Tips for Teachers
Teachers have a profound impact on the kids we describe as "spirited", "ADD" and even "gifted" (hereafter I will use the term "spirited"). I know this because I've received so many letters from parents who describe a child as well-behaved and attentive for one teacher and a problem-child for another, and have had similar experiences myself. I've also had many teachers share their thoughts and experiences with me.
Tip #1 Be a Friend, not a Foe
Do you really truly like the spirited child? Do you see his gifts and understand his difficulties? The teachers who are successful with these kids are the ones who are enthusiastic about teaching them. Spirited children know if you don't like them, and they very often react by acting out or spacing out. They give up. On the other hand, spirited children can respond strongly to a teacher who really understands them. As a teacher, are you a friend or foe of the spirited child? The following questionnaire will give you an idea.
If your attitude leans towards the "Foe" end of the spectrum, then the single most important thing you can do is to become educated about spirited children. Suggested reading: "The Edison Trait: Dynamos, Discoverers and Dreamers". If you are already a Friend, then you are probably very good with spirited kids. Feel free to volunteer your tips! (See below).
Tip #2: Place easily distracted children at the front of the room, away from windows. That way they can't see all the things going on behind him. And place him next to calm students that won't temp him to misbehave.
Tip #3: Accommodate the "Mover" in your classroom. Is the child the type that actually learns better while moving? You may be shocked at how a child pacing around a room, seemingly not paying attention, might actually be listening more closely than if he was sitting at his desk looking at you. Experiment. Give the child simple physical tasks like cleaning the blackboard while you are talking. Another option: Give the child two desks. Let him move from one desk to the other at any time. Movers are not defective - they will grow up to be adults that are great at thinking on their feet.
Tip #4: Be very, very clear and specific about rules and consequences. Some of these kids are just incredibly persistent rule testers. Be very specific and give younger children a stepped warning system (such as green light, yellow light, red light) so they know how they are doing. A poor choice of consequence is loss of recess time. The spirited child needs recess time desperately and will only act worse without it.
Tip #5: Be cautious with charts and stickers because they may backfire in the long run. They do not teach the child self-discipline. Rather, they teach the child to behave only if he will get a reward. The "Abuse It - Lose It" form of teaching self discipline is preferable for chronically disruptive kids if the parents are willing (see www.keirsey.com). This method requires the school to send the child home immediately if the child disrupts the classroom, but without any punishment, reminders, or lectures by school staff or parents. It works by eliminating what the child wants most: attention.
Tip #6: Reduce or eliminate homework. Give younger kids enough time to do the work at school. They are at school all day long, after all. Homework is a living nightmare for spirited kid (and their parents!), not because of the work but because it requires organizational skills that have not yet developed in the child.
Tip #7: Teach to the visual/spatial learner. Many children labeled ADD, including gifted children, are visual/spatial learners with verbal weaknesses. Think how you would teach a deaf child. When you talk the visual/spatial learner hears "blah, blah, blah." He needs to SEE something before it sinks in. They are also holistic learners who do not like to learn sequentially. Phonics, spelling and simple arithmetic and handwriting are often a problem, but there are ways around that. Pick up the book "Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World" by Jeffrey Freed, which is packed with teaching tips for visual/spatial learners. And be sure to develop the child's talents in spatial thinking.
Tip #8: Be on the alert for family problems. A child may be unfocused or acting out because of problems at home. If so, the child needs a friend and confidant at school.
Tip #9: Be alert for problems with peers. A child may be tuning out because he is depressed or anxious and preoccupied with the fact that nobody likes him. Let parents know if you think the child is having trouble with other kids. And help ensure your school has an aggressive program to prevent bullying.
Tip #10: Give lots of positive attention to extraverted types. If they don't get the positive attention they crave, they'll settle for negative attention instead. And if they think you like them, they'll try harder to please you.
Tip #11: Give bright children material that is appropriate for their abilities. NEVER assume bright children will just be OK if they go at the same pace as everyone else. Studies have clearly shown gifted children to be an "at risk" group. But don't make them do all the same boring stuff as all the other kids and then just give them additional "enrichment" work. Do you take them for a schmuck? That's just more work! Instead, REPLACE work that is too easy with work that is more appropriate. Consider skipping gifted children a grade in one or all subjects. Although schools are often against it, studies show it is highly effective when children want to skip a grade and have no existing social problems. Be aware that schools teach bright kids to underachieve, and it can be very hard to unteach this habit of underachievement in older kids. Learn about gifted (and bright) children. Most teachers are unbelievably ignorant about this subject.
Tip#12: Foster healthy eating habits in the school. Some of these kids are reacting to junk foods containing food colors made from petroleum, man-made transfats, and lots of carbohydrates. And beverages containing caffeine! Many parents of spirited children try dietary changes only to have their efforts sabotaged by schools selling all kinds of food not fit for human consumption. What is the point of teaching nutrition classes to these kids and then giving them pure junk?
Tip #13: Allow doodling and off-task activities if it helps the student to pay attention. Some kids seem to need to do more than one thing at a time. This is known as multitasking, and it is a wonderful ability. A child may actually be doing homework for another class or draw cartoons while listening to your lecture. As long as the child is doing OK in your class, don't stop this behavior. It may actually be helping the child to pay attention. This is particularly true of bright children who are bored.
Special tips for Middle School, High School and College: As lectures get longer, bear in mind that spirited kids are often visual/spatial thinkers and after a while all your words turn into a big mushy mess to them. They need to SEE what you are saying. Either write it down, or show them a picture. It is best if you supply them with detailed written notes so they can try and focus on what you are saying during the lecture without become frustrated at having to simultaneously write it all down (most also have poor handwriting). Give lecture notes before the class.
It may be difficult for them to focus closely on a lecture for very long, so there is a good chance that they will tune out after a bit even if they are trying very hard to pay attention. If you do not supply them with written material they will then have a gap in the lecture. This is often terminal in math classes, which are sequential. If you are a math teacher, PLEASE provide written material to your student! Don't just cop a nasty attitude towards these kids because some of them are really trying. How would you teach a deaf child? Would you be angry because they cannot hear you? Think of it that way because many spirited children have auditory difficulties: write everything down on paper for them. The best way to teach math for these kids is to use a text book that has a companion work-book. Math teachers should also be aware that many of these kids are math-phobic yet have a high aptitude for higher math, especially spatial math like geometry. Einstein was a very strong visual/spatial thinker who did not like math in school and was not good at simple arithmetic - it was not until a relative began to play number games with Einstein that his gift was discovered.
For college teachers: Make everything available in writing either by handing out notes, posting them on the Internet, or closely following a textbook. My only F in college was the direct result of a professor who did not believe in following any textbook or supplying us with notes. When I couldn't make sense of my notes there was no way for me to learn the material. Conversely, some of my highest grades came in classes that I rarely attended, but for which I diligently studied the written material that was provided. Ask yourself how you would handle a deaf student - would you make a big deal about them listening to your lecture? Or would you provide them with written materials? Do the same with your visual/spatial learners because their verbal difficulties often result in your lectures not being absorbed, as if the person was deaf. The student soon learns that time spent listening to lectures is wasted time. Give them written material and don't take attendance. And bear in mind that their preferred method of learning is the one most valued in the real world!
Have additional tips? Post them at the Born To Explore Discussion Board and I'll see them.
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