Positive Behavior Supports: Inattentive/Unfocused

Unfocused and inattentive students are a frequent concern of teachers in all grade levels, especially lower elementary. Following are Tier 1 supports and Tier 2 interventions to help these students become successful:

Tier 1 supports work for the whole class:

1. Most importantly, notice and support them when they are paying attention. Call them by name and say “I like how you are listening… participating… cooperating… writing…focused… attending… helping others…”

2. Take breaks or give the student extra movement breaks in the form of errands. They might walk a note to the office, sharpen the dull pencil bucket, or collect library books around the classroom. This gives them an opportunity to refocus and get back to work on the assigned task.

3. Call on them to respond to questions or share their work. This gives you an opportunity to see where they are in the process and call their attention back to the assigned task.

4. Make sure you have their attention before giving directions. If they do not respond when you say “all eyes on me,” you should say or do something additional to get their attention. This might be something like asking all the boys to stand or everyone in a red shirt to touch their nose. After a direction or two, this child will want to join the fun, then you can start your lesson or give your directions.

5. Chunk or break down assignments into smaller pieces. This could mean folding or cutting the worksheet or rubric to only show the first section where the student should begin. This may help students who struggle with too much information and get lost in the details that are meant to be used later in the project.

6. Ask students to repeat directions back. Call on multiple students to repeat the directions you have given, including the student who often seems to not be listening.

7. Post procedures and Expectations where they can be referred back to if they get lost or forget a step in the process. Children often forget the first step or two and start on step three if they are not written down.

Tier 2 interventions are for the few who need extra input to be successful:

1. Talk to parents, let them know about the struggles you see in their child. They may see the same thing at home but have not sought outside supports because they were not aware it was affecting their school work.

2. Use a timer to help students who need reminders to initiate or complete an assigned task.

3. Decrease distractions by turning their desk away from areas of excess movement or activity in the classroom.

4. Teach them to use reflective statements to repeat back to you the directions that you have given. “what I heard you say is…” or ” now you want us to…”

5. Students who are unfocused or inattentive may need help organizing information, materials, and ideas.

6. Use a highlighter to identify key points on which the student should focus when completing a task.

7. Check-in with the student frequently to be sure they are on task and not lost in thought.

There are many ways a teacher can support an inattentive/unfocused student. It may take some time to determine the function of the distraction and how to move past it. The more you spend time working with the student on staying alert and comprehending the expectations, the better he should be at keeping on task.


Positive Behavior Support: Consistency

Consistency is key! Dictionary.com defines consistency as “steadfast adherence to the same principles, course, form, etc.” Consistency in the classroom is the key to managing and teaching new skills to all students. These skills include everything from where to keep materials to how to behave. Students who are not taught consistent behavior and classroom management skills are not as capable of maintaining order in the classroom setting. Students need to know that what you expected of them on Friday will be the same thing you expect of them next Wednesday. Without this consistency, there is confusion. Where there is confusion in a classroom, there is frustration and lack of control. Not only is the teacher frustrated and feeling out of control, but the students are frustrated, possibly anxious, and lacking in the boundaries necessary to control their own behavior. Yes, a behavior is a choice, BUT, if students are not given guidelines for expected behavior they are unsure of what that should look like in this particular setting. This is the reason why PBIS Tier 1 strategies include posting expectations for all students in all areas. PBIS campuses strive to provide consistent expectations and common language for those expectations in all areas.

If students are given the expectation to maintain a level 1 voice during partner work on Monday, but on Tuesday they are allowed to maintain a level 3 voice without correction, then on Thursday the teacher is upset and institutes a level 0 voice, students are confused. It is difficult to generalize inconsistent expectations to other locations and other adults. So, when a Guest Educator fills in for your mental health day on Friday, your students are all over the place with their voice level. And if you think they are difficult for you to manage, just think about how that substitute feels! Once the precedence is set, students will follow the expectation that you have set, even when there is a Guest Educator in the room. Of course, there are always students who test their limits with a substitute in the room, but most will follow the expectations that you have enforced routinely from day one.

