- Adopt a ‘Silent Signal’ (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). You can redirect overactive students in a low-key manner by using a silent signal. Meet privately with the student and identify for the student those motor or verbal behaviors that appear to be most distracting. With the student’s help, select a silent signal that you can use to alert the student that his or her behavior has crossed the threshold and now is distracting others. Role-play several scenarios with the student in which you use the silent signal and the student then controls the problem behavior. When you are able to successfully use the ‘silent signal’ during instruction, be sure to praise the student privately for responding appropriately and promptly to your signal.
- Encourage Acceptable Outlets for Motor Behavior (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). If the student distracts other students by playing with objects, substitute an alternative motor behavior that will not distract others. Give the student a soft ‘stress ball’ and encourage the student to squeeze it whenever he or she feels the need for motor movement. Or if the setting is appropriate, allow the student to chew gum as a replacement motor behavior.
- Have the Student Monitor Motor Behaviors and Call-Outs (DuPaul & Stoner, 2002). Students can often change problem behaviors when they pay attention to those behaviors. Have the student monitor his or her motor behaviors or call-outs. First, choose a class period or part of the day when you want the student to monitor distracting behaviors. Next, meet privately with the student to discuss which of that student’s behaviors are distracting. Then, together with the student, design a simple distractible behavior-rating form with no more than 3 items (For a student who calls out frequently, for example, a useful rating item might be “How well did I observe the rule today of raising my hand and being called on before giving an answer? Poor – Fair – Good”.) Have the student rate his or her behaviors at the end of each class period. Make an effort to praise the student (a) for being accurate in rating behaviors, and (b) for any improvements that you see in the student’s behaviors over time.
- Ignore Low-Level Motor Behaviors (Sprick, Borgmeier & Nolet, 2002; U.S. Department of Education, 2004). Selective ignoring can be an effective teacher response to minor fidgeting or other motor behaviors. If the student’s ‘fidgety’ behaviors are relatively minor and do not seriously derail classroom instruction, the teacher should simply not pay attention to them.
- Remove Unnecessary Items From the Student’s Work Area (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). Students who tend to distract themselves and others by playing with objects behave better when their work area is uncluttered. Take away (or direct the student to put away) any items that the student does not need for the work assignment but might be tempted to play with (e.g., extra pens, paper clips).
- Seat the Student Next to Distraction-Resistant Peers (Kerr & Nelson, 1998). One useful strategy for managing low-level motor behaviors is to seat the student next to peers who can generally ignore those behaviors. Rearrange seating in the classroom so that the student is sitting near peers who are good behavior models and are not readily distracted by that student’s minor fidgety movements or playing with objects.
- Select a ‘Supportive Peer’ with the student (DuPaul & Stoner, 2002). Handpick a classmate who has a good relationship with the student but is not easily drawn off-task and appoint that student as a ‘helper peer’. Meet privately with the student and the helper peer. Tell the peer that whenever he or she notices that the student’s verbal or motor behavior has risen to the level of distracting others, the peer should give the student a brief, quiet, non-judgmental signal (e.g., a light tap on the shoulder) to control the behavior. Role-play several scenarios so that the peer knows when he or she can ignore the student’s low-level motor behaviors and when the peer should use a signal to alert the student to more distracting behaviors.
- Use Brief, Discreet Reminders About Appropriate Behavior and Conduct (DuPaul & Stoner, 2002; Sprick, Borgmeier & Nolet, 2002). Provide students with brief reminders of expected behaviors at the ‘point of performance’, when they will most benefit from it. Consider using structured prompts such as the following for students who tend to blurt out answers: “When I ask this question, I will give the class 10 seconds to think of your best answer. Then I will call on one student.”