SD Teachers... a little advice?

My son is in first grade. He’s really smart, and reads way above his level, but he has lots of problems focusing and paying attention in class. His teacher obviously can’t spend the whole time standing over him alone, so he often winds up not completing assignments. She didn’t really have any advice for how we can help him here at home to learn to concentrate. I was hoping the smartest bunch of people I know could offer some advice. I really DON’T want to medicate him unless there’s no other choice (in fact he hasn’t been diagnosed with ADD or anything.

Any tips for helping him focus on what he’s doing?

Jeepers. I’m having trouble visualizing a teacher who would brush you off like that. Is she teaching an oversize class, or a combined 1st and 2nd grade class? 'Cause to my mind, that’s the only excuse.

Okay, tips from somebody with 3 kids, one of whom has always had problems “concentrating”.

Main point: you can’t teach a child to “concentrate”. You can’t teach a child to “focus”. It’s something that only comes with age and “seasoning”. What you CAN teach him is a brisk course in “cause and effect”. “If you don’t get your assignments done, this is what will happen.” Age 6 is plenty old enough to understand that.

Reward positive behavior–every week that he gets all his assignments done, he gets a treat, or a sticker, or a McDonald’s Happy Meal.

Punish (yes, I said punish, not ignore) negative behavior. If he doesn’t get all his assignments done, he loses a privilege.

Also, what kind of “assignments” are we talking about? Here in Illinois, first graders don’t usually have “homework” as such. Is this “seatwork” we’re talking about? He just sits there and fiddles with his pencil and doesn’t get the thing handed in? Then you and the teacher need to work together (even if she doesn’t want to :rolleyes: ) to find some kind of incentive program.

And golly moses, allow me to be the first to beg you NOT to run to medication for this. Jeepers. If I medicated my three every time they weren’t getting their work done, they’d all be hopeless druggies by now.

What worked for Bonzo, who is now 13, who also was just not getting the assignments done, and who we were seriously afraid was going to flunk out of 5th grade, and 6th grade, and 7th grade, was a color Game Boy. He retains custody of it only as long as his report cards have nothing lower than a C. If he brings home a bad report card, he loses the Game Boy for the whole next grading period, which is 9 weeks. This has provided the incentive for him to not flunk out of 8th grade.

But it took literally YEARS for us to figure this out. You wouldn’t believe the teacher conferences I’ve sat through, and all the things we tried, ever since third grade (his teacher once told me thoughtfully, “You know, Bonzo kind of–phases out, every so often”), to get this kid to “concentrate” and “focus”, and absolutely nothing worked, until now. I really think it may be like potty training–when they’re ready, they’re ready, and there’s not much you can do except stand by and cheer them on.

Almost forgot the most important thing: it’s possible he’s just “phasing out” because he’s simply bored. He may have a thoroughly lackluster teacher. Solution–go to school with him, sit unobtrusively in the back for the whole day, and observe. If you’re bored, than it’s a pretty good bet that so is he.

Also, he may just have a bad teacher. I know, so many times you hear parents blame the teacher when any sensible person would give little Johnny one look and know where the fault lies. But over the last, say 12 years, dealing with our local public school system, I have personally encountered two (2) extraordinarily BAD teachers. These were people who hated their jobs, hated teaching, and took it out on the kids. One of them was a Middle School teacher who resorted to sarcasm and humiliation; the other was a kindergarten teacher who (my god) was the ANGRIEST person I have ever met, and was constantly, continually FURIOUS with her class. She yelled at them for everything. She should NOT have been teaching. (She used to be the computer aide, got her master’s, and “moved up”, to the great detriment of about 8 years’ worth of 5-year-olds so far.)

Spend the day with your son’s teacher and see what she’s like.

[squeal of anguish] Why, in the Christ’s name would you consider medication? He’s what 6yo? Please tell me that this is not a common remedy of first resort for “smart” kids in the US. [/squeal of anguish]

FWIW Make learning fun. Where possible blur the distinction between school (a place to sit and learn i.e. boring) and home (a place to do interesting things i.e. fun) and not by making home boring.

Challenge every assumption you and the teacher have made about any link between intelligence and behaviour. Don’t turn an assumption into a stereotype. He might be bored because the exercises don’t challenge him. He might be extremely good at reading but less so at problem solving.

Reward, not reproach.

Best of luck. :slight_smile:

Same problem with both my kids (daughter now 14 - son 10) . Both are very intelligent (and test that way) but with the attention span(s) of a mayfly unless they are really interested in something. Neither is on meds (or should be) IMO. In my experience there is no real “solution” re concentrating as such. It a maturity thing. When his brain is ready it will focus.

