Thursday, July 12, 2012

I Had A Kid Who. . . Real Solutions for Real Behavior Problems

By Bill Page

If kids were all alike, we could teach them all alike, but if some kids are different, we must make them like the others, or failing that effort, we must learn to make instruction fit their differences.

I Had A Kid Who. . . .

Bill Page’s book, At-Risk Students; Feeling Their Pain is available through his web site, or through

Continuing with a two-word theme to offer practical ideas for making a difference in class instruction without a reformation or revolution, this month’s two words to help make classrooms better for teaching-learning and better for teachers and students are “Provide Options.”

Allowing for Differences

Providing options can be as simple as adding a choice:

 “For tomorrow, do the problems on page 156, (or do the ones on page 160.)” Or you might add several options, such as “Or, you may make up your own problems; or, you may use a partner to exchange problems, or you may suggest an alternative assignment, or you may ask me for a different assignment.”

Following are some options that were offered in my classes. They are not big deals; they are simply ways of allowing for differing needs of diverse kids.

I Had A Kid Who. . . .

Frequently needed to borrow my pen or an extra book…so

To be sure of its return to me, I used the “sneaker rule” “I give you the pen; you give me a shoe. A student walking out with only one sneaker is a good way to insure return of borrowed items.

Spoke spontaneously without raising his hand…so

I had him sit facing the group and gave him the responsibility of calling on students with their hands up and of reminding students of the rule.

“Clomped” around the room with her wooden heels…so

We played “Japanese School” where you remove your shoes when you enter.

In the course of most days, lost, misplaced, or had his pencil “stolen,” so…

We attached it by string to his desk….but kids broke the string….so….

We attached it by wire, with a screw on the underside of his desk…but kids unscrewed it – so we put in another screw and filed the head so a screwdriver wouldn’t work. But they cut the wire so…the class raised enough pennies to buy 24 pencils, gave them to a “neat freak type” kid who would issue him a pencil when needed and, advise the class if or when the supply got low.

Kept dropping things and knocking books, notebooks, papers, etc. off his desk, so…

We placed an empty desk next to him so he could keep his materials on that seat and desk top. Had there been no extra desk available, he could have sat next to the windowsill, sat on the floor, or lay on his stomach to write or read.

Couldn’t line up without shoving, poking, teasing, or aggravating the person ahead, so….

I made him the “Escort-in-Charge” going several steps ahead of the line, checking the route to be sure it was clear and checking as we turned corners.

Lived across the street from the school and regularly ran into my first period class panting, barely ahead of the tardy bell and was frequently late to class by one or two minutes, so…

I gave him responsibility for taking attendance, posting the absence list on the clip outside of the door and keeping track of those who were tardy. (Unexpectedly, he started coming to the class early to do the job.)

Constantly combed her hair, and continued combing surreptitious after being admonished and prohibited from combing, so…

After negotiations, I permitted her to request opportunity to comb her hair twice during the period. When she held up her hand with her fingers held like a claw, , symbol for comb teeth, I would shake my head negatively or affirmatively according to whether it would be distracting or not for her to step out of the room for two minutes to comb her hair. When two students complained about the preferential treatment, I required her to get their permission to continue the arrangement.

Interrupted others in discussions because “her contribution was urgent,” So…

After negotiation and with the class’ approval, she received an “Urgent Interruption Card” which entitled her to one interruption per day.

Who wouldn’t stay in his seat, so. . .

I assigned him two seats; he was allowed to go back and forth between them.

Options Are a Way of Teaching

The important part of all the preceding decisions to provide options was in the determination of whether “having a pencil” is more important than “learning to bring a pencil.

 Or whether we should teach the girl who interrupted to “get over it,” as one boy suggested, or let her be permitted to violate a procedure as an individual.

She was able to convince the class of her special need; so they allowed an exception. An important part of the decision was that the class could also revoke permission. I, as the teacher, really believe she learned more with that decision than she might have otherwise.

