Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Pinball Wizard

Teachers can spot the kids that are going to be a challenge within seconds of them entering our classroom. It's like radar. Sometimes it's really obvious (swinging from the light fixtures is often a big clue) and sometimes it's something as subtle as how they make eye contact.

With Pinball Boy's case, it was the fact that he appeared to be physically incapable of sitting still for more than five seconds and his mouth was in constant motion. I've only had one other kid this hyperactive, and he was a kid who'd come out of a meth house in a neighboring county and had more issues than ADHD to deal with.

When I got the information sheet back from his parents, I noticed several things. One, he'd failed math and science last year. Not good. That means he has to pass these subjects this year in order to be academically promoted. Second, he was diagnosed with ADHD. And third, he was not on any medications. On the positive side, he had two parents in the home, they appeared to have jobs, and even had email. That's good.

On Monday, our newly minted teacher Miss Language, had a rough day with Pinball Boy. He'd pulled an attitude on her when she told him to get out his punch card as he couldn't sit down and be quiet (we're working on a reward system using punch cards - I'll explain in another post one of these days). She came to me asking for advice on what to do with him.

I decided to do some research, so I pulled his discipline file (no surprise there that he had one), and his academic records. One thing I discovered is that he has the potential to do well academically. His problem, obviously, is that he can't focus. The other thing I discovered was that he had 245 (!!!!) discipline points last year, was in alternative school for 30 days, came back, and was expelled in April.


However, I wanted a bigger picture so I went to talk with the Guidance Goddess because she knows everything. I discovered that biological dad was remarried and living in another city, biological mom was remarried and there was a step dad at home. I also discovered that he was the oldest of five boys, all one right after the other - there's one in 6th grade, one in 5th, another in 4th, and the littlest is in 3rd. Mom has a fairly good job managing a local restaurant, but that also means long hours. And if all the boys are anything like Pinball Boy, they're probably pinging off the walls competing for attention.

What this kid needed was a lot of attention, and some strategies to help him focus. He needed "Mommy Time."

So, he got moved, on Tuesday, to the seat right next to my teacher station - my "right hand man" seat. Since he's in my homeroom class and the isolation seats are full, (not because kids need it, but because I'm out of lab tables) Pinball Boy didn't see this as a negative. He was thrilled to become my "right hand man". (I might add that he's kind of small, has braces, a huge smile, and glasses which he often forgets.) He is now in charge of my light switches which need to go on and off during the class as I'm using the document reader or my LCD projector. He is the first to get asked to hand out things and to collect things. Anything to give him a chance to get up and move a little bit.

And then I gave him the squishy ball. I asked him what he wanted to do this year and he said he wanted to pass all his classes and stay out of trouble. I told him that I knew he really was a good kid, and that I wanted to really help him with that so I was going to try some tricks that may seem a little strange - like holding a squishy ball in his hands and squeezing it during class to help him focus. He said he'd try it.

It worked like a charm. This child, who'd had write up after write up after write up for disruptive behavior, was my model student last week. He'd come in, ask for "Squishy", and sit at his seat and fiddle with the ball, but at the same time, he'd take notes, he'd jump up and turn the lights on and off when asked, and he was quiet. It was amazing. I see this group of kids three times a day - homeroom, 3rd period science class, and for fifteen minutes at the end of the day to check agendas, announcements, hand out papers, and all that. Every time he came into the room, he asked for Squishy and sat down and did what needed to be done.

On Thursday I called and left a message on his mom's voice mail, primarily to introduce myself, but also to brag on what a great job he was doing. I wanted her to know that I knew he had issues but I was going to see what I could do to work around them.

On Friday, as the kids were being dismissed to the buses, Pinball Boy ran back and gave me a big hug.

"My momma said you called and it scared me at first, " he said, "But then she said it was a good call and I've never had a good call before."

"Well kiddo, you earned it," I told him.

"Yeah, I did, didn't I?" he beamed. "I love you!" he said and then he was gone.

Dang. It don't get much better than that.


The Bus Driver said...

awwwww Squishy was a great idea!!!! I'm glad that it works for him!! and i'm so glad you called his mom to report a good day. Most teachers only call parents when its something bad. I'm glad he's doing well so far. maybe other teachers can implement things like "squishy" for him.

HappyChyck said...

