Last weekend, I wrote this post about fidget spinners, which Doug Peterson later reflected on in his This Week In Ontario Edublogs post. I share this here because the day after writing the post, I had an opportunity to see if I was really willing to do what I said. One of our Kindergarten students came to school with a fidget spinner. It was then that I realized that words are easy to write and harder to live by.
This child happened to be sitting in front of me with the fidget spinner. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. He had it spinning for almost all of our meeting time. We only meet as a full class once during the day, and I never really thought that a child would want (or need) this fidget spinner during this time … but he did. I’ll admit that I constantly had to remind myself to think of my blog post and resist the urge to tell him to put it away. While it had my attention, I noticed that none of the other students even turned around to look at him. Nobody asked any questions about the fidget spinner.
- Maybe it was because it wasn’t loud enough to distract others.
- Maybe it was because the student was sitting by me, and the “teacher presence” deterred others from saying anything.
- Maybe it was because he brought this spinner outside in the morning, so many children already saw it. The “newness” was lost now.
While I had to fight my own battle to keep quiet, I managed to do so. The truth is, the spinner did help him focus. He listened to the speaker and contributed to the group discussion. Maybe the spinner wouldn’t be such a big problem after all.
Fast forward to the afternoon: a group of students cleaned off our creative table and brought out the Perler beads to do some beading. This is usually a quiet and calm activity for many students, but it seemed surprisingly loud today. Why? The fidget spinner was out at the table, the child was showing everybody how it worked, and students were passing it around to see which person could make it spin the fastest. Ummm, I was no longer loving this tool quite so much.
I walked over to the table, while trying to figure out what I wanted to say. I’ll admit that I was tempted to respond with, “Put the spinner away,” but then I thought of my last blog post again, and I decided to respond differently. I sat down at the table, and pointed out the fidget spinner to the students. I asked, “Why do we use this tool?” The child that brought it in said, “It makes me feel calm.” A great reason … So then I asked, “Is what we’re doing now with the fidget spinner, calming?” Everybody at the table agreed that it wasn’t. That’s when I asked, “So how could we solve this problem?” The owner of the spinner said that he could, “put it away,” and I suggested that he put it in his backpack so it would be safe. The fidget spinner didn’t come back out for the rest of the day.
The next day, another student brought in a fidget spinner, and we had a similar conversation at a similar time. In both cases though, I was thrilled to see that asking some simple questions led to students solving the problem on their own. Once the students solved the problem on each day, it didn’t occur again during that day. It’s now been three school days, and no more children have brought fidget spinners into our classroom. Could more be coming soon? Likely, yes. Could we need to have some more similar discussions? Possibly … but I’m happy to do so!
The fidget spinner may not work for me, and it may distract me at times, but I’m an adult and can deal with this distraction. Students were not bothered by it on the carpet, and it really did make a difference for some children. I keep thinking about Doug‘s comment on my last post, and wondering if we need to let some things go while addressing other concerns. Do questions allow students to draw their own conclusions while still addressing the areas of need? I wonder how a “question approach” might work in older grades, where the draw of the spinners and the number of students that have them, could far exceed our Kindergarten numbers. What are other educators choosing to do?
I can quite happily play with a slinky while I watch a movie, but I need to be aware that my ADHD son beside me cannot focus on the movie if I have the slinky, and that he & I form a community therefore I need to choose a less obtrusive calming object. The same goes for a classroom- many of the students I teach are distracted by the least movement. I do find elastic bands and c clips (for big books) work well and I have a ready supply in the pocket chart. Five or six kids a day choose them. I love what you said about it at the table. Kids will figure this out with help. It is a lesson in empathy I guess.
Thanks for your comment, Eileen! Excellent point. I think if other kids on the carpet were distracted by the spinner, I may have asked some questions to have helped them figure out a solution to this. I think that I was distracted because he was right in front of me, and from the morning, I already knew he had the spinner so I was really focused on it. I’m guessing that the child that brought a spinner the next day, also had and used it on the carpet (he often uses fidget toys there), but I didn’t even notice his until the afternoon and none of the children did either. Maybe even determining different places on the carpet to sit would help: where the spinners are not in direct view of the people distracted by them. Could this all be a part of “building a community,” and also some “empathy” for those that need these tools? I loved your use of this word, and I think it’s a great word choice in this case.
My students are a little older than yours , and I have a basket with a range of fidgets for everyone to access whenever they need. We talked about why we’d use them and some parameters around not distracting others. It was all very smooth. And then the children started acquiring their own spinners. For some reason their behaviour changed dramatically… All of a sudden the spinners weren’t tools but toys! I took a similar approach to you, with questions and the expectation that they’d problem solve. It was fantastic to witness.
Thanks for your comment, Markeeta! I’m glad that the approach worked so well for your students. Your point about the fidget spinners made me think of this article and Stuart Shanker’s thinking about them.
As much as students wanted these spinners, maybe they didn’t work for all of them. Then, the sheer amount of them used in the room together made them dysregulating instead of self-regulating. I wonder if just a few spinners used by the students that would benefit from them, would make a difference.