With most of us back in the classroom after a long stretch of distance learning, we’re seeing a lot of students still trying to adjust back to more traditional classroom environments. Thankfully, I have found some solutions to help improve classroom focus with a little teacher creativity and some of my favorite classroom tools.
I try to approach my classroom in a way that sets students up for success and learn lifelong skills. I want my students to learn valuable collaboration skills, have a growth mindset, and take ownership of their own unique work habits. Think about adults and the variety of ways we learn and work best. Some of us need silence while others appreciate the ability to work with earbuds. Many of us have the flexibility to take a short stretch break as-needed, sit or stand to work, etc. Our students can benefit from similar options!
Classroom Tools vs Toys
First up, whenever we’re discussing learning tools it’s important to make a distinction between tools and toys. I think sometimes we’re hesitant as teachers to allow a little flexibility here because we’re worried about creating a distraction. My students know that a tool is something that helps them do their best in the classroom, but a tool can cross the line into a toy if it becomes a distraction to anyone in the room. When learning tools are used responsibly, then they can actually help everyone do their best.
Remember the “fidget spinner” craze a few years ago? Thankfully there are a lot of (improved!) options to help students get their extra energy out in a less distracting way. If we don’t offer productive options for these students, it sometimes results in behaviors like pencil tapping that distract everyone. Instead, we can offer improved fidgets, texture strips, desk bands for feet, etc. I’ve witnessed first-hand how tools like this can keep students’ hands busy for an entire 30-minute lesson. Them rolling it from hand to hand literally did not impact me or anyone else, but you know who it did impact in a positive way?? That child.
Here are some of my favorites (Amazon affiliate links).
- Texture Strips can be applied to the corner of desks, nametags, notebooks, etc.
- “Koosh” style balls or other squishy objects are quiet ways to keep hands busy
- Resistance bands are stretchy rubber bands that can stretch across chair legs and help students keep their feet busy– silently!
- Marble fidgets are some of my favorites! They don’t make any noise, but they keep little hands busy and on task.
Whole Body Options
Flexible seating is another valuable classroom tool. I’ve shared this post on starting the year with flexible seating and this post on flexible seating tips and tricks in the past, but it’s worth mentioning again. When we can provide a variety of seating options, we can help reach all learners. Allowing students to stand instead of sit is one completely free way to modify your students’ learning environment. For students who prefer to stand, I simply sit them along the back or outer edges of our class. Hokki stools, wobble chairs, wobble cushions, or even stability balls (Amazon affiliate links) are all great whole-body options too.
Finally, incentives and rewards can also be valuable classroom tools. Of course we want our students to be intrinsically motivated, but a little positive reinforcement never hurts either!
One of my favorite inexpensive reward options is our Celebrating Success Sticker Chart. Once per week, my students can come tell me a success they’ve had. It can be something from home, school, friends, etc. I love hearing their successes and having a tiny conversation with them about it. After we’ve chatted about it, they grab a sticker to add to their collection. I have already learned so much about my students, and they love their stickers! Here are some of the sticker packs (Amazon affiliate links) I’ve bought. Be sure to sort through and make sure they’re a good fit for your classroom though, sometimes there are random options in there that need to be pulled out.
Have you heard about desk pets? Don’t worry! These aren't the kind you need to feed, water, or let out! Allowing students to adopt and care for their very own mini eraser, pom pet, etc. can be a fun incentive. We Are Teachers has a great post about using desk pets as classroom tools.
Share Your Classroom Tools
What classroom tools are you seeing success with this year? We’d love to have you join us in our FREE Inspired in Upper Elementary Facebook group to hear what’s working with your students!