A bendy cure for fidgets

11th April 2008 at 01:00
Behaviour expert uses 'concentrators' to control restless boys in class

Taking control of a primary classroom requires acting as a benign dictator and being acutely aware of the differences between the learning habits of boys and girls, according to an education consultant. Fintan O'Regan, who advises on both behaviour and special educational needs, believes classrooms should be like dictatorships - but also flexible.

He said: "I don't believe children should be seen and not heard, but the children's job is to challenge us, and our job is to manage them.

"Boys and girls are different. There is this idea that they're pretty much the same until puberty, but they're not. Girls are better at sitting for longer periods than boys. Boys fidget more."

Rather than trying to persuade boys to sit still, he hands out "concentrators" - bendy plastic toys that they can fiddle with.

Mr O'Regan will be talking at the Early Years and Primary Teaching exhibition (see panel above).

"I advocate allowing children to doodle," he said. "There are certain behaviours which are non-negotiable, but doodling is not a crime."

His approach tallies with research from Liverpool John Moores University, published earlier this year, which found that boys and girls misbehaved in different ways but that teachers did not take it into account and were harder on boys.

The study, by Jeremy Swinson, honorary lecturer at the university, was based on observations at two primary schools.

As The TES reported in January, Dr Swinson found that teachers praised boys and girls equally. But teachers ticked off boys for their behaviour five times more often than girls. He attributed this to girls' more subtle rule-breaking. "Boys tend to shout across the classroom," he said. "But girls are more likely to read a magazine under their desk."

Another way of improving behaviour is through teaching children self-calming techniques. These will be demonstrated at the exhibition by Sarah Bentley, of Jenny Mosley Consultancy. She will discuss how teachers can defuse anger by getting pupils to imagine themselves in a natural environment for a few minutes.

The Early Years and Primary Teaching exhibition in Manchester, organised by The TES, will feature luminaries, such as Pete Dudley, national director of the Primary National Strategy. It will include sessions on work-life balance, brain development, creativity, literacy and maths.

It will be held next Thursday and Friday (April 18-19) at Manchester Central (formerly GMEX). It is expected to attract 6,500 people and more than 160 exhibitors. The show is free, but seminars cost pound;13 in advance and pound;15 on the door.


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