Whether you are working in a mainstream classroom, in small groups or in a one-on-one tutoring situation, you are bound to encounter the occasional behavior issue. When choosing which techniques to best help a particular situation, I find it helpful to start with the ABC’s of behavior. Getting to the root of the problem leads to a happier solution for teacher and student alike.
A: Antecedent – This is a fancy way of saying, “What happened immediately before the misbehavior?” Did a student struggle with a task? Were they feeling embarrassed in front of a peer? Were you about to transition to a new activity? Was something too easy? Looking at what triggered a particular behavior is a key to helping us figure out the reasons behind the behavior.
B: Behavior — What is the behavior? Try to be really specific in your description.
- Avoid downtime. Have your materials at the ready and keep all students actively engaged and responding. Instead of taking turns, give each student a specific task to do. Find ways that students can respond simultaneously and even privately. For example: writing answers on a white board shown only to the teacher, pointing, giving a hand signal or moving letter tiles.
- Create a safe climate. This is especially important for older struggling readers working in small groups, but even for individual tutoring, it can be difficult for a student to trust that they will not be laughed at or made to feel inferior. Laying down guidelines about kindness, encouragement and giving each other wait time can go a long way toward making students feel safe taking risks. It is also vitally important that making mistakes is viewed as a positive step toward mastery. I try hard to take responsibility for errors that result from poor word choices or lack of clarity and make it clear that the student is not responsible for my mistakes. Rather than telling a student an answer, guide them to the correct answer themselves. Avoid having another student be in a position to correct a peer.
- Include games and fun activities. Making learning engaging and fun goes a long way toward preventing behavior problems. It also provides leverage to get through something that is tricky. Point out that working hard and staying focused will give you more time for a fun activity. Maybe even consider doing a lesson component out of order to get it out of the way when the student is feeling less tired and more cooperative. Make sure the tasks you are asking the student to do are just right; not too easy and not too difficult. For more information on playing games, read this post. For game ideas, try these.
- Frontload both expectations and emotions. Setting very clear expectations and reviewing those expectations regularly, helps students to keep the desired behavior in the forefront of their mind. It is a scientific fact that emotions will always take precedence in our brains over memory, learning and cognition. The same neurotransmitters that kept cave men safe from predators, causes a child who is feeling unsure and vulnerable to freeze and become unable to access their knowledge and strategies. Even very young children are able to understand this and learn to take calming breaths and let their brains do their job. As teachers, being tuned into our student’s emotional state, taking a few minutes to check in, and giving the child that may need a little boost some extra attention, sets the stage for a successful lesson.
- Use a reward system. Although prevention is more effective than most behavior charts, some students really benefit from a visual/tactical reminder. Some examples would be for each student to have 5 tokens to start the lesson. These could be pennies, laminated pictures stuck with Velcro, blocks or even candy. Every time you need to correct or redirect a student, you take away one token. At the end of the lesson, the tokens left can accumulate toward a prize or sticker. This is a particularly good way of providing more support for one or two children without singling them out.
Another easy reward system is time based. Set a timer for random intervals. When the timer goes off, if the student or students are doing what they are supposed to, they get a tally. This works both individually or as a group adding marbles to a jar or tallies to a chart for a special treat like a game day or party. Alternatively points or tokens can be given at various predetermined points through the lesson, based on the children’s participation during the previous components.
Timers are also a great tool for teaching focus. Set a timer and give the students a challenge. “See if we can get through this big stack of phonogram cards before the timer goes off”. Another spur of the moment technique is a game of hangman. The teacher will add a body part for every redirection needed. You don’t need to do any talking, but it is surprisingly effective. This is particularly helpful for those students that have a knack for drawing you into their distraction. Best of all, I have seen students begin monitoring and catching themselves before interrupting their work.
For children who struggle in school, their challenging may very well have served as survival skills. These things kept them safe in the regular classroom environment. Carefully planned, individualized OG lessons and a warm rapport with your students can go a long way toward preventing behavior challenges. Staying on the cutting edge of a student’s learning, offering the right level of scaffolding, and building a relationship of mutual trust and respect is ultimately going to be more powerful than any behavior chart or reward system.
Have you found a system that works well for you and your students? I’d love to hear about it. Please let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!