Students need boundaries and consistency. They need to know what is expected of them and when. They need to feel sure that what they are doing is correct. Many students become anxious when things do not follow a defined pattern each day. Tier 1 strategies that help support consistency in your classroom include:

1. Classroom rules consistently enforced

2. Clearly defined/consistent limits

3. Posted classroom rules

4. Routines & Daily Procedures posted, taught, AND followed

5. Supervision during transitions

6. Classwide descriptive praise for target behaviors

7. Repeat directions after wait time, if needed

They need to know what you expect, what that looks like and sound like, where they can find it if they forget, the acknowledgment that they are doing it correctly as well as redirection when they are not. This is the time of year that we are reminding students not only of the rules they are failing to follow but more importantly rewarding them for all that they have learned and every way that they have been successful this year. Don’t give up! Your students are learning from you all day long. Let’s just make sure they are learning the things we want them to know rather than bad habits we are inadvertently teaching through a lack of structure and consistency.

One way to maintain consistency in your classroom is for YOU to know what you expect. If you don’t feel like you are being inconsistent, it might be time for you to write down your expectations of your students across the day and post them for your own information, not just the students. You might even write them into a sub-plan of sorts. Write out where you expect students to be and how you expect them to look, sounds, and act in various transitions throughout your day. Where should they sit for silent reading time? What voice level should they be on? Where should they find the books they will read? Can they hold a toy or fidget while they read? How long should this last? The same should be determined for lining up, walking down the hallway, restrooms, cafeteria, playground, snack time, math centers, readers workshop, EVERY piece of your day should have clearly defined expectations that YOU and the students know and can recite.

Positive Behavior Supports: Anger Management Strategies

Anger Management Strategies are a Tier 2 support that can help a student understand and respond appropriately to anger and frustration.

1. Teach the student the difference between behavior and feelings. It is appropriate to be angry, but it is not appropriate to express that anger with physical, verbal or object aggression. They need to understand the underlying cause of the anger and to how to label that feeling. Is it a disappointment, embarrassment, fear or really anger? Until they have been taught the difference, kids may not know the difference. They act out their feelings in a negative way when they don’t understand them or know appropriate ways to respond and get what they really need.

2. Model appropriate social-emotional skills for your students. You teach them a lot more than just what’s in their textbook or on the overhead projector. When students see you react inappropriately to situations in the classroom, especially if you are reacting to their behavior, it gives them a mental picture of ways to respond in similar situations. Do you make faces or comment under your breath when they do things that annoy you, then wonder why they do the same thing weeks later? It’s important that adults model appropriate behavior, social interactions, and emotional responses for students. This is especially true in lower grades or in special education settings where students are not mature enough to understand the difference between your frustration and their aggressive anger.

3. Establish anger rules. This might be a list on their desk to help them remember the appropriate way to respond to the feelings they will face in the classroom. Please note, it is just as important to teach replacement behaviors. What should they do instead of hitting, throwing, spitting, biting, etc? They can talk about their feelings with a trusted adult. Maybe they need a visual break card or a set of amotion cards that they hand to the teacher when they need to discuss their feelings. I know there is rarely an ideal time for a student to need to talk with you about social-emotional strategies, but if you have a student who really struggles it is in the best interest of the whole class to teach these skills ever opportunity you get. In the long run, there will be fewer moments of evacuating the class to deal with explosive behavior.

Teachers Pay Teachers has free Anger Rules options like this one https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Time-Out-Signs-791751 or you can create your own.

