'Separate the pupil from the behaviour'

15th October 2004 at 01:00
One of the first techniques teachers in Southampton are trained in is the I-message: how to communicate in a non-judgemental way with a pupil so that an individual is addressed separately from their behaviour. This technique acknowledges that a piece of behaviour, however poor, may actually be an attempt to meet a legitimate need. A boy might think he has been treated unfairly; a girl might be seeking attention or might be seeking acceptance or stimulation.

Tackling poor behaviour is about discovering what need the young person has, then providing alternative strategies to achieve the same end.

Southampton's guide for teachers, Emotional Literacy: Assessment and Intervention, says: "I-messages are verbal communications which, particularly when we are telling a pupil off for 'bad' behaviour, try to convey a fundamentally non-judgemental attitude. They are contrasted with you-messages which are blaming and judgemental."

Here are two ways of approaching a common problem. The first is to say:

"You are thoughtless and inconsiderate because you forgot your home-school book again." This negative you-message, according to the Southampton team, is less likely to solve the problem than a positive and less personal I-message: "I feel frustrated and let down when pupils repeatedly forget to bring in their home-school books."

Another technique is the use of stories that contain therapeutic metaphors, ideas that the child can identify with to help them change the way they behave . This is based on the theory that if a vulnerable child perceives the world around it as threatening the most effective intervention may be to challenge that perception.

Adrian Faupel's guide says: "Therapeutic metaphors are a particularly powerful and creative way of helping pupils to see, experience and learn different ways of behaving."

Stories used in this way can be adapted to the needs of individual pupils to aid understanding of their own problem or situation, and to discover ways of tackling it.

The guide suggests that the story's hero or heroine should be in some way like the child for whom the story is created, preferably with a similar name, and relate to their interests and experiences.

Another popular technique is the use of games that offer a useful forum to practise and develop personal skills. The guide's authors suggest that games can be particularly useful for anger management, social skills and self-esteem development.

Games also provide a safe and highly-structured environment to raise very personal issues, to allow the consideration of other perspectives and alternate ways of seeing the world or particular problems and enable the sharing of other students' experiences.

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