“Rules Are Rules” but Their Impact Is Different

Our school rules are made for everyone irrespective of individual personalities, needs, priorities, interests, backgrounds, previous learning, culture, and concerns. We know, absolutely, that each individual is unique, and that each is required to conform to expectations. In our classes, there can and should be allowances for exceptions to rules and there can and should be time and assistance to help students who need to learn and perhaps to decide without group pressure what is best for him/herself in relation to the group; the group must likewise be fully considered.

A Nation of Laws and a Nation of Lawyers

The essence of our republic lies in the questions of individual rights versus group rights. We are a nation of laws, which are relatively clear, but the reasons we have lawyers and court cases are to consider or determine an individual’s relation to the laws, which were made for everyone. If every homeowner on the block has a beautiful lawn, but one owner loves tall, naturally produced, unmolested, uncut weeds, should s/he be allowed to let them grow?

Majority Doesn’t Rule

And it is not a matter of voting or majority rules. If that were the case, we would still have segregation because the majority would get its way. Why should all the traffic, both ways, stop just for a school bus to unload a kid or two—it seems unfair, doesn’t it? And, when our nation was drafting young men to fight and an individual opposed killing, must he be made to carry a rifle and charge up the hill. We make exceptions even for that; it’s called conscientious objection, which is also a law. All laws do not fit all people and vice versa.

A victim of murder may be dead, but the one who commits the murder may go free—if the killing were a case of mistaken identity; or, if the murderer is incompetent to stand trial and goes to a mental hospital, unsentenced. These legal conflicts are the reasons for so many crime shows on television. Laws are always subject to interpretation and individual application

All Kids Are Human; Humans Are All Different

Our governance procedures require citizen understanding, cooperation, and participation. That is what I want to teach in my classroom. And, I would like other teachers would do the same. Some students in our classrooms have difficulty learning “the school game.” Kicking kids out of class does not help much, nor does a kid’s disrupting the education of the group, but learning to balance the equation could be of value to everyone.

“One Percent versus Ninety-Nine Percent”

The main character of Victor Hugo’s Les Misrables, explained that “the law in all its magnificence prohibits the rich as well as the poor from stealing bread and sleeping under bridges.” Laws, rules, and procedures apply equally, but their impact is not equal because people are individuals. The protesting inequality of 1%–99% making the news appears to be the reasons for the “Occupy Movement” taking place around the nation. Perhaps, we should start movement to “Occupy Classrooms” or “Occupy Schools” for more equity, fairness, and balance.

Providing Options Is a Great Start

If every teacher would keep in mind the differences in the effect of class procedures on different individuals and the differences that exist in individual students, it should be possible to strike a better balance. I discovered it is possible to meet the needs of every individual in the class while meeting the needs of the class. The problems arise from the choices of procedures by which we go about meeting or ignoring needs. Providing options is a good way to allow for the differences in our classes. I, for one, am happy that all humans are not alike. And, I don’t want to use (read waste) my time and effort toward that end.

With joy in sharing,

Bill Page’s book, At-Risk Students; Feeling Their Pain is available through his web site, or through

About Bill Page …

Bill Page, a farm boy, graduated from a one-room school. He forged a career in the classroom teaching middle school “troublemakers.”

For the past 26 years, in addition to his classroom duties, he has taught teachers across the nation to teach the lowest achieving students successfully with his proven premise, “Failure is the choice and fault of schools, not the students.”

Bill Page is a classroom teacher. For 46 years, he has patrolled the halls, responded to the bells, and struggled with innovations. He has had his share of lunchroom duty, bus duty, and playground duty. For the past four years, Bill, who is now in his 50th year as a teacher, is also a full time writer. His book, At-Risk Students is available though his site

In At-Risk Students, Page discusses problems facing failing students, “who can’t, don’t and won’t learn or cooperate.” “The solution,” he states, “is for teachers to recognize and accept student misbehavior as defense mechanisms used to hide embarrassment and incompetence, and to deal with causes rather than symptoms.

By entering into a democratic, participatory relationship, where students assume responsibility for their own learning.” Through 30 vignettes, the book helps teachers see failing students through his eyes as a fellow teacher, whose classroom success with at-risk students made him a premier teacher-speaker in school districts across America.

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