Be A Behavior Detective

Written by Dreamscape

Becky Jones earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Elementary Education and Special Education from Rhode Island College and Master’s of Education in Special Education from the North Central University.  While she has spent her whole career at the elementary level, she has worked in both regular and special education. Nearly half her career was spent working with students who have severe behavior disorders and consulting on behavioral challenges in other schools. Click here to read Becky’s full bio.

“Kids do well if they can.” This is my favorite educational quote.  It is from Ross Greene, a noted expert in behavioral strategies for children and author of several books, including Lost At School and The Explosive Child.  It is the quote I hold close to my heart when teaching.  The idea is that no child wants to do poorly, no child is looking to displease you.  Look at it from a child’s perspective, is it really worth it to always be the one to get reprimanded? To miss out on class rewards? To rarely hear the praise others receive?  It can’t be a good feeling to walk in the shoes of “that kid”.   

The gist of the rest of the quote from Dr. Greene is that we as adults must intervene if students can’t do well. If a student is behaving poorly in class, then it is up to us to determine what is the root cause, what skills might this child be lagging behind in. When students fall behind in reading we talk with our colleagues, hold intervention meetings, and strategize as to how we will remediate the lagging skills.  In math, we do the same.  Pretty soon, we change our approach with the student and he possibly receives help from a reading teacher or math coach. When it comes to behavior, all too often, our go to strategy is write-ups for the office, consequences or reward systems.  However, just as the student falling behind in reading can’t suddenly read better if we promise to give stickers for improved reading performance, neither can the student with the behavior concerns. Kids do well if they can, and if they can’t, we as educators need to teach them how.

One potential reason for students to act out in class is for avoidance or escape.  What is it they are trying to escape? All too often, it may be difficulties in reading.  That student who knocks things over or disrupts the class right at the start of a reading group or during independent reading may be trying to escape from demands that he knows he can’t meet.  The student may not want you to realize just how much of a struggle it is for him. Or he may not want his peers to hear him struggle through a passage that is a breeze for them.  In actuality, he may not be that different from the student needing reading interventions. He just may have a greater sense of his weaknesses.  In his mind, he’d rather distract you with crumpled papers, disrespectful remarks, or knocked over book bins, then have you realize that that passage is just too hard for him.

So what can you do as a teacher?  Change your mindset.  View your student’s behavior through the lens of a detective as you would for a reading or math deficit.  Ask yourself what function the student’s behavior is serving. Does it happen at the same time each day? What demands were being placed on him just before it started?  If it does seem to be tied to academic demands, how can you change their presentation?  How can we make it feel less threatening?  How can we reduce the anxiety the tasks are causing?

When it comes to reading, try a different presentation, break it down into unrecognizable steps.  Don’t present the student with a chapter book and expect performance. Instead, take the pressure off of him, let him listen to books.  Libraries now have a wealth of audiobooks, free to download for a week or two.  They even have book videos so that students can follow along.  The different presentation of hearing it and following along in a real book takes the pressure off but still exposes students to quality literature.  Alternately, book videos or ebooks read aloud on a tablet can make it feel less like reading altogether. Introduce games, both physical ones, and app based that incorporate decoding or phonics skills.  Provide movement breaks, that include reading practice in subtle ways.  Have the student hop to different squares on the floor with words labeled on each, once the word is read, he can hop to the next.  Use a break on a treadmill combined with sight word cards or flashcards on a tablet.  As long as he is reading the words, the break can go a little longer.

By thinking outside of the box and determining just why a student is struggling with behavior, you can provide him with the tools so that he too can do well.

Follow Becky on Twitter @BeckyJones105


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