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In the know - Attention over here

It's a simple instruction: sit still and listen. How difficult can it be? But many children have problems sitting and focusing on the teacher. Children are often stimulated by different media at the same time: TV, iPod, Xbox, none of which care if the child is sitting quietly or not. So how do you get them to actively listen in a classroom without being active?

Provide a focal point for your teaching. Get children into a routine so that when you stand or sit in a particular position, it's a cue that they should listen to you. Use a short, catchy piece of music to indicate a change from one activity to another, perhaps from doing to listening - pupils should be sitting quietly by the time the music stops. Use positive praise for those who quickly get into place and sit quietly. The younger the child, the more difficult they will find sitting still.

How to stop fidgets:

- Try to be more accepting of motor activity, especially in younger children.

- Provide fidgety pupils with Blu-Tack to play with rather than noisy pens, pencils or rulers.

- Monitor quiet behaviour by using a timer and turn it into a competition to increase the quiet listening time.

- Provide a separate study area for fidgets if possible. Allow enough room for activity so the child does not disturb others.

- Put pupil movement to good use instead of stifling it. You could let them deliver messages.

- If the over-activity is potentially harmful, for example, rocking on a seat, establish a rule for all to see. Be sure to enforce it.

- If the fidgeting continues it may be due to many different factors - discuss with other members of staff such as the special needs co-ordinator, the school nurse or the educational psychologist.

James Williams is a lecturer in education at the University of Sussex.

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