The question was asked: “How can I talk to my students or help them to change without their leaving the classroom?”
In my primary classroom, the kids aren’t yet able to read or write well enough to do written activities and in my high school job at the alternate school, having students write about their behavior would be seen as too negative. The type of student we have there would simply get up and leave the school, or more likely, just swear at us.
I think that a student can be given a fresh start each day provided that the same type of action doesn’t keep being repeated. In other words, when a particular type of behavior has been dealt with once, the student is expected to maintain a higher level of behavior with regard to that type of situation from then on.
Remember, the power of the system comes from eliciting solutions from the student. If a student has completed a self-referral on one day, I would elicit—right at that moment—what should happen if the behavior does not improve. I would have the student come up with a suggestion for how the situation should be dealt with if the student chose to misbehave in the same way again. This takes the responsibility and stress off the teacher and places it on the student where it belongs. If a student doesn’t come up with any suggestion(s), you can provide a number of them yourself or you can describe ideas based on what you have seen other students choose in the past.
In some cases, the student simply needs a procedure. For example, a few years ago my teaching partner and I had a student who was undergoing tests to determine whether or not he had some form of autism. In the beginning of the year, he was often the last student entering the school after recess or lunch—late by five or ten minutes. Apparently, he had had this habit much of the previous year in Kindergarten, too. Although at first we were annoyed and sometimes even angered by this behavior, we calmed down and decided that rather than getting angry, it would be better to help him by giving him a procedure to follow. In the end, it was actually very easy.
First, we had a discussion about the fact that when he came in late, we might seem angry, but really we were worried, not angry. We were worried for his safety. We asked him if he understood why it was important to come in on time, but he honestly didn’t seem to know. We had to explain that we were worried that if he was out in the back of the school, as he typically was when the bell rang, there would be no adults to supervise him. We explained that someone could drive by, see him, and actually take him away. We would hate for that to happen! (He didn’t like the sound of that idea either.)
We didn’t do this to threaten him through fear but simply to help him understand the seriousness of the situation. He really didn’t understand why there should be a concern about coming in late. Then we gave him a procedure: When the bell rang, he was to run to the school door. If he didn’t hear the bell but noticed all the other kids running, that also would be a sign that he should run, too. That did it. After that when the bell sounded, he ran and was rarely ever late.
Here’s another example: We set up a meeting with the counselor and a concerned mother. Part way through the meeting when three teachers, a counselor, and the mother were all feeling discouraged (because we couldn’t think of anything to do with this challenging child), he appeared at the door, and so we invited him to join us. Again, after going around in circles for some time with this very bright boy who would never ever own up to any blame in any situation, the counselor suggested that we focus on just one troubling behavior. The teachers suggested that it be his “noises” that often destroyed lessons for everyone. With five adults sadly looking at him, he agreed that, yes, he could work on this issue in the next couple of weeks. The counselor wisely planted the suggestion that if he could work to get this one behavior under control, many of his other issues would likely just fall into place quite easily.
The counselor suggested that the student begin a “Noise Journal” which he would keep on his desk. In effect, the counselor suggested a procedure.When the student made a noise, the teacher would give him a signal to fill in the ending to a pre-printed sentence starter that would allow him to think about what had prompted the noise.
He wrote things like:
–I made a noise because I was thinking about being out on the playground.
–I made a noise because I wanted to make Chris laugh.
–I made a noise because I copied Nolan.
As well, there were other sentence starters that said, “I thought about making a noise but didn’t because….”
By reflecting and thinking more carefully about what he had chosen, he was able to stop himself. The counselor made it very clear that the journal was not a punishment but rather a way for the student to help himself reduce his impulses and habit of making noises. It only took a week or so and this child’s behaviour improved. He realized that his behaviour was a choice over which he had control
More suggestions from Kerry regarding challenges are available at her blog.