Do you tap your pencil? Click your pen? Bounce your feet? All of these fidgety behaviors can be construed as annoying to a presenter. However, neuroscientists and attention experts tell us that these behaviors are unconscious attempts to keep the brain from going into a rest state. So when you see participants fidgeting, take it as a sign that they need movement or some active form of engagement now!
One way to proactively address the need of some adults to fiddle in order to pay attention is to place small, unobtrusive fidget items on the tables. The key word here is unobtrusive. My husband recently attended a session that had metal slinkies on every table. A few of the participants took full advantage of the slinkies, distracting everyone around them! It is essential that the fidget items are unobtrusive.
My favorite fidget items are Wikki Stix. Wikki Stix are pieces of string that are covered in colored wax. They are similar to pipe cleaners, but without the metal wire down the center. They are bendable and shapeable, but do not make any noise at all. Learners can fidget with one or two, receiving fairly intensive tactile input, without distracting colleagues
I also try to build tactile interaction into the learning in more purposeful ways. For example, I often ask learners to use Wikki Stix to show their understanding of a concept by building a symbolic representation. Here are 5 items that I like to have on tables for on-the-spot tactile engagement.
For even more ideas...
Anne Beninghof is passionate about teaching and learning.
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