I lied, and I apologize. In my last post, I stated that writing was most likely the hardest area to teach. I am going to rescind that remark, however, and I now will state that behavior is truly the hardest area to teach in general education. Now, I’m sure anyone who is reading this is probably a teacher or someone who has dealt with kids before, and I don’t have to tell you that teaching behavior is exceedingly difficult. In fact, if a child needs to be taught how to behave, you can be sure you’re going to have some difficulties.
I have one student, in particular, whom I love dearly, but he presents some behavioral challenges, to say the least. We’ve gone back and forth in arguments, and I hate to say it, but I have stooped to his level on some occasions. I mean, I’m human, too, right? However, it really seems to have not gotten us anywhere. In addition, the behavior plan we had in place did not seem to do much teaching either.
The school psychologist at my school recommended a book to me, entitled Lost at School. Admittedly, I did not read the entire book, but I read enough to have a radical change in thinking when it comes to behavior. Then again, the teacher who has found time to sit down and read every night needs to give me a call and counsel me in time management. It surely isn’t happening for me.
Anyway, after reading part of the book, it became painfully evident to me that to teach behavior meant to teach thinking. The book, at least the chapters I read, operated under the premise that students, especially students with behavioral challenges do not learn from consequences. After some thought and reflection, it made perfect sense. Consequences simply tell the student that they’ve failed, and that now they’re going to be punished for it (Greene 2009).
On that contrary, that is not to say that consequences have no place at all in teaching. It is a personal belief that a consequence in isolation, for the majority of children, does not do any teaching. However, a consequence coupled with problem-solving and reflection will, most likely, be beneficial for the average child.
Anyway, with my student, in particular, I’ve noticed a change in affect almost immediately from this new plan we’ve implemented. Yes, I know, it’s only day one. Don’t get too optimistic, Mr. France. However, I really do believe that this will be more effective, and here’s why. Ever since reading the book, even in the weeks prior to implementing this new behavior plan, I have changed. I’ve ceased the power struggles, and I consistently remind myself that this child has a “lagging behavior,” and I need to help by doing some proactive teaching. I really should have learned the first time, but I have countless anecdotal data as well as four scatter plots to show that my work with him this year has neither increased his ability to treat others with respect nor increased his willingness to maintain on-task. I had to do some rethinking, and I knew it wouldn’t be easy.
I went back to the lagging behavior. What was his lagging behavior? Or were there many? I immediately made a list of the areas in which I knew him to be most successful. I came up with small-group lessons, read alouds, and one-on-one instruction (with me and the resource teacher). Places where he presented the most challenges included whole-group instruction, fine arts and P.E., and, of course, the Mecca of disorganization, the unstructured nightmare we know as recess. I started to think that he was unsuccessful in these areas because it required an immense amount of multi-tasking. For instance, in something as simple as a whole-group lesson, the children are often required to listen, read, and write. For most students, that is routine, but it seemed highly likely that this child was struggling with multi-tasking. However, in read aloud, all he had to do was listen, and when he was in read aloud, listening along, he’d be responding with rather insightful thoughts.
Almost immediately, and with the help of the school psychologist, I started to think about executive functioning, because that has been an appropriately hot topic at our school this year. Many times, children who struggle with executive functioning can become frustrated easily, appear disorganized, and have difficulty attending to more than one task at a time.
Immediately, I began breaking tasks down with this student, using checklists, and I saw a change in his behavior. By breaking down the task, he was able to check off his work and see exactly how much he had accomplished (great for reflection), and I was also able to see the point in which he became frustrated with the task as a whole. However, this still was not solving the problem in its entirety. His frustration would still frequently escalate to a point of agression.
It wasn’t much later that I attended our monthly building meeting in which we were participating in a presentation on executive functioning and how to assist students who struggle with these behaviors. They mentioned that many students with executive functioning challenges are incapable or greatly struggle with forward thinking and need to be trained to do so.
So how was I going to train him to think forward? And then, how was I going to train him to control his impulses and respond appropriately to frustration?
It seems that this attempt is a culmination of all of my latest lessons in teaching: targeting lagging behaviors, using proficiency scales, and incorporating the iPad to create an interactive, student-created behavior plan that focuses on reflection and behavior ratings. In addition, the old rewards we would give him have been removed. A student with issues pertaining to forward thinking will be very unlikely to benefit from a possible reward at the end of the week.
The plan operates off of the following structures:
(1) Proficiency Scales – Proficiency scales come from Dr. Robert Marzano and have revolutionized the way I assess my students. Especially for abstract targets such as reading comprehension, and of course, behavior, it is hard to assign percentages. However, it is much more plausible to assign check points on a continuum, or a scale. This student’s proficiency scales allow for credit to be given, and for a correct amount of credit to be given. In addition, he is able to assign himself the credit that he deserves, putting all of the control in his hands. The proficiency scales will also have pictures of him showing what he will look like at each of the levels.
(2) Unexpected and Expected Behaviors – One of his scales centers around expected and unexpected behaviors. This is not something I began with him; rather, the social worker and resource teacher have. We will be creating this list of unexpected and expected behaviors so that his behavior is more easily designated on the proficiency scales.
(3) Role Playing – Frequently, during behavior discussions, we will role play, meaning we will either switch roles or he will pretend he is in a frustrating situation.
(4) Picture Diary/Reflection Journal – In an attempt to get him to “think forward,” we are trying to give him representations of past events where he did what was expected, completed his work, or was polite to other adults, and the outcome of that behavior. Most of the time, the outcome of the behavior is that he feels positive in some way, whether it is accomplished, proud, or happy, it’s a positive feeling. By having the picture representations, he is truly able to “see” these moments, and hopefully imagine them happening again in the future.
(5) Checklists – Of course, some of our work needs to be proactive. It seemed like an obvious choice to put in as many supports in place as I could to help make him successful, and breaking up tasks for him would only help to decrease the chance that he reaches a point of frustration.
The outcome of this plan remains to be seen, but I am entirely optimistic.