Saturday, July 16, 2011

The hard (some say impossible) to reach kid

We all know the kids I'm talking about - wander in and out when they feel like it, if they turn up at all; worst of all, you dread when they do turn up because the class runs well when they aren't there. When you wander around the school in your spare time (spare time??) they are usually outside the classroom, often not their own classroom either, but outside some other classroom making silly faces through the window. They throw things around the classroom, yell out insults, swear profusely and often get into real and pretend fights. They've been on every level in the discipline system and suspended twice already, and its only term one.

Where do you start with these kids?

1. Before you can get them inside your boundaries, you have to find out where they have their boundaries.

As every parent will tell you, its about boundaries. Children not only need boundaries, they constantly live within boundaries. If the boundaries outside of school (or in other classrooms, for that matter) are different to the boundaries you expect, then you have an immediate problem. Its no use expecting a kid to obey your classroom boundaries if the kid already lives outside them. It can be a bit like putting up a fence for your sheep when they're over the next hill enjoying their lunch. They're not going to put themselves inside your sparkly new fence, you're going to have to go and get them.

So you have to find out what they see as their limit. And the only way to do this is to observe and interact with the kid. If a kid swears at you it doesn't necessarily mean that they are behaving outside the boundaries set by others in their life. When this happens, just ask the kid, "Would you speak like that to your mother?" If the kid answers yes then you know that swearing is accepted in their home. If the kids says, "My mother swears worse than me," then you know swearing is definitely allowed in their home. Whether or not you agree with the way a child is reared has no impact on the reality of that child's life. It is not the teacher's role to rear the child, it is their job to get them in the classroom behaving in a manner which is conducive to learning.

You are now over the hill where the sheep are grazing.

2. Tell them what you expect, give them respect, teach them how to learn

Finding their boundaries doesn't mean you don't have your classroom rules in place while you're finding these boundaries, you should always maintain a strong set behaviour expectations for all your students. Just don't expect every child to come to your classroom with the same set of rules in their heads. You will need to explain your expectations to them, as well as the consequences should they step outside them. Try not to compare your expectations with how they behave outside your classroom. A simple, "In my classroom I expect you to talk without swearing," is enough to set the boundary.

But its more than telling them, its also teaching them. Just like with the Assessment for Learning cycle, you've assessed what they know and can do (their boundaries), you know what knowledge and skills they need (your boundaries and how to function in the classroom), now you need to set activities for them that takes them from current knowledge and skills to new knowledge and skills.

Most of this teaching can be informal, mostly out in the playground, during sport or other places away from the classroom. You can cajole them, argue with them, even let them get away with behaviour you wouldn't allow in your classroom. At other times it can be whole class lessons on behaviour, so long as it is about how everyone should behave, not about that student's behaviour in particular. Some of the time it will be one on one outside the classroom, inside the classroom during detention, at the student's desk or at your desk.

Along the way they will keep testing your boundaries, much like sheep try to avoid being rounded up. But stay persistent, pull up their misbehaviour consistently and follow-up with consequences. Whenever they do as they're asked say thank you.

You're rounding the sheep up, they're heading in the right direction.

3. Expect them to do well, teach them to overcome hurdles

Along the way, as you try to corral the kid through the gate, there are going to be some problems. Other kids are going to stir them up, push them out the way, brag about how better they are at doing things in the classroom. Most kids who don't want to be in your classroom have very good reasons. Usually its the feeling of failure they have built up over the years. They have gotten to the stage where it is easier to face punishment than it is to try and fit in. This means that any difficulties can seem like insurmountable hurdles to them. They will undoubtably revert to past behaviour when the going gets tough.

Congratulate every achievement, no matter how small. Sometimes just a smile is enough. Encourage resilience. Teach them that to learn they must try. Remind them of the time they did try and succeeded, even if it is not class related. For instance, ask if they remember when they couldn't kick a ball properly, then remind them that after lots of practise they got there, and now they can kick a ball really well.

You've got the sheep in the pen but they're restless and keep escaping. You have to keep going out and getting them.

You will know that you have reached the kid when they stay behind after the bell and tell you about something they realised in your class that was beyond what you taught. When you reach these kids they usually can't wait to tell you what they've learnt and show you how smart they are. There is no greater feeling.

You've got the sheep feeding out of your hand.

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