Or a set of Coping Skills posters can be found at https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/RELAX-with-Coping-Skills-Posters-During-Times-of-Frustration-1416184

4. Always positively reinforce approximations or attempts the child makes at using their anger rules and coping skills. They are not an immediate fix and will take a lot of care and time to implement. Be patient and supportive. Every child, even the difficult ones, need to hear four praises for every correction. Load them up with love and praise. Kids should never be expected to follow the rules just because that’s what’s expected of them. You don’t come to work every day just because it’s expected of you. You come to work every day to get reinforced in the form of a paycheck. Yes, we also come to work because we love our students, enjoy our jobs and the people we work with, but that’s not enough to make us come back every day. It’s not enough for most of your students either. Love and support them for the 9 months you have them. Give them a reason to remember you as their favorite teacher when they look back years from now. My favorite teachers from elementary are the ones who loved me unconditionally, flaws and all. They supported me through the good times and the bad, they did not turn their backs on me when I was struggling, just because they thought I should know better. Be the best adult they know!

If you need help, a list of positive statements you can post around your room as reminders can be found at https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Encouraging-Statements-for-a-Positive-Classroom-Environment-3289839

Supporting Students with Anxiety

Supporting students with anxiety in the classroom can be a tricky situation.

Anxiety can be triggered by a variety of stimili including:

  • separation from parents or a trusted adult
  • change in schedule or environment
  • fear of failure or inability to complete a task
  • peer relations

Anxiety can look different in each child. Some anxious behaviors you might notice include:

  • withdrawal
  • frustration or anger
  • defensiveness
  • complaining about illnesses
  • fidgeting
  • chewing on fingers, clothing, or other items
  • pacing
  • isolation from others

Teachers can support these students in many ways, including:

  • talking to them, asking about their feelings
  • helping them to identify and communicate their feelings
  • contacting parents to determine if there is an underlying issue
  • having a code word or a break card to ask for help
  • keeping fidget tools readily available
  • preparing a cool down spot
  • giving them choices so they can put off the anxiety producing task for a few minutes and complete another one first.
  • never making light of their feelings, take them seriously
  • having sensory items such as weighted lap pads or textured items available
  • reducing demand (fewer math problems or chunk the assignment into smaller parts) but maintain the expectation of working
  • providing positive reinforcement for things that are going right
  • helping them self monitor with a timer
  • avoid taking away points or rewards this can escalate the behavior
  • avoid shaming or making the student feel bad about inappropriate choices made
  • provide frequent reminders before transitions and changes in schedule

Be sure to document all behavior in your classroom, including anxious behavior. If it continues for a period of at least 6 weeks, you have tried all of these strategies, and the student continues to experience anxiety, it might be time to move this up a Tier in the RTI system or discuss providing 504 accommodations.

Parent Training: Executive Function 101

executive-function-101-ebook-140812092227-phpapp02-thumbnail-4I recently had the pleasure of spending over an hour answer questions and giving insight to the parent of a child with ADHD and Executive Function difficulties that were not only affecting the child at school, but also at home. Executive Function is the process within each of us that helps us to stay organized, remember what we just read, multitask effectively, wait our turn, make connections between our past and the present, initiate and complete tasks, adjust to changes to routines or schedules, control impulses, manage our emotions, make plans, set priorities, and monitor our use of time. Wow! That’s a lot of behaviors all controlled by the executive function area of our brain, also known as the pre-frontal cortex. (I have been reading a lot about brain research and the effect of the brain on mental health. It’s fascinating, but I digress.)

Some suggestions that I was able to provide this parent included:

Posting lists in her child’s room, bathroom, kitchen, and front door to help her remember the things that she needs to do in each of these areas. There are times that it takes this student 10 prompts to finally brush her teeth. So, I advised Mom to make a self-care list to keep in the child’s bathroom. This would include things like brushing her teeth, using the restroom before bed, bathing, and any other self care the child may need to perform during the day. This can be divided up into morning and afternoon routines. Depending on the level of difficulty the child has with following it, include a reward system for completing those tasks as needed in the beginning. I will talk more about reward systems shortly. Post a list in her room of things she needs to remember to do before bed or before she leaves her room for school in the morning with the same expectations and possible rewards as the self-care list. Additionally, a chore chart in the kitchen could list things like finishing homework, feeding the dog, unloading the dishwasher. Finally, a sign by the front door could list things she needs to remember to take to school such as jacket, water bottle, homework or other assignments, fundraising or other materials due. At school I suggested a list in her locker of things to take from her locker into class each morning and a list of things to remember to take home at the end of the day such as jacket, lunchbox, water bottle, agenda.

