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Oct 03

Process and Problem Solving

Posted by Valentine Burr in Fair Is Not Equal on Oct 03, 2012

In our post on "Relationship Building" a reader commented with a question about how to engage a struggling student. The themes raised in this comment struck us as universal and worth exploring in more depth in a post.

The commenter wrote:

I have a student for the second time this year. In addition to being "left back," his family is experiencing significant stress and he also has a hearing impairment that we just learned about. He has a lot of non-compliant and resistant behaviors, and often has emotional outbursts. He often refuses to follow even simple directions. He is very physical and talented in terms of movement (I want to suggest to his mom to sign him up for gymnastics or a dance class), but often jumps on furniture or does flips in the classroom when he is upset or defying directions. He talks back to adults and also argues/fights with his peers. He is "behind" academically in reading and math. He is in the process of being evaluated and his IEP meeting is coming up. He is going to get counseling from the school counselor.

Some suggestions that were made to me were having him showcase or presents his raps and physical agility, having more movement breaks, and finding more ways for him to express his emotions.

Are there any other suggestions that you think I could implement to help this student?

Our first impulse is to jump in with ideas and suggestions, but then we took a step back. There is so much more we would need to know about this child and the context, that this scenario provides us with a great opportunity to talk about process.

The first thing we would want to do before suggesting supports and interventions would be to collect some more data. For example:

  • Are these behaviors new this year, perhaps related to changes at home, or have they been consistent over the years?
  • To what degree might there be a connection between the hearing impairment and this behavior? Are supports in place to amplify sound in appropriate ways for this student?
  • What is the cultural context of home and of school?
  • When do these behaviors seem more apparent and when less so? Behavior that feels like it happens “all the time,” when studied closely often occurs according to patterns. Is there more resistance and physical impulsivity in the mornings? On Fridays? During literacy blocks? When this child has to work with peers? Etc.
  • What does this child like and what is he good at? When does he seem most engaged and successful in school?
  • What purpose does this behavior seem to serve? What might it be communicating? I’m bored? Frustrated? Need to be stimulated? Something else?

Once we collected more data and looked for patterns, we’d want to know more about what specifically you are trying to support. What are the goals for this student and how do they connect to priorities set by the student himself, his family and the school team?

  • Is the goal to better manage the physical impulsivity?
  • Support the development of more positive relationships with peers? With adults?
  • Teach this student to express his frustrations in more socially functional ways?
  • Target his academic needs?

Of course the answer is probably all and more, but often it helps to identify a starting place and a priority, that way supports can be specific and targeted.

So, we haven't answered your question exactly. But hopefully we have provided a way to think about how to get to some answers…

tagged behavior, impulsivity, problem solving, process
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