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Handling Children In School

Yikes! My class has all of the above!
If you think your class contains children who can be as manipulative as Angelica, negotiate as well as Bart Simpson, debate a point with the aplomb of Margaret Thatcher, show the competitiveness of Winston Churchill, with a blast of Dare Devil combined with a smidgin of Gandhi's passive resistance - don't despair. There are still ways of making your classroom a harmonious learning place, but it is going to take a bit of thinking and strategic planning to get there.

Handling Children In School
When I work with schools or communities, I often begin by roughly categorizing the young people into four main groups: 
  1. the high-fliers,
  2. the not-switched-on,
  3. the switched-off, and
  4. the at-risk. 
As we go through them, it will become easy to see where each bright kid in your class fits in.
1. The high-fliers 

These are the students in your class who cause you little grief. They are "bright-eyed and bushy-tailed," always ready to answer a question or tackle a new problem. High-fliers are almost never a behavioral problem. Bright kids who can appear in this group include Manipulators, Debaters, Passive Resisters, and, very occasionally, a Negotiator.

High-fliers are great kids but, paradoxically, this group also includes your least resilient learners. High-fliers are prone to perfectionism and, when that takes hold of them, they can be reluctant to try new approaches to learning or attempt problems they are unsure of.

Also, keep challenging this group of students. Make sure they grapple with thousands of problems, estimation games, and quizzes.

2. The not-switched-on 

These are the students in your class who have mastered the art of invisibility, the under-the-radar lifestyle. They can be so unobtrusive that some days you wonder if they are there at all. In large schools these are the students who can spend years doing little more than dodging questions, evading answers, and shirking work. These students are rarely if ever behavioral problems in a school, but they are not exactly contributors, either.

Bright kids that may join the not-switched-on group include:
  • Competitors rejuvenating between victories,
  • Dare Devils recovering from their latest exploits,
  • Passive Resisters hanging out quietly, and 
  • some of the more well-mannered Negotiators. 
3. The switched-off
These are your behavioral problems. These are the look-you-up-and-down, come-on-I-dare-you, how-far-do-you-want-to-take-this types of characters. These are the students who can take you into a battle that will turn you into a shaking, stressed-out mess. Don't go there?

Bright kids who might participate in the switched-off group include:

  • disgruntled Manipulators,
  • Negotiators summoning an audience for their latest prank,
  • Dare Devils executing their latest thrill-seeking adventure, 
  • Passive Resisters who are stressed, and 
  • Competitors who are taking you to task. 
Even Debaters can join this group for a short time, though usually only to defend their peers against the perceived injustices that you have apparently inflicted on them.

4. The at-risk 

At-risk students can include children and young people with significant learning disorders, often coming from homes with significant dysfunction, and often with substantial impulse control and attention issues as well. These students will need individually tailored plans to assist them, and you will require specialized support to have them thrive in your class.
I suggest that teachers list on a piece of paper the names of the students in each group. The percentage of your class that fits into each group will vary from time to time. Students can also shift between groups.

Okay, I've worked out who is in each group - what do I do now? 

The top priority for any teacher wanting to restore sanity and harmony to a classroom has to be the not-switched-on. The not-switched-on are passengers, not participants.
As a first step, consider establishing a plan to switch on three not-switched-on students. Set work tasks that you know will appeal to their interest areas. Look through this blog for ideas to help you. Use that time-honored teaching combination of fear, distraction, and bribery if you have to. Get them onside and on-task.

Switching on the not-switched-on provides you with a critical mass of pro-learning students. Without this critical mass, classrooms simply become holding bins for behavioral dramas rather than learning places.

Prevalence of each type of bright student 

Now you might be thinking, "Surely we should start with the switched-off - they are the ones creating the mayhem and behavioral problems, aren't they?" Let me tell you a few important things about the switched-off: 
  • You can spend the rest of your precious life trying to convert some of them and fail.
  • You are not their role model, the peer group is.
  • They are not stupid. In fact, many switched-off kids are razorsharp. One switched-off kid said, "You want to know how to get a day off around here? All you have to do is go to that teacher over there and tell him to go and [have sex]." Not his exact words, but you get the meaning. 
  • They have learned that one of the easy ways to gain popularity among their peers is to give you a tough time. 
  • If the bulk of the peer group is engaged in a learning task, some of them (but not all) will change sides and become engaged learners. 

In helping bright kids to become engaged and resilient learners, use routines rather than words whenever you can. Use the information in this supplement to devise cunning plans to keep one step ahead of them. To find out more, you can check out Handling Children In School.