Commonly Overlooked Replacement Behaviors
In our experience, there are two replacement behaviors that can prevent a great deal of frustration and problem behavior, but unfortunately they are often overlooked. These are teaching students to take appropriate breaks and to negotiate assignments.
Taking Appropriate Breaks
As adults, there are many times we have overwhelming feelings that prevent us from having successful interactions with others. Having a discussion with someone at the height of our anger is almost always counterproductive to a positive outcome. Most adults have learned that they need to take a break and use calming strategies before they can successfully engage in a productive conversation with the object of their anger. Teaching students to identify when they are experiencing an overwhelming feeling and what to do to handle that feeling can significantly decrease the need for teacher intervention because they would be more likely to self-manage by taking a break before inappropriate behaviors occur.
Students can also learn to take appropriate breaks during independent academic work to prevent frustration that can escalate to problem behavior. How many times do we as adults allow ourselves to get up and move around when working simply because we need a break to regroup and refocus? Yet how many educators teach and allow students to do this?
Some educators fear that allowing students to take breaks anytime will be providing an outlet for them to escape and avoid undesirable tasks. "Won't they just ask for a break every time they are given something they don't want to do?" they ask. First, don't automatically assume students will abuse this. We have seen many students use breaks appropriately and never abuse them. Second, teach students what is a reasonable time to take a break for various purposes (calming down, regrouping, simply getting a break from a work task). For students who start abusing breaks, it is important to limit breaks in addition to teaching them that they will still be accountable for the work they missed during the break. Reproducible 2 provides a sample break pass.
Many times students are given assignments that are aversive to them for whatever reason but they either feel that they have no choice but to do it or express their feelings about the assignment in a disrespectful, non-teacher-pleasing way. The root of the teacher-student conflict in this situation is often that the teacher knows he or she should be differentiating instruction and providing options based on student interest and preferences (we discuss both of these in Part Three) but cannot do so for lack of time and so feels guilty about this. When a student expresses frustration in a disrespectful, inappropriate way the teacher responds defensively, and the power struggle begins.
We often teach students that if they are given an assignment that they don't like for whatever reason to negotiate an alternative assignment with the teacher. They can do this by (1) creating an alternative assignment that meets the lesson objectives but is based on their own strengths and interests, and (2) presenting the alternate assignment to the teacher in a respectful way. Suddenly the difficult and oppositional student becomes a charming and skilled negotiator who not only provides an appropriate alternative assignment for himself or herself but also other students in the classroom. Think of how much of the work involved in differentiating instruction could actually be taken care of (and off the teacher's plate) by teaching students this valuable life skill.
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