Helpful or Harmful?


My favorite topic, my area of expertise.


How we interpret the behaviors of our students is critical to finding effective and student-centered interventions.

images-4For the most part, we stink at this whole interpretation thing. You all know this, I write about it a lot. I believe our mismanagement of students presenting maladaptive behaviors is the most harmful of all the things we do in schools.

This true life example will hopefully help illustrate my point. It’s all in the way we interpret behaviors, how we clear away our assumptions and stand in our students’ shoes when they react in maladaptive ways.

Old Soul is a kiddo with lots on his mind. He worries. He has much anxiety about many different things. He has some OCD rituals but is able to mask them fairly well. Old Soul is another brilliant kid who gets bored, hates redundancy and can argue you out of your beliefs about anything from curriculum to purpose of life. He is right much of the time.

Old Soul is havinimagesg some trouble in one particular class already this year. Spelling. He is a strong speller. He catches on quickly. He is a strong reader and uses an advanced vocabulary with his exemplary reasoning skills. Well, the spelling routine is all about word sorts. It’s a current trend, has
some merit, but like many of the newer teaching resources and curricula, it is way too redundant for way too many kids. One set of words is studied for a week or more. And most kids are like, ‘can we just move on already?’.

The problems with this particular spelling method include way too many choices, it’s boring foConfused_by_too_many_choicesr kids with strong language skills, it’s hard to construct personal meaning and most kiddos just move through he motions and check each activity off the list of many.

Anyway, Old Soul has some anxiety about all the choices. He has trouble organizing all the moving parts in this particular spelling program. You see, the list starts as the words on a sheet of paper. They must be cut out for sorting, and they have to be Unknownkept track of for two weeks. Does this sound like a good idea for a kid with anxiety and ADHD? He has expressed frustration about keeping it all organized.

What does the teacher do when Old Soul fidgets, tips his chair back, appears to not be listening, can’t make a choice when asked to pick one activity from 20, when he becomes disengaged and checks out? She interprets those behaviors as noncompliance.

She does all the wrong things. She sends lengthy emails home outlining all of Old Soul’s misbehaviors and lack of engagement. She outlines the things she has tried, Unknown-3all of which are ineffective and actually causing additional harm, and is preoccupied with putting the entire onus on Old Soul, actually stating that perhaps he needs an easier spelling list if he can’t comply and handle the activities at his current level. Mind you, he can correctly spell the words on the list!

Here is what needs to happen.

  1. Maybe this particular spellinUnknown-1g curriculum is not appropriate for Old Soul.
  2. Differentiate- limit the activities, give him a more advanced spelling list, find a way to keep him organized (my own kids did this spelling program, and it is an organizational nightmare).images-3
  3. Let him fidget and do not assume that means he is not paying attention.
  4. Build a relationship with Old Soul
  5. Offer Old Soul a different place to do his spelling word sorts and such- the floor, a different table or chair.
  6. Stop emphasizing compliance and assuming this is all noncompliance
  7. Stop pressuring Old Soul to make an activity choice within a certain number of seconds or minutes as that just exacerbates anxiety levels.Take some responsibility as the teacher. It’s not working, so that means the adult has to find a way to make it work.
  8. Assume distress and alleviate it.
  9. If he is bored, that’s on the teacher, not the kid.
  10. Ask Old Soul what he thinks would work for him.

Let’s do better. What is happening now is negative, counterproductive, emphasizing the wrong things and further disconnecting Old Soul from school, his teacher and learning.

Compassion? Critical Thinking? Common Sense?  Try applying those when finding a solution for Old Soul and his spelling dilemma.

Oh, the places you will go!


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