Structuring Your Classroom

Some problem behaviors can be handled or even prevented by simply changing how your classroom looks, or how you present material to children. This could mean anything from changing children’s seating arrangements to letting them set their own pace in doing schoolwork. Following are some changes you may want to think about in structuring your classroom.

  1. Reducing Classroom Stimuli. Do hyperactive children learn better in a classroom bulging with color and things to look at, or a classroom bare of color with nothing worth looking at except what is on the blackboard? My guess is the stimuli-reduced classroom. My reason is that too many distractions may pull hyperactive children’s attention away from their schoolwork. Although this sounds reasonably logical, I think, it has not been proven in research. In fact, some studies have shown that hyperactive children work better in stimulating environments. These results have been interpreted as meaning that stimuli-enriched environments reduce hyperactive children’s need for more stimulation, thereby also reducing their distractible, overactive behavior.

All hyperactive children do not learn alike, and even the same child may learn differently in the same classroom environment depending on factors like his mood, how tired he is, and how close it is to his lunchtime. For these reasons it may be more realistic to adapt a flexible approach to stimuli: put up the colorful posters, but also have a study carrel available for those times when children have problems paying attention. Be careful the carrel is not relegated as a place where children go when they’re bad. It should be available to any child who needs it.

  1. Positioning Desks. The preferred spot for hyperactive and problem children is close to the front of the class. This makes it easier for you to keep an eye on what they are doing. Other recommendations are having children sit in rows rather than around tables, spacing problem children’s desks further apart, and placing their desks away from windows. Do not box a child in a corner away from all the other children. Besides being humiliating and demoralizing, these strategies confirm for the child that he does not fit in with everybody else.
  2. Establishing a Routine. Hyperactive children need a predictable learning environment. This means keeping the pencil sharpener in the same place, teaching lessons in the same order, and avoiding sudden unexpected surprises. If you are planning a change in your classroom routine, warn children ahead of time so they know what to expect. Be careful, however, not to warn them too far in advance, especially if it’s a special event they may get impatient or wound-up waiting for. You could find yourself answering, “No, not yet,” every second minute beforehand.
  3. Redirecting Excess Energy. Give hyperactive children regular opportunities to get out of their seats and move around. These can be physical exercises like jumping jacks and push-ups, or purposeful jobs such as emptying wastebaskets, taking messages to the office, and collecting papers from other children. Jobs also give children the added bonus of being helpful and feeling important.
  4. Adapting Tasks to Children’s Learning Style. Many hyperactive and problem children have difficulty learning, which may require changes in how you teach them. Here are some options for you to consider:

(a) shortening lessons, keeping them within children’s attention span ability

(b) ensuring children’s success by starting them off with tasks you know they can do

(c) making their tasks interesting so children are motivated to finish them

(d) highlighting the important parts of an assignment so children know where to focus their attention

(e) incorporating tangible manipulative aids and multisensory techniques in helping children learn

(f) letting children set their own pace for learning, and giving them bits rather than chunks of work so they don’t feel overwhelmed

(g) giving children as much individual attention as you can afford

(h) monitoring their group activities–hyperactive children typically do not have the patience to work with other children

(i) being prepared to back up, change tasks, and reset expectation levels on a continuous basis.

Keeping these ideas in mind will help you get the most from the strategies you implement in your classroom.