Bottom line is that there is going to be a lot of sitting down and initially walking him through his assignments. My daughter’s need for this trailed out at about age 12 or so and she’s doing pretty well generally on her own re homework. I hope my son will follow this trend as well. His biggest problem is not taking the time to read and comprehend his assignments throughly. If I walk him through reading the assignment slowly he suddenly “gets it” around 80% of them time.

It’s a lot of muddling through but I really don’t mind as I only get the kids around 30% of the time anyway and it’s a chance to really be one on one with him.

This to me is the biggest thing. Every kid I’ve gone to school with who has problems paying attention in class was simply bored. I have an extremely hard time in school because of the boredom level. Does he test high? When I was in 1st and 2nd grade I drove my teachers crazy, till they figured out I could read, I just didn’t want to. I could add, I just didn’t want to. I could basically do everything (and better than the rest of my class) I just chose not too. Mainly because the class work they were shoving down my throat was BORING.

Also, the cause/effect strategy is a very good one. Most people work better when they have a goal. (You aren’t going to pour your heart and soul into a project at work for nothing. You expect to get something in return, even if it’s verbal recgonition for a job well done) Besides, children don’t want to be there for the most part. So make school worth his while. It’s no more of a bribe than when you receive a raise from work. He’s too young right now to understand that good grades are a reward in themselves. :wink:

And I woke up in the middle of the night remembering the Great Primary Spring Musical Crisis. One day, years ago, I got a call from The Cat Who Walks Alone’s kindergarten teacher. It seems The Cat was behaving very badly during rehearsals for the Primary Department’s Spring Musical, and the thing that had finally gotten the teacher to call me (I should say that this woman is an extraordinarily gifted teacher, the complete opposite of the woman I was telling you about in my previous post) was that The Cat, while on stage with her little buddies, had squatted down and mimed urination, complete with sound effects. “pisshh” Mrs. P. was extremely upset–could I come in and talk to her?

She had thought The Cat would be good in one of the plum lead roles, that of Henny Penny. When that didn’t work out, she cast her as Ducky Lucky. Finally, she was forced to put her in with the chorus of Other Farm Animals, but the bad behavior had continued.

So we spent the next two weeks trying to think of ways to encourage The Cat to be a Good Cooperator during rehearsals. She was crazy about stickers, so I went and bought some special stickers. If she had a good rehearsal, she got a sticker. If she wasn’t a Good Cooperator, she didn’t get a sticker.

And guess what? It didn’t work. Mrs. P. continued to report bad behavior over the phone, in some distress, so I finally went down there and observed a rehearsal. Afterwards, all I could tell her was, “Well, it’s very loud and the lights are bright and she looks bored. But the clincher that told me my daughter just wasn’t enjoying herself was when she took her shoes off and got under her chair and hid, and then went backstage and had to be rousted out.”

Mrs. P. said, “What are we going to do?” And I said, “Hey, if she’s not gonna cooperate, there’s no reason she should spoil it for everyone else. Take her out of there.” The teacher was astounded–“you mean you wouldn’t mind not having your child in the Spring Primary Musical?” Hey, no problem. So I went down to the school and babysat The Cat during the last few rehearsals, and we took her to the performance (“see what you’re missing?”) and it was complete indifference on her part. Totally baffling.

Now, of course, hindsight being 20/20 and me having the benefit of 12 more years’ acquaintance with this person I gave birth to, I now realize that she’s somewhat of a loner, a very self-sufficient little creature, and all that hurly-burly, with 75 other K though 2nd graders up there on stage with her, just wasn’t her cup of tea. So she opted out.

My point is, maybe there’s something going on in your son’s classroom that just isn’t his cup of tea. Maybe he has a seatmate or a table partner who drives him crazy, poking him all the time, or talking. Maybe it’s a very loud, hustling milieu, and it’s just too much distraction. Maybe he just dislikes his teacher, so he punishes her by not doing his work. Maybe the teacher focuses totally on the two or three Good Little Children and totally ignores everyone else, so he opts out.

I’m saying, maybe it isn’t just boredom or lack of concentration. Go down there to the school and watch.

First off, don’t panic on the ADHD thing. The big question to ask is whether your son can EVER focus on the task at hand (home or school) and finish it. If he can, then it’s most likely not ADHD. If not, go see your pediatrician and get a referal to someone who’s qualified to evaluate.

Secondly, he could just be bored, as some of the other posters have noted, and have trouble getting back into the groove when it’s time to work.

