During a parent-teacher conference.
Parent: My child is timid! Her teachers before didn’t teach her well. She failed in most classes. I’m confused. She always gets aggressive when I ask her to share with me what she learned at school.
A phenomenon (behaviour for this matter) happens as the results of other events.
When I took over the class, I also felt very frustrated for their expectancy level is lower than their grade level. As an adult, I could readily accept the labels given to them: naughty, lazy, unmotivated, and slow. That would have made my life more manageable for I could get in the class focusing on lower order thinking skills activities (words, recitation, dictation, etc.) and PUNISHMENT.
As a teacher, I was and am compelled to rise above the situation. For three months of having classes with them, we observed:
- They are non-compliant but don’t exhibit inappropriate behaviour.
- Their “laziness” or “naughty-ness” has a function: escape.
- The escape is caused by something they have no control of weak, which is their weak working memory.
Using Carole Stockdale and Carol Possin’s (2000) Word Shape has been very effective in increasing my students’ language fluency. We practiced manipulating those shapes to create our own sentences while learning, implicitly, and explicitly, some grammar rules. In the beginning, I had to teach them using a direct method through modeling. I’d say write a sentence, “The boy is wearing a red shirt.” As I say each word in the sentence, I would drag its corresponding shape. It took them two sessions before they could perform the activity without verbal and visual prompts 4 out of 5 opportunities per session.
It’s amazing. It works for most of my students in this class are visual learners. Visualization and multisensory activities even for these 8-9 years old kiddos have been beneficial. But we still have a long way to go.
So, going back to the parent.
It’s always easy to label our kids or students. That’s a convenient way of looking for a reason they behave in how they do.
I took the courage of telling the parent that the child needs help in improving her working memory. She processes information differently. We push her (and them) and punish her for we thought she’s being lazy. But her struggle is real. Her fear and anxiety are real. She exhibited escape behaviors for she also couldn’t understand why she had difficulty archiving even recently learned concepts. An observant adult or teacher would immediately notice the trace of frustration, fear, and anxiety when you ask her to repeat specific information. With an impatient adult, she’d 90% of the time say, “I don’t know.” or “I don’t want this!” If you insist, she will burst out, crying.
Ending the conference
I ended up asking the mom to work on these areas: visualisation (e.g., if she’ll be asked to set the table during dinner, the mom could ask the child first to draw out what a “set table” would look like), multi-sensory (e.g., giving her the instructions in several manners or ways) and playing cards (educational ones, perhaps).
The behaviour our kiddos show results from an antecedent, an event or phenomenon, in the past. Perhaps, they learned that by showing a specific response achieves their goal (i.e., survival, the law of nature). Thus saying that the child says “I don’t know” 10 times in an hour class — rather than labelling him lazy — provides opportunities for a change.