Another concern mom had was how she unpacked her school bag at home, including sorting through its contents effectively rather than removing it’s contents and handing most of it to mom. I advised her to initially plan to sit with her at the table each day and talk about the contents while sorting them into piles such as, mom needs to sign, correct and return to teacher, and completed assignments that need to go in the trash or collection location determined in advance by the family. By teaching her that everything has a place she will learn how to empty the contents of her book bag on her own without the support of a parent. This will also be effective at teaching her how to manage her things as she generalizes this skill to other areas of her life such as school and in her own personal space or bedroom. I told her that at my house I have mail boxes on the kitchen wall for key family members so they know where to find their mail or other items without having to leave them on the counter until they choose to come get them.

One other thing that mom asked me about was responding to her daughters frequent complaints about things not going according to her plan. This included things from wanting only her favorite cereal that mom would have to go out of her way to buy, getting her preferred seat in the car, and arguing with siblings when they are in her way or making too much noise. I assured her this is common for most children and not just an ADHD thing. I suggested that she set ground rules for these things. For example, the first kid to the car gets to choose their seat. If the kids are arguing in the back seat they are not earning points on their reward system as discussed below. I advised mom to stay out of their arguments as much as possible so they can learn to work out issues on their own. One of the greatest skills elementary students are lacking is problem solving, not only academically, but also socially. Additionally, I told her not to go out of her way for a certain grocery item unless it is being used as an infrequent reward. It should not be an everyday expectation. Children should have some choice in what they eat, but they should also be happy for what the parents provide even if they prefer something slightly different. I advised mom to teach the children to walk away from minor annoyances like Johnny tapping his fingers on the table or Sally crunching her ice too loudly. These are things they are going to experience everyday for the rest of their lives. They need to learn tolerance for these experiences or how to leave the location of the annoyance rather than picking a fight with a sibling who may have no idea they are irritating. Picking a fight only leads to more drama. It does not solve the problem.

Keeping a record of completed chores and homework is kind of like keeping a record of the hours you worked so that you can get paid. We go to work not only because we love what we do, but also because it pay for other things we love, like eating, having a roof over our head, and a car to drive. Children appreciate being paid for the things they do as well. This is where a family economy or reward system is effective. Reward systems do not have to be things that cost money. They just need to be things that are important to the child that they cannot obtain any other way. For example, staying up late on the weekend, getting to choose the family entertainment for the evening, an extra weekend at a favorite Aunt or grandparents house, or maybe a box of that favorite cereal only available at a store across town. Now, there are also ways to use money as an incentive that will not make you feel like you are paying them to do what they should be doing anyway. If your children earn an allowance for completing these and other chores around the house, that money can then pay for little things you might typically buy for them. These things might include school spirit items, dollar store trinkets, candy or gum at the grocery store check out. This can be used to teach children the value of money. You can require that they give a percent to charity, save another percent and spend only whats left. The options are limitless, but could be an amazing learning experience.

I have covered just a few Executive Function areas and how a parent can support their child’s need to be taught how to cope with these deficits. For more information on Executive Functioning check out one of these resources:

Understood.org Executive Function 101 E-book

What is the Executive Center of the Brain?

