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Don’t Sit Still: Incorporating fidgets into your teaching practice

Environment

Educators often ask students to sit with eyes watching, ears listening, voice quiet, and body still to indicate focus and attention. However, sitting still can be not only difficult, but also detrimental to their ability to concentrate. I have found that fidgeting, if allowed, can help students calm their bodies and focus their minds.

However, though fidgets can help some students concentrate, they can also be disruptive. Students’ desire to fidget can be distracting for both instructors and students, especially when teaching in a stimulus-rich outdoor environment. It is therefore useful to predict these challenges and turn them to your advantage. Teaching students appropriate fidgets can improve student concentration, encourage and validate their desire to engage with the natural world, and normalize preventive discipline. Here are five tips for effectively managing fidgets into your teaching practice.

1. Validate your students’ need to fidget. Start by defining the term. I define a fidget as a small movement of the hands or feet, sometimes involving objects, that aids one’s ability to concentrate. You can ask your students whether they sometimes need to move a little to stay focused. Validate this need, and explain that you will provide them with some tools to help them fidget well.

2. Provide an infrastructure for them to fidget and succeed. I do this by providing 3 Fidget Rules:

  1. Your fidget must be silent.
  2. Your fidget must not distract you or anyone else from the lesson.
  3. Your fidget can’t kill anything that is alive.

You may add stipulations or modify these rules, and these can vary depending on the activity. For example, during discussions I require that my students’ hands or feet may fidget, but their eyes must track the speaker. Give examples of appropriate fidgets.

Hold your students accountable to these rules, and inform them that if their fidget doesn’t follow the rules, you will ask them to change it. The important thing to remember, though, is that fidgets are tools to help students; if a student is choosing a fidget that is not appropriate, focus on changing the fidget to one that aligns with your guidelines rather than removing it.

At the end of your lesson, encourage your students to leave no trace, unless you have a good reason to leave the evidence of their fidgets for others to see.

3. Incorporate fidgets into your group management technique.

Fidgets are a great method of preventive discipline. If a student begins to misbehave or use an inappropriate fidget, instead of a reprimand, the student hears, “please change your fidget.” This validates the student’s need to move, but gently reminds him or her to keep it within your guidelines and to focus on your instruction. This can be a powerful positive learning aid, especially for students accustomed to “getting in trouble” for fidgeting.

I also find it useful to come up with a silent hand signal to alert students to change their fidget. This enables instructors to address inappropriate fidgets without interrupting the flow of their lesson. These can be just about anything, as long as it is something that a student will notice. You could have your students invent the signal, which allows them to take ownership of the concept.

4. Recognize when students fidget well.

As with any challenge, acknowledge your students’ success. When appropriate, applaud your students’ responsible use of fidgets. It can be fun to use fidgets as a debrief tool, or as an avenue for developing relationships with your students. Ask your students what their favorite fidget is, and why. Do their fidgets change when they are outdoors? Do they use fidgets in

their classrooms; if so, how? If not, what kind of fidget could they use to help them focus but not distract others?

5. Use assessment tools to ensure students are learning.

Use these tips for fidgeting in conjunction with formative and summative assessment tools to ensure that your students are learning. If the group isn’t meeting learning goals, there are many changes you can make; some of these changes may involve your fidget guidelines. As with any instructional tool, there are pros and cons to using fidgets as part of your instruction, and the concept can be modified to any number of teaching styles and learning objectives.

A fidget can be a powerful learning tool when used effectively. You may be surprised at the creativity that manifests itself through students’ fidgets. I have been astonished to find nature art creations, meticulously balanced rocks, structures made of twigs and cones, and other treasures left temporarily in a student’s spot after a lesson. Incorporating fidgets into your instruction can provide you with the opportunity to engage your students with the natural world in a meaningful way, focus on your instruction, avoid disruption, and ease your disciplinary challenges.

Educators often ask students to sit with eyes watching, ears listening, voice quiet, and body still to indicate focus and attention. However, sitting still can be not only difficult, but also detrimental to their ability to concentrate. I have found that fidgeting, if allowed, can help students calm their bodies and focus their minds.

