Children who can’t sit still in the classroom

There is a given set of classroom accommodations for children who are on the move. These are well thought out for the child’s needs but how much can teachers in our crowded Indian schools implement?

A typical classroom in our schools has at least 30 students for one teacher. No matter how uniform the syllabus and workbooks are, the weeding out process during admissions can never create a homogenous group of students in the classroom. A single professional in the classroom may be the kindest, most capable person, but it does not mean that she or he will be able to provide the necessary support in the classroom.


Supportive and invested teachers most often have that built-in antenna that tell them a kid needs more support than the average student. They know how to provide the support as well. What stops them from doing the needful?

A good teacher knows that getting students ready for academic learning is as important as covering the weekly portions. Welcoming the students as they begin the school year, helping them learn and follow classroom routines, developing a group identity, fostering positive peer interactions, all these are just second nature to the teacher. Given the heavy workload and a class strength of thirty students (if the teacher is lucky) there is a significant gap between knowing what to do and being able to do it.

In this mix throw in a kid who does not stay put, who will not start the task, or work at the same pace as the rest of the class, what can you do?

Getting them ready to work

1) Start the day with movement. If you can go outdoors or to the gym that is great. If not, put on some music and dance. Include some jumping, twisting/wiggling and if you have the room—movements on their stomach. At the end of the movement session, throw in some deep breathing. Deep breathing works.

2) Tweak the timetable so that the students do not work on similar tasks for more than 30 minutes. While the Indian educational system doesn’t allow the teacher or the school to make sufficient instructional accommodations, alternatives can be provided in the classroom. Give the wiggly student a different place to do the desk work. Some students prefer to stand (as long as the child is not standing for more than 5 minutes), and others may like to lie down on their stomach. In that case, give them a pillow or cushion to support their upper body. It is okay to let them change position.

3) Let students run errands for you—give them a few books to give to another teacher. Pair with a quiet, compliant peer if need be. Give this child plenty of opportunities to move—within the parameters that you set for him.

Initiating a task

While giving instructions to the class, stand near the student who needs the extra support. Proximity helps tremendously.

If the student is not shy, then ask him or her to show the rest of the class what to do. Kids love to tell others what to do. Standing up in front of the class and telling the others to “Open your book to page number 11 and write the answers,” is very motivating for this child.

Visuals, visuals, visuals! We tend to give all our directions as auditory information. When the child is moving around so much, he may not hear the entire direction. Invariably there is going to be some missing piece in his work. Having the behavioral expectations set out in a visual form helps this student tremendously. If you can draw, wonderful. If not google pictures or use boardmaker widgets to create a picture checklist. Older kids can use typewritten checklists.

Busywork: Sometimes the ‘active’ student finishes his work while you are busy with others. Not being occupied can be difficult for this student. Have some busywork set aside for such moments. It does not have to be the similar to whatever they were working on right at that moment. One school had each student bring a picture book for the class reading corner. That is thirty books right there for the kids to browse in a month. For older kids, prepare a package with mixed work—reading, card games, coloring, and other hands-on activities. Once they complete their classwork students can find their package and get to work on them.

One to one Assistance: Recognize that for some kids there is no substitute for a one to one assistant. Getting these students that assistance before they fall behind their peers is important.

When you assess the need for assistance, keep these two factors in mind:

  1. How is the student’s current performance compared to that at the beginning of the academic year?
  2. How is the student’s performance compared to that of his peers?

The former tells you how the student adapts to the routine, and the pace at which he progresses while the latter tells you where he needs to be. These two determine the level of work you have to do to bring him there—with an aide, instructional and other accommodations, and possibly some tutorial support.

Some students may settle down after the first four weeks of school, but they will need extra support to get back into a routine after every break. Your goal for this student should include thinking ahead. Will he/she be able to keep up with peers say five years from now? Will the behaviors that interfere with learning subside or will they continue to influence the student’s performance? It is better to provide intensive support at the beginning and wean them gradually than to struggle to catch up later.

In some cases, you will meet with resistance from parents. Consistent and clear communication from the beginning to show how you work with the child will allay parent concerns. Keep them updated with all the strategies you implement. Organize your information into the types of accommodations you provided:

Did you change the seating?

Did you give plenty of opportunities to move?

Did you change instruction—by calling student over to your desk?

Did you pair the student with a peer?

Did you provide visuals?

List any other accommodation you provided.

When you can demonstrate that you tried every avenue, and the student continues to need support, you can make a case for that one to one assistant. One missing piece in our Indian school system is the lack of written documentation of how you arrived at this conclusion. School administrators should take note and put a system in place—whether it is by email or by written document.

Quite often parents will send the child to tutoring. Tutoring may help with completing classwork or homework, and even comprehension because it is in a small group. The essential skill of having to attend in class (in a group of thirty) will still be a problem. This child will still be distracted or disruptive in the classroom taking away from your teaching. So be clear about the kind of assistance you want the parents to get for their child—educational testing, occupational therapy (for the young kid), and/or a coach to teach organizational skills.

Along with these, there are a few ‘old worldly’ ideas teachers should let go.

Never use PE period to complete classwork. That is the one class this child should not miss.

Do not insist that the child stands up straight. The longer you focus on the position, the harder it is for the child.

If a child writes slowly, consider typewritten work.

Parents have a role in the whole process. Before you send your kids to school, get them ready for school? How?

Teach them to do tasks independently. Let them learn to pick their clothes, eat on their own, color or read by themselves. Do you find yourself doing the work dressing your child, packing his bags, tying shoelaces, etc.? That is acceptable when in a hurry. On other days plan ahead, so your child learns these skills, however, imperfect they are. If it is difficult for you to do this with one child, remember the teacher may have to do this with more than one child AND teach in the classroom.

There may come a time when you have to seek appropriate professional help. Educational testing informs you about how your child learns to enable his teachers to provide the right kind of support he needs. A good coach will teach organizational skills and other coping skills. Ultimately it teaches your child to manage his behaviors that interfere with his learning.


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