The art of teaching difficult children

8th November 1996 at 00:00
If "sin bins", "behaviour units" or "sanctuaries" are to be used more widely to cater for pupils who cannot be managed in mainstream schools, it is worth asking how teachers working in such units cope.

Is it simply that pupils regard the segregation as good, so they want to stay and therefore behave? Or is the stigma so bad they want to leave, and behave for that reason? Or is it the teacher's personality and small classes that make the pupils manageable in these units?

There are techniques, and they are easy to learn. It is time they were demystified.

u Concentrate on the pupil's behaviour only; motives, causes, reasons are often out of the control of the teacher.

* Tell your pupils what you want them to do. Don't draw attention to what you don't want them to do.

* Alter pupils' behaviour, and their attitudes will change.

* Change one aspect of behaviour at a time. It sounds tedious but is realistic. Instant conversion is not.

* Reward behaviour you want.

* Praise must be sincere and frequent.

* Draw attention to good behaviour as an example. The problem pupil will get the message.

* Reward in the form of praise, attention, encouragement, recognition directed at the problem pupil should be frequent - almost continuous initially.

* "When I'm good nobody takes any notice." Make sure you do. Negative attention can reinforce negative behaviour.

* Ignore unwanted behaviour or you may find you are being controlled by the pupil.

* In a crisis, reward the rest of the class for ignoring unwanted behaviour.

* Watching and waiting for obedience can be interpreted as a challenge by a pupil. Beware.

* Always be positive, especially in drafting rules.

* Notice what triggers, or precedes, unwanted behaviour.

* Know what is rewarding to an individual pupil.

* Always be clear and consistent.

* An appropriate curriculum is important, if difficult, these days.

* As well as looking at difficult behaviour, measure how often a pupil is actually "on task".

Lawrie Tipper is a retired teacher who previously ran special units for difficult children in London's East End.

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