Today, for the first time, I think I finally get it. When you're dealing with highly distractible children incorporate movement into everything you teach. I'd heard it, but I didn't get it. Until today. How do you incorporate movement into a language arts lesson? Math, sure... build with your little blocks, move the blocks from one pile to another, there's lots of movement in math. Language arts... not so much. Or so I thought until this morning.
Chris knows the alphabet upside down and backwards (really). He knows all the sounds the letters make. He has not had good success decoding words by sounding them out. It is much more likely he will guess what the word is based on it's initial letter and the overall shape of the word. For months we have struggled with this. I get so annoyed because the whole time I want him to look at the word he fidgets. He plays with his pencil. He taps his fingers on the arm of his chair. He crumples paper with his feet. He stands on books. If there aren't books on the floor, he puts books on the floor. It makes me so mad I could just scream.
Today we found my old Boggle game in the top of his closet. He really wanted to play, even though he didn't have a clue what Boggle is. Hmmm, I thought to myself. There's a box full of little blocks with letters on 6 sides. Gee, whatever could we do with letter blocks? Hmmm.... I think we could.... wait, wait, it's coming to me...... Gasp! We could build words!!!! It was exciting. It was new. It involved movement.
And yet... he still messed around with stuff with his feet. There had to be more we could do to make this work and keep me from strangling him for fidgeting. We buzzed right along through the words Ted, bed, Fred and shed.... and then.... we got to the word red. It should be simple. But it wasn't. Even after reading all the other "ed" words, red wasn't making sense to Chris. And he kept crumpling papers with his feet (where do these papers come from, I wonder? I'm sure the floor was clean when we started). Why can't this child read the simple word "red"? How hard can this be? I mean he's guessing all over the place and half his guesses don't even end in "ed".
The fidgeting was driving me mad (literally)! I had to stop it! Carol Barnier's voice (look up Sizzlebop.com if you're not familiar with Carol) suddenly spoke inside my head. I very clearly heard her beginning to say, "If you don't give a highly distractible child something to do with their body they will choose something on their own, and I can pretty much guarantee... it will drive you nuts." Soooooo...... I made him hop. Left foot... "rrrr"..... right foot....."ed"...left food "r" ... right foot... "ed" left foot... "r" right foot... "ed", and so on until he'd done the whole word 10 times. At the end we jumped with both feet and when we landed we shouted, "RED!" It worked so well we did the whole rest of the lesson the same way. At the end I would give him the word to spell and he would choose the blocks and build the word. Then I built the words and he read them. And he got it. And so did I.
I think that chairs will no longer have a place in our language arts lessons. Only time will tell if he retains what he's learning, but he surely understood more at the end of our lesson today than he ever has before. He even spelled some words on his own. It was our first really difficult "ah ha!" moment. I am so proud of us for trying something new and succeeding with it.