Finally, I don’t want to scare you, but it’s possible he could have a learning disorder. Since he’s reading so well, that probably eliminates dyslexia, but there are other types of learning disorders – for example, an inability to process SPOKEN information. Or he could have a physical problem, such as a mild hearing loss. If he’s not processing what the teacher says for whatever reason, he’ll tune out the noise. You’ll need professional evaluation to determine those problems.

Does your school have a guidance counselor? If so, make an appointment, first by yourself, then with the teacher and try to work out some strategies for improvement.

Thanks for the replies, everyone. I wanted to make a few points:

First of all, to those of you who see me as baking Ritalin into his christmas cookies, I want to make clear that medicating him was a bit of advice from someone else that I absolutely REJECT. I am trying anything and everything else first. I don’t want him to be a good little zombie.

Besides, I was exactly the same way in grade school, and it was indeed because I was bored out of my mind. In fact I didn’t really start getting interested until the classes started getting interesting, in middle school. So I sympathize with him, but I can’t just tell him it’s okay to zone out in school… he’ll develop bad study habits.

Also, it’s not just daydreaming… he’s disrupting the other kids by singing, talking loudly when he’s supposed to be listening, etc. It’s not malicious - the teacher acknowledged that - he just doesn’t seem to get that he’s bugging everyone.

He is occasionally able to complete an assignment on his own (the homework consists pretty much of writing sentences using whatever words they’re learning that week), but he has a strong tendency to drift away and start doing something else. I have noticed that he’s kind of like the computer on Star Trek… if you want him to respond, you have to activate him by saying his name.

We did have his hearing tested and it’s fine. I’ve met with the teacher a couple of times and while she’s kind of cold, she clearly cares about the kids. Her class is not what I would consider over-sized…it’s maybe 12 or 15 kids. She’s big on wanting kids to learn to take responsibility for their own actions - one time he had some sentences to do and they didn’t get done because I neglected to check his backpack and see if he had homework…she acknowledged my admission of guilt but didn’t accept it, saying that HE knew he had homework and should have done it without being reminded. Which sounds fine in theory but he’s SIX.

I know he will ultimately be fine, but I just love him and I want school and learning to be positive things for him.

Please, no, no, no on the medication thing.
And she only has 12 or 15 kids? Jeez, she should be able to help him out a little more. I have 20, with an assistant, and I am able to give each one some personal attention.

I agree, it sounds like the poor kid is bored. He’ll probably be one of those kids who does really well in subjects he likes, but gets C’s in stuff he isn’t really interested in.

I like DDG’s idea of losing a privilege. No TV or GameBoy or whatever if he doesn’t get his work done, and reward him when he does…just don’t over-reward him. Or he’ll be expecting a reward just for breathing.

Hang in rhere, Troy. I was like that in Elementary school too. It wasn’t 'til the 7th grade that I got interested in school. In the lower grades, though, I was an AVID reader. anything I could get my hands on, especially if it was about horses or dogs. As long as I had something to read, I was a good little boy. If I was bored to tears by the lesson, I had a book in my lap and discreetly read to myself so I wouldn’t be distracting the other kids.

In the 3rd through 6th grades, I was lucky enough to have great teachers that recognized my ways for what they were. I had a tendency to do my work in class and put it in my desk so I could get back to reading whatever literary gem I had with me that day. I would forget to turn it in, and at the end of a grading period, the teacher would go through my desk with me and retrieve the rest of my papers.

I was lucky to have someone who cared so much, then, but I guess the point of my reminiscing is that maybe he is bored and needs an outlet that is not distracting to the other kids. See if a more challenging class is available. Little Troy seems pretty sharp and personalble…maybe that’s what he needs. I think you are right on track in saying NO DRUGS. I am no professional, but I don’t see why he would need them.

You’re not alone. You perfectly described my 8 yr. old! He’s very smart, a great reader and speller but during class he zones out and getting him to do homework or classwork even is next to impossible unless he’s interested in the subject. His teacher is pretty good but frustrated. Her most recent comment was “it’s a good thing he’s smart or he’d really be having problems”. I’ve started calling the teacher once a week and making sure that the assignments are getting turned in and that he’s staying up to date. It seems to be helping a little but I know that I can’t “hold his hand” forever. It helps to know that others are struggling with the same thing.

All I can say is what worked for me. I used to have a terrible time focusing (it’s still hard sometimes, but I can manage), and my Mom was at her wits’ end trying to get me to do things like my math facts. What she did was she got a bunch of small candies (M&Ms or Smarties or something similar), and for each problem I finished, I could have one. Originally, she dispensed them myself, but it didn’t take long before I was able to self-reward. The reward doesn’t have to be big, it just has to be something. If you don’t want your kid getting too much sugar, you could probably use pennies just as well.