks. At school, I always let my students have water bottles with them when they are working. Occupational Therapists say that water bottles with straws have been shown to help some students stay focused. In terms of food, in school we have designated food times, but if my students were hungry or not finished with their food, I would let them finish while working. At home, we really can’t understand all that is happening and how our student’s day completely looks. Let students eat while they work and learn. Can you focus well if you are hungry? No! And for some students, having that crunching input really helps them to stay on task.
One final thought about control – this is still a global pandemic and there is still a lot of hard feelings about what is happening. Additionally, students are not used to learning at home and this new way of learning (neither are us teachers!). They will not be completing the same amount of work you are used to seeing from students. Lessen your workload expectations and meet your students where they are this year. Help them to be successful by purposefully choosing a few engaging activities.
Breaks help students focus!
If your schedule doesn’t put breaks in for you, make breaks. In between academic areas or in the middle of one, know you students and decide when the best time for breaks is. Consistently have breaks for all students. Let them get up and move. Additionally, as you watch your students and start to see them getting tired or wiggly, stop what you’re doing and give everyone a quick stretch and/or movement break.
Some students need more breaks than others. You can let them earn more breaks by completing work. For students like this, chunk their work expectations to reasonable chunks to support them earning their breaks. For example, these are charts I gave a student that helped visually show what they needed to complete in order to earn a break, and then afterwards they start over again.
We cannot control our child’s home environment. However, there are steps we can take to support our students. Start the day with a visual schedule and have this schedule available to families and students throughout the day. I send a weekly email to families and use the same schedule every morning to show students how our day will look. Knowing how their day will look will help students focus on the task at hand, instead of wondering what will happen next.
I also like to have quiet, calming music playing in the background while working, especially at the start of our class meetings to ease into the transition. I love the “Piano Chill” playlist on Apple Music.
Less is more
While you can’t control what is going on at home, you can control what the children are seeing on their screens. Choose less text, fewer images, just less. Keep what your children see simple.
Before you start academics, or if you notice that students are struggling with their focus, stop everyone and hold a mindful moment. My favorite is 5 finger breathing, as you can see here. Any kind of deep breathing will work. Teach them these mindfulness strategies and then give them chances to use them before putting academic demands on them. GoNoodle also has some great calming videos, like Melt. If you’re looking for a longer mindfulness session, check out Cosmic Kids Yoga!
We can’t control what our students work environment looks like at home. However, we can share these helpful tips with students and families to help students stay focused on their work. We can also use strategies we already do in the classroom within our remote teaching to support our students.
If you’re looking for more support with helping students stay focused, check out my social emotional curriculum: Fantastic Focusers!
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