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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.

Truly Scary Stories For Fearless Kids

A sanity kit for the teachers of Dare Devils 

Motto: "No fear!"  

Dare Devils:
  • are high sensation-seekers,
  • love a challenge, thrills, and excitement,
  • are spontaneous, high-impact adrenaline junkies, 
  • often have limps, bandages, or plaster casts due to scrapes, cuts, and bruises, and 
  • are not usually gibed with the art of forward planning. 
One great example is Steve Irwin, the late, fearless Crocodile Hunter.
Truly Scary Stories For Fearless Kids

Helping Dare Devils to change 

Congratulations! You have a high-voltage, switched-on, determined, energy-to-burn type of kid in your class who will have a go at most things. You may also need to re-think your ideas about class excursions. 

And welcome to the world of time trials! Whereas competitive kids can be engaged through challenges, Dare Devils need time trials. Dare Devils can really enjoy school: it can give them the challenges, the peer connections, and the physical activity they thrive on. The bigger issue is whether you will enjoy teaching them, as this can be either a recipe for exhaustion or a delight.
The most powerful behavior-management strategy I've ever seen for these kids is an audible timer. Say, "You've got five minutes to ask ten people about these fifteen different things ..." - and the Dare Devils will rocket out of their seats and into action.

If you can rid your classroom of clocks, it's even more powerful. Without a clock in a classroom, a five-minute time trial can last 20 minutes.

Dare Devils need structure and procedures, but be prepared for them to be tested, as this can become the challenge. Have just a few key rules, otherwise you'll end up in a morass of battle and confusion.

When Dare Devils get a rush of adrenaline, you have a choice: calm them down or navigate their energy. Calming down is not something Dare Devils are naturally skilled at. Nevertheless, it's a skill they can use over and over again. Have quiet areas in your classroom for this purpose.

Navigating the energy of Dare Devils is achieved through trial and error. Look for positive rewards and areas of responsibility. Use computer games for times when Dare Devils have an adrenaline rush. Use physical games on the playground, body math (i.e., using clapping or song or some other rhythm to remember tables and sums by touching various parts of the body), and theater sports with literacy.

The golden rule for teaching Dare Devils is: when they are disruptive, move them. Don't wait for them to calm themselves down; they won't.

Dare Devils can be slow to develop an internal world: they are not naturally inclined to reflect on the meaning of things. For this reason, they can become quite upset or unhappy and have no idea why. Or they can be astounded that adults see
them as high risk-takers who they wouldn't consider taking on an excursion. Dare Devils may also have very little inkling of how friends or peers feel about things.

During calm moments, helping Dare Devils to consider events from others' perspectives or wondering with them what other people might feel is valuable. Asking them to describe and rate their own feelings also helps. Teaching Dare Devils planning and sequencing skills advantages them greatly. Take an area of their interest and develop a project that requires them to devise and implement a series of sequential steps: this will develop skills that will remain with them for life.

Dare Devils (as well as Competitors) particularly benefit when you include a resilience and emotional intelligence program in your class lessons. Try to teach Dare Devils the "Stop, Think, Do" method, which is based on traffic lights:
  • Red: Stop what you are doing.
  • Yellow: Think about some alternatives.
  • Green: Select a behavior and do it. 
The other really valuable skill to teach Dare Devils is the art of prediction and risk assessment. Use hypothetical situations, role plays, and segments of TV shows, and ask them, "What might happen next? What risks can you see?" To find out more, you can check out Truly Scary Stories For Fearless Kids.