Executive Function: Implications for Education

Early Literacy Fun in the Sun

I’m spending a few weeks this summer as an Elementary Reading Interventionist for Summer School. In addition to copying accommodations and making sure every teacher has the information and support to make their students successful, I have been asked to share early literacy games and activities with teachers who typically work with older students. So, following are some of the materials I used in my own classroom and have provided to those teachers for use this summer. They are great activities for use at home as well. I hope you find these helpful and fun for your kids as you attempt to avoid the summer slide.

The following ThingLink links will take you to some of my early childhood pages. Hover over the pages to see dots or numbers to activate the link.

Kinder Morning Meeting songs with videos

Kindermorning meeting





First Grade Morning Meeting songs with videos






Alphabet songs – I love these!!


Sight Word Review songs with videos







The Following are free TpT phonics games that I have used with great success:

CVC Phonics Game


CVC Word Blending Practice


CVC Word Building Activities


The following are writing and letter recognition worksheets from my TpT page:

Lowercase Alphabet fill in the blank


Uppercase Alphabet fill in the blankswpid-IMG_20131016_094334.jpg






Handwriting Trace & Copy


Pre Primer Dolch Words read-write-trace-pastepreprimerreadwrite

Be sure to leave feedback on the TpT pages of the teachers who put these together. They love to hear that their products are supporting students all over the world. Enjoy your summer!

Positive Behavior Supports: The Good Behavior Game

img_0629Are you struggling to gain attention and compliance from your students? Are the expectations you’ve taught, evaluated and  retaught still not getting the behavior you need for the best teaching environment? It may be time to teach them a game! The research-based Good Behavior Game (GBG) , which was originally designed by University of Kansas researchers Harriet Barrish, Muriel Saunders, and Montrose Wolf in 1969, is a group contingency that may be just what you need to make your students successful. A group contingency means teams either win or lose as a team. No one is solely responsible so it supports a peer-mediated system whereby students comply in order to support the group as a whole, even if they typically do not see compliance as a benefit for themselves alone. It is a great way to teach appropriate behavior and expectations to your class in a fun game-style learning format. There are several ways to play the GBG, but here are the basics:

  1. Divide the class into 2 or more groups; by table, row, or other common system of dividing them.
  2. Post a scoring sheet as shown above with each of the teams identified or use one of the many free online scoreboard apps.
  3. Determine when the game will begin and end. It is typically suggested that the game be played 2-3 times per day for up to an hour each time. However, this game can be used in any way that fits the time constraints of your classroom, meaning if you have 40 minutes to spare, implement the game and watch your classroom behavior transform. Additionally, you can chose to start out with a shorter time frame, and build up to an hour. This may be especially effective in younger grades such as Kindergarten or first.
  4. Review posted expectations in the classroom, choosing about 3 of them to be the focus of the game. Explain these expectations and how points are earned or lost.
  5. Teams can earn negative points, positive points, or both
    • PAX, who has a variation of the GBG, gives only negative points called “spleems”, which are just a silly way of identifying them without calling them by a negative term.
    • California’s Positive Environment Network of Trainers (PENT) also has a variation of the GBG in which students are given positive points for compliance and may lose points for non-compliance.
  6. During the game, class continues as usual. This could be played at any time during the day with any lesson.
  7. At the end of the specified time frame, teams can win a tangible (recommended early on in learning the game) or non-tangible (suggested once tangibles are faded out after the game is well understood).
    • Tangibles could include
      • treasure box
      • edibles
      • stars, stamps, tickets toward a larger reward
    • Non-tangibles could include 1-2 minutes of one of the following:
      • dance party
      • act like a monkey
      • talk like a pirate
      • drum solo on their desks
  8. How to win the game should be set in advance.
    • For example, on the PAX video below, the teacher advises that a team will only win if they have 4 or fewer Spleems.
    • Another option might be based on the number of positive points they receive. For example, a team might be required to obtain at least 4 positive points.

The next one adds a Most Valuable Player award for one student. It’s just one of several great twists he adds to the game for these older students! Check it out

Please ask questions if there is anything you need clarified! I look forward to your feedback.