Saturday, June 24, 2017

As parents and teachers, we know that various stressors impact our children’s ability to focus and pay attention, take notes, do homework, study or take tests. We also know that each child has a distinct learning style. Some children cannot sit for long periods of time without getting fidgety. Some need to chew on a pen or pencil or tap it on the desk. Many children do homework in front of the television. Individual learning styles have been a big topic in educational circles for years. Experimental schools and open classrooms allow for these individual variations, and many day schools are training their teachers to do so as well. One such Jewish day school (without walls) that I visited had some children standing and others sprawled on the floor during class. And it worked.

Testing often measures endurance more than comprehension. One of the many unfortunate consequences of the rise of high-stakes testing is an increase in the prevalence of test anxiety, a condition that goes beyond the normal nervousness children may feel before a challenge.

Test anxiety is a psychological condition that involves severe distress before, during and/or after an exam, making it impossible for them to do their best work. It’s not clear exactly how many students have it but severe test anxiety could afflict as much as 20 percent of the school-going population, according to the American Test Anxiety Association, and another 18 percent may have a moderate form of the condition.

These students can benefit when they have a way to release their extra energy, anxiety and frustration in a positive, quiet and appropriate manner. If students had a quiet and unobtrusive way to move in class, many would probably increase their test scores by staying calmer instead of shutting down from test anxiety, decrease their behavior problems since they are happier and less frustrated and boost their learning since they have a way to work out their wiggles instead of creating excuses to move.

Along comes a product called Bouncy Bands, which are elastic bands that attach to student desks and chairs allowing students to bounce their feet and stretch their legs while they work quietly in class. Clemson University published the results of a study in April 2017 showing that students who use Bouncy Bands are able to stay on task 10 percent longer than students without Bouncy Bands (http://BouncyBands.com/Clemson.pdf ).

Teachers are impressed with how much more work students can get done when they have a way to release their extra energy, anxiety and frustration in an appropriate way.

The study, “Wiggle While You Work: The Effect of Bouncy Band Use on Classroom Outcomes,” shows that exercise has been linked to positive cognitive effects and that Bouncy Bands (http://bouncybands.com) are a means of acceptable movement in a classroom. The main purpose of the study was to assess whether Bouncy Bands promote student learning and improve classroom behavior. The use of the Bouncy Bands did not take away from the children’s attention or ability to perform on math or reading tasks.

Children who were higher in passive off-task behaviors at the beginning of the study showed fewer off-task behaviors while using the bands. This suggests that Bouncy Bands might have the strongest benefits for students who are typically less engaged in classroom activities.

This data was collected as part of an afterschool program, which was geared towards less academically oriented students. Participants were elementary students (grades 3-4) who were already enrolled in a daily afterschool tutoring and educational enhancement program for two hours daily, five days a week.

The study assessed many variables: attention, numerosity (paced serial addition tasks) and reading comprehension. They also evaluated passive off-task activities: students doing something other than the assignment for at least three consecutive seconds (e.g., closing eyes/laying head on desk, not looking at teacher/assignment, not completing assignment).

Off-task audible verbalizations, which were not relevant to the assigned task or not permitted during the assigned task (e.g., talking to peers, humming, inappropriate vocalizations, calling out answers without being prompted) were also evaluated. Motor off-task behaviors performed while failing to attend to the assignment or teacher (e.g., standing, walking around, playing with things on desk or out of seat for non-academic unrelated purpose) were monitored as well. They also tabulated students’ body and head orientation to desk.

Mixed ANOVAs (analysis of variance, a statistical method in which the variation in a set of observations is divided into distinct components) were used to analyze the impact of Bouncy Band use on the children’s task performance on attention, numerosity and reading comprehension. The study was presented at the 2017 Society for Research in Child Development Biennial Meeting in Austin, Texas in April, 2017.

They concluded that the use of the Bouncy Bands did not take away from the children’s attention or ability to perform on math or reading tasks. Children who were higher in passive off-task behaviors at the beginning of the study showed fewer off-task behaviors while using the bands. This suggests that Bouncy Bands might have the strongest benefits for students who are typically less engaged in classroom activities.

Bouncy Band effects might be enhanced if measured during school hours in a regular classroom. A current study is in progress. Future work should examine whether Bouncy Bands have an enhanced effect on children with attention deficit disorder or autism.

By Wallace Greene

 

 Dr. Wallace Greene remembers many classmates in elementary school who could not sit still in the days before we knew about Ritalin, attention deficit disorders and ADHD.

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