Sunday, April 27, 2014

Working with challenging children--Think about it Thursday

I am so glad that Carla over at Comprehension Connection started this weekly series on challenging topics. It fits very well with my tendency to over think everything. I will begin by saying that I do not consider myself an expert on this topic. Working with challenging students is not something that came naturally to me, but I have been blessed with many opportunities to grow! :) Here are a few things I have learned:

I put this first because nothing you try to do with a challenging child will work unless you have developed a relationship. I don't remember ever hearing this message in my undergraduate classes, but it is truly the foundation of everything that happens in the classroom. Identify a student's strength, and tell them about it! Use humor. Give meaningful compliments. Learn about their interests. Do whatever it takes to ensure your students know you like them.

Search for ways to make the child successful. Identify the key problems or triggers, and plan for them. These are some plans that have worked for me.

If a student struggles with lining up, assign a safety spot away from the rest of the class to help them. Don't make it seem like a punishment. Sell it as a wonderful idea you had to help them stay out of trouble when lining up. 

If a student never wants to clean up because they are in the middle of a project, give them warnings about how much time they have left to work. Teach them to watch the clock to budget their time. Even if they can't tell time, explain when they begin working that it will be time to clean up when the big hand reaches the 9. Put a timer on their desk, or project a timer onto a screen for the whole class. It helps to have visual sand timers since young children don't really have a concept of 5 minutes.

If a student tattles, uses the restroom, blurts etc way too often, try using tickets. I have had great success using tickets for a variety of behaviors. When a student tattles, I've given them tattle tickets. I will listen to their tattle if they can give me a ticket, if they are out of tickets, then I will not listen. Once they have to budget like this, they get much better about evaluating the seriousness of a situation. If the student is out of tickets but is completely adamant that a situation is not a tattle, but a report of a serious issue, I might say something like, 'I will listen to this, but you need to understand that if I don't think it's serious, ____________(insert some minor consequence lose a one of tomorrow's tickets, or refer to your class behavior plan).' I've used tickets for restroom breaks, and for blurts as well. You can get a bunch of real raffle tickets (which they love), or design cute ones on the computer, but I usually just cut up index cards. (There's a reason my blog is called Not very fancy!) If they have tickets left at the end of the day, I might offer a small reward of some sort. I gradually reduce the number of tickets. Usually at some point we end up forgetting about the tickets because they don't need them anymore.

If a student gets out materials when they aren't supposed to, move the materials to another location.  If a student is using their scissors or markers when they aren't supposed to, I help them by giving them an alternative place to keep their supplies. This way they can still access the supplies when necessary, but the temptation to get them out at inappropriate times is reduced, so they will be more able to focus. 

If a student has a bad habit, self monitoring might help. This year I had a student who seemed unable to sit in his chair without rocking (despite many falls). I put him in charge of monitoring how many times I redirected him for this problem with tally marks on a post-it note. After the first day I think they tally was around 25. We set a goal of doing better the next day, and I offered a chance to operate the computer during a brain break. (Our district subscribes to Go Noodle, and the kids love to be in charge of choosing an activity. You can get some activities for free.) Within a week we had reduced the number of redirections to less than 10! 

It's a good idea to have some tricks up your sleeve to pull out when the occasion arises.

  • Send a student on an errand to get them a break from the room (the errand can be real or invented).
  • Have a coping box with soft, squishy, quiet toys that you can offer to students if they need a break.
  • Give the student a special job--sharpening pencils, organizing the class library, cleaning desks, and looking for dried out markers are all good.
  • Pull out a box and help the student put their bad thoughts inside. 
  • Pull out a 'magical' eraser, or even cast a magical spell on an ordinary eraser, and use it to erase the bad thoughts or feelings.
  • Offer choices! Make sure you find either choice acceptable.

Teachers like to think they can do it all alone, but we can't and we don't have to. I have a colleague with a real gift for helping students calm down and accept responsibility for their actions. I send kids to her room for breaks quite a bit! I'm also not afraid to admit to my colleagues that I need ideas. Everyone has something they can teach you!

I had to include this because it is important. This is the most difficult thing for me. Some days I really have to dig deep to find the energy to provide consistency. Many times our most challenging students come from an environment where they don't know what will happen from one day to the next (or even from one minute to the next.) Their lives are very unpredictable.  The consistency they get at school is an enormous comfort to them. 

As I said before, everyone has something they can teach you! I have also learned so much from books. The one I want to recommend to you is Teaching With Love and Logic. This is the book that saved my career!

Please share your favorite tips in the comments below! 

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  1. Wow! You have some great ideas here. I think I'll try the tickets for a child in my class who ALWAYS has to use the bathroom.
    Thank you!

    1. Thank-you, Barbara! I hope it works!


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