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Fidget Widgets Can Enhance Learning in Middle School Classrooms (Part 1)

We've all been there -- after countless hours planning, preparing, and anticipating a rigorous learning activity that's also fun and engaging, we feel disappointed, stressed, or frustrated afterward because a few restless students distracted the entire class from enjoying -- or even completing -- the lesson. Drumming, tapping, off-task talking, irrelevant giggling, clicking pens, excess bathroom breaks, never-ending pencil sharpening, rummaging, and fidgeting not only distracted on-task students from learning, but made it difficult for the teacher to focus, too.

Middle school bodies are physically changing -- skeletal structures are changing daily and students genuinely need to stretch, squirm, wiggle, and fidget to comfortably accommodate their (literal) growing pains. While fidgeting is developmentally appropriate for middle schoolers, it can be harnessed and intentionally focused so that it's not only less distracting, but also enhances learning!

Fidget widgets to the rescue! When used correctly, fidget tools -- or fidget widgets, as I call them . . .
  • Increase active listening
  • Calm anxiety and/or restlessness
  • Channel excess energy
  • Accommodate students' developmental need for movement
  • Help students focus and concentrate on the task or activity at hand
  • Increase learning

That's right . . . fidgeting during class can actually increase learning because it engages both hemispheres of the brain and helps students focus and concentrate on learning activities!

The effective use of fidget widgets in middle school classrooms takes a bit of pre-teaching. Students need to know how they can use these tools:
  • Use fidgets silently
  • Fidgets are for your hands, not your eyes
  • Keep fidgets under the desk or table, or on your lap

. . . and they need to know how they cannot use fidgets:
  • Fidgets cannot be thrown, tossed, or otherwise transported across the classroom
  • Fidgets cannot be used in the air, above your head, or where they will distract from learning
  • Fidgets cannot be used as eye glasses, megaphones, air guitars, vehicles, or airplanes

Students may not always remember to grab a fidget when they need one. Don't hesitate to walk over during class, nab a fidget out of the basket, and silently place it within a student's work space. This is a silent cue to the student to channel their energy in a less distracting way.

You may also need a silent signal indicating that a fidget is being misused and the student is about to lose the privilege of using it for the rest of that class period if their actions don't immediately change. <insert your most teacher-y teacher look here>

After a bit of pre-teaching, keep a container of fidget widgets near the classroom door. Invite students to take one any time they need to keep restless fingers busy and minds focused. Remind them to drop their fidgets back in the basket as they leave class.

Fidget widgets help channel restlessness, decrease distracting behaviors, and increase focus and concentration for middle school students. Incorporating them into your everyday classroom management plan differentiates your classroom learning space and optimizes your middle school classroom for all learners -- a superb bonus!

Ready to incorporate fidgets into your Middle School classroom management plan? Click here to read about 12 of my favorite fidgets and a couple of super budget-friendly do-it-yourself fidgets . . . and leave a note below telling us about your favorite fidget widgets and how you use them in your class!

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