No, it doesn't get better...epytan

Karen said...

Oh - that brought tears to my eyes!

ms-teacher said...

This is a wonderful example of we as teachers can do to help those students that aren't always easy to teach.

If you don't mind, I would like to include a link to this on my Teacher Tip Tuesday.

Trixie said...

Good on ya, Sista! This reminds me of a monkey I had a few years ago, but was too self-conscious to use a squishy. I stuck a piece of velcro (the scratchy side) under his desk so other kids couldn't see it and he would rub his fingers over it when he got excited. He would get this look on his face like a dog getting his tummy scratched and then would be totally focused. God bless velcro!

Keep up the great work!

Trixie/aka The Head Monkey

nbosch said...

Michael Phelps' kindergarten teacher told his mom he was incapable of focusing---hmmmmmm eight gold medals won with amazing physical talent and focus. I'm with Karen, yo got to me---you're making a difference.

W.R. Chandler said...

Excuse me for a sec; I've got something... in my eye.

Must have been some dust or something, because it really made me tear up.

Mimi said...

OK, tears in my eyes!!! Thank you for making me remember why I WANT to go back to work!

Liz Ditz said...

"Children do well if they can" -- Ross Greene

I also have a discrete, sittable wobble board & a inflatable disc I could send for Pinball Boy's use if the Squishy runs out of its charm.

I actually use the wobble board myself when my back's hurting -- the effort of holding still is just right to get the back to line up.

You are really inspiring.

Miss Sub said...

Glad you posted this after the schedule of your week. I was about to drop out of school and return to finding me a sugar daddy instead of becoming a teacher. ; )

only a movie said...

I teach in day treatment and have a classroom full of pinball boys. It is so nice to hear that people are having success with all the right interventions in a less restrictive environment. :-) Thanks for sharing!

miss bioteacher said...

I teared up from that, thank you!

I'm about to start my first year teaching and need all the inspiration I can get right now - I'm petrified

thanks :o)

SciGuy said...

Crap. School starts for me on Monday, and now I have to add a couple of "squishies" to my last weekend shopping list... :)

Good entry Mrs. Bluebird.

Gina said...

I'm having trouble posting a commment so if this is a duplicate please destroy this message. If not then I just want to say that I think the way you are working with this student is wonderful. Also, I am curious if this student has a 504 Plan that would allow other teachers to understand how they may assist him too.

Mrs. Bluebird said...

Pinball Boy doesn't have a 504 plan...most likely because the parent has never initiated one. Often times they don't, for whatever reason. And even though the parent indicated on an information form that he has ADHD, there's no official doctor's diagnosis that I've been able to find. Since I teach on a team of 5, we tend to share strategies and work with our kids as a team, so the rest of the team is pretty much doing the same thing. I've also had the computer teacher drop by and ask for help and she's using a squishy ball and giving him responsibilities which appear to be working. We've also found that rubric cubes work for him as well.

Gina said...

I hope in the future he has a team that is compassionate as you all are otherwise without legal protections or documentation of strategies that help meet his needs his educational outlook will be quite grim despite having potential. Best of luck to you this year!

Gregory Kong said...

[raises hand]
Okay, according to the bane of teachers everywhere (Wikipedia), "a rubric is a scoring tool for subjective assessments"

Right. Got that so far. Now, I always thought that this was pretty much up to the teachers, but I'm glad there's a standard tool out there that helps.

However, can someone please explian why it's in cubic form? Does this work like a Magic 8 Ball? And why are they being provided to students?

No, I am serious. Because rubric is an actual teaching tool, so I can't simply assume that it was a misspelling of Rubik's cube. So I really am quite curious.

Mrs. Falkenberg said...

And THIS is why we go back every year.

nbosch said...

Mr. Kong---too much teacher lingo but the kiddo uses a Rubik's Cube. BTW, have you seen the guy that does the cube blindfolded--what's up with that?

loonyhiker said...

What a wonderful story! He knew you cared about him and was trying to help. Hopefully his new strategies will work in other classes.

Abigail Beal said...

How wonderful to hear of a teacher that "thinks outside of the box" and teaches with such heart. Many kids can also be encouraged to love learning with online learning games such as They teach math, reading, spelling and more. Teaching kids to have fun when they are learning makes them only want to do more in school!