However, though fidgets can help some students concentrate, they can also be disruptive. Students’ desire to fidget can be distracting for both instructors and students, especially when teaching in a stimulus-rich outdoor environment. It is therefore useful to predict these challenges and turn them to your advantage. Teaching students appropriate fidgets can improve student concentration, encourage and validate their desire to engage with the natural world, and normalize preventive discipline. Here are five tips for effectively managing fidgets into your teaching practice.

1. Validate your students’ need to fidget. Start by defining the term. I define a fidget as a small movement of the hands or feet, sometimes involving objects, that aids one’s ability to concentrate. You can ask your students whether they sometimes need to move a little to stay focused. Validate this need, and explain that you will provide them with some tools to help them fidget well.

2. Provide an infrastructure for them to fidget and succeed. I do this by providing 3 Fidget Rules:

  1. Your fidget must be silent.
  2. Your fidget must not distract you or anyone else from the lesson.
  3. Your fidget can’t kill anything that is alive.

You may add stipulations or modify these rules, and these can vary depending on the activity. For example, during discussions I require that my students’ hands or feet may fidget, but their eyes must track the speaker. Give examples of appropriate fidgets.

Hold your students accountable to these rules, and inform them that if their fidget doesn’t follow the rules, you will ask them to change it. The important thing to remember, though, is that fidgets are tools to help students; if a student is choosing a fidget that is not appropriate, focus on changing the fidget to one that aligns with your guidelines rather than removing it.

At the end of your lesson, encourage your students to leave no trace, unless you have a good reason to leave the evidence of their fidgets for others to see.

3. Incorporate fidgets into your group management technique.

Fidgets are a great method of preventive discipline. If a student begins to misbehave or use an inappropriate fidget, instead of a reprimand, the student hears, “please change your fidget.” This validates the student’s need to move, but gently reminds him or her to keep it within your guidelines and to focus on your instruction. This can be a powerful positive learning aid, especially for students accustomed to “getting in trouble” for fidgeting.

I also find it useful to come up with a silent hand signal to alert students to change their fidget. This enables instructors to address inappropriate fidgets without interrupting the flow of their lesson. These can be just about anything, as long as it is something that a student will notice. You could have your students invent the signal, which allows them to take ownership of the concept.

4. Recognize when students fidget well.

As with any challenge, acknowledge your students’ success. When appropriate, applaud your students’ responsible use of fidgets. It can be fun to use fidgets as a debrief tool, or as an avenue for developing relationships with your students. Ask your students what their favorite fidget is, and why. Do their fidgets change when they are outdoors? Do they use fidgets in

their classrooms; if so, how? If not, what kind of fidget could they use to help them focus but not distract others?

5. Use assessment tools to ensure students are learning.

Use these tips for fidgeting in conjunction with formative and summative assessment tools to ensure that your students are learning. If the group isn’t meeting learning goals, there are many changes you can make; some of these changes may involve your fidget guidelines. As with any instructional tool, there are pros and cons to using fidgets as part of your instruction, and the concept can be modified to any number of teaching styles and learning objectives.

A fidget can be a powerful learning tool when used effectively. You may be surprised at the creativity that manifests itself through students’ fidgets. I have been astonished to find nature art creations, meticulously balanced rocks, structures made of twigs and cones, and other treasures left temporarily in a student’s spot after a lesson. Incorporating fidgets into your instruction can provide you with the opportunity to engage your students with the natural world in a meaningful way, focus on your instruction, avoid disruption, and ease your disciplinary challenges.

About the Author
Katie Sweeney

Katie hails from Sacramento, CA, and received her undergraduate degree in Philosophy from Seattle University. After working in an after-school setting, she decided to combine her love for the outdoors and teaching in IslandWood’s Education for Environment and Community graduate program. A musician and business owner alongside her work as an educator, Katie spends her free time tending her urban garden, reading, biking, and enjoying science fiction. Katie is a currently an M.Ed. candidate at the University of Washington.