Controlling The Uncontrollable

Every year I see coming into my classroom a group of children with behavioural and learning issues that pose a challenge to the functioning of the class. Over the years I have come to summarise this cluster of symptoms in a particular way that I find helpful in terms of finding workable strategies.  In short, these children may be any or all of the following:  hyperactive, impulsive, inattentive, anxious, slow scanning, unco-ordinated in the handwriting, dyspraxic, obsessive, socially isolated and verbiose.

I am not pretending here to be an expert on learning difficulties.  I am not offering online diagnoses.  I am just speaking as I find.  Your learning difficulty children tend to have those sorts of issues.  And there are two things I want to stress about it:

1.  It is not their fault.  They can't help it.  You cannot discipline an ADHD child, for example, to be better organised.
2.  It has nothing to do with intelligence.  These children often have above average intelligence.

I am assuming here, that like me, you are alone in the classroom and not one of these privileged people who has full or near full time assistance from aides. What do you do when a child with these issues starts acting out?  They are out of their seats, interfering with other people, taking the stage and making it impossible for you to be heard and for the other children to hear you.  Their books show a hit and miss pattern of work that is only occasionally done.  They read at a snail's pace and to be able to cope at all you have to devote the lion's share of your attention to helping them just to read.  

It is draining and demoralising work as you see the poor progress of these children and the other children suffering from neglect.

Over the years I have found myself able to find ways of breaking through this difficulty and making a difference in the lives of these children and making the classroom a comfortable place for everybody.

It is of the utmost importance to truly understand and accept that conditions such as Asperger's and ADHD are features of the child's personality and not penalties or impediments, and certainly not discipline issues.  Once you believe that and enter into the world of someone with these issues it really does become a joy to work with these people.  

The first tip I would like to share is that almost universally, these children are good at art.  Don't ask me why; I wouldn't have a clue!  But they are.  Art and music.  These are great ways to capture and sustain their interest, reward and motivate them.  You can make their troubled world feel a whole lot brighter each day just by starting it with a song, or some music to listen to while they are working.  Many lessons can begin with visual impact.  For example, you can start creative writing lessons by doing art.  All of a sudden, these kids are the stars of the show.  In the process of doing their pictures they are forming ideas, themes, characters, settings, plots.  It gets them going.

Second,  a structured routine makes them feel secure.  It reduces the sense of chaos they live with in their internal world.  Have a set timetable and stick to it like clockwork.  Have predictable activities that are frequently repeated.  Keep activities short and achievable.  Part of having a structured environment means recognising naughty behaviour for what it is e.g. disobedience, or harming another child.  It means some simple internal punishment system that gets it over and done with the same day and enables the child to save face.

Third, do not send anything home that needs to come back.  Keep everything these children need for school at school.  What needs to go home e.g. for Homework, hover over them and make sure they have it in their bags.  And ask their parents to reciprocate the favour by supervising the packing of their bags in the morning.

Fourth, teach the rest of the class to be nurturing e.g. "Didn't Johnny tackle his words well today?"  or "Let's give Susie a clap for reading that sentence without any mistakes."  And make sure that when Johnny and Susie do well in Maths their achievements are well publicised so that when the class hears them struggling with spelling or reading they know they are not "dumb".

Fifth, sometimes if everything is going wrong and you are feeling frustrated to the hilt, it helps to just find something - anything - positive to say.  "Susie your hair always looks so pretty."  And never mind that she is running riot around the playground instead of walking quietly in line to her library lesson.  Or, "Johnny, your smile makes me feel so bright when I see it."  And never mind that he is tipping water over people instead of putting the science equipment away.  

Sixth, have ultimate rewards.  In my room, I have two games of kingball on offer each week and a Friday afternoon movie.  Certain behaviours, however, can incur crosses and if there are five crosses the games go and/or the movie.  

Seventh, make it as easy for these children to focus and concentrate as possible.  Do not sit them next to other inattentive people.  Sit them near you.  Hover over them frequently to check on what they are doing.  Do not leave them twiddling their thumbs.  Keep them busy.  If they are stuck, model it for them.  Let them fiddle with something; it helps them to concentrate.  e.g. during recitation of tables, it helps them to be squeezing a piece of plasticine. 

Eighth, artificial colourings (especially yellow) and preservatives can make a significant difference.  Bear in mind, they don't always though. Definitely one to consult with parents over, but always worth a try.

Ninth, don't ask me why jigsaw puzzles are so therapeutic for these children but they are.  Have a big jigsaw puzzle on hand that can be an ongoing thing.

Tenth, have a couple of spare desks.  It helps these children to feel that on occasion they can change where they sit.  In other words, they can get up and wander to their other seat and sit next to somebody new.  Don't ask me why it scratches a particular itch, but it does make a difference.

I apologise if this off the cuff amateurish approach has offended anyone.  I just felt inspired to put some helpful tips out there.  No child should feel so hopeless and helpless about their issues that their lives are lacking in value or worse, not worth living.  
perseverer perseverer
56-60, F
36 Responses Sep 16, 2011

glade to see a