Knowing when, who and how to ask for help is a skill that is valued greatly by many primary school teachers. It is often one of the first strategies teachers would want to teach when transferring more autonomy to learners and turning towards more independent learning activities.
Het Toverbos - a GO! Freinet school in Brasschaat (BE) - works with little triangles which are pinned to students' desks. By turning the triangle they can communicate the situation that best reflects their state of mind. What are those states?
I have a question: Peers and teachers can see in a glance whether or not someone needs help.
Leave me alone: I'm really focussing here, please don't direct your questions to me.
All good! I'm doing fine and am available for questions and support if needed.
It's a great tool in multiple ways.
First, it makes students aware of the importance of both focus and help-seeking. Good help-seeking strategies are important, because they can help you stay focused on your task. But what is good help seeking? Some may ask questions too quickly, while others may wait too long to ask for help and loose valuable time along the way. So, knowing what to do when you get stuck, will help you not to loose your focus. On the other hand, when you ask someone else and this person was in the middle of doing something himself, you risk disturbing his focus. Did you know it takes about 7 minutes to get back into focus mode when someone just disturbed you? This little triangle tool can help students become aware of this link between help seeking and focus.
Second, it teaches students about a very specific aspect of help-seeking: when and who can I ask for help? What is an appropriate time? Ideally this tool is used together with other classroom rules of how to ask for help. Add on top explicit instruction about what good help-seeking behavior looks like and why it is important, and you've got a winner.
Third, although this tool primarily supports students' help-seeking strategies, it equally supports students in 'environmental structuring'. Environmental structuring - in Zimmerman's model of self-regulated learning - covers strategies you can use to cope with distractions in your environment as well as within yourself. By turning the triangle to 'leave me alone', students are given an extra instrument to communicate to others they don't want to be disturbed. It is a way to try to organize your learning environment in favor of your focus. When students grow older, you would want to teach them how to actually see when people are really focusing and help them understand why it is important not to disturb people (like you) in such moments. Gradually you can try to omit the triangle, or choose to put it back for those students who could still benefit from it.
P.s. Have you seen the screens between students' tables? This too helps them create a spot in a crowded classroom that allows them to focus and shut out external distractions.
The pictures were taken in a classroom with 9-10 year olds, but with several adaptations it can be used with other ages as well. Most important thing is to observe the specific help-seeking strategies of your students and offer support accordingly.