Strategies to help students with learning differences improve their focus

Strategies to help students with learning differences improve their focus

1. Begin class with a mindful minute

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The excitement and disruption caused by transitions between classes can be challenging for students and teachers alike. At the beginning of every class, I take 60 seconds to help students focus attention on their breathing and calm their nervous system, helping their brain become ready to learn.

We begin by dimming the lights. In a calm, soothing voice, I ask students to:

  • Sit upright or stand up straight
  • Place their feet flat on the floor
  • Rest their hands on their legs
  • Close their eyes, if they are comfortable
  • Sit up straight by pretending there is a string connecting the top of their head to the ceiling so their chin is parallel to the floor
  • Focus their attention on their breath so they can feel their belly move.

2. Incorporate movement

For some students, it can be difficult to pay attention to what the teacher is saying and sit still. In his book, “Teaching with the Brain in Mind,” Eric Jensen recommends movement as an effective cognitive strategy to strengthen learning, improve memory and retrieval, and enhance learner motivation and morale. Movement helps stimulate neural networks in the brain and increases blood flow, which puts students in a better mindset to think and recall.

3. Take sensory breaks

Sometimes, a little bit of movement in one’s chair isn’t enough. When a student is internalizing feelings such as anxiety, fear or depression, they may externalize these by reacting in an inappropriate manner such as exhibiting aggressiveness, over-activity or noncompliance. The way a teacher reacts when a student displays these external behaviors can shape how the student responds in the future.

4. Build foundational cognitive skills

Attention is a foundational cognitive skill that students need to become successful learners. Many children who have trouble with focus and attention do not process information efficiently, which can impede their listening, reading and learning. We use a neuroscience-based intervention called Fast ForWord to target core areas of weakness, starting in the brain.

5. Create a growth mindset classroom

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According to Stanford University psychology Professor Carol S. Dweck, people with a “fixed mindset” — those who believe basic qualities like intelligence or talent are fixed — are less likely to flourish than those with a “growth mindset” — those who believe that abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. In her book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” Dweck reveals how parents, teachers and others can put this idea to use to help students foster outstanding accomplishment.

By creating a growth mindset classroom, we can help students take more ownership of their learning and achieve their independence. The key is to emphasize the effort that students are putting in, rather than their intellectual ability, therefore helping them learn how to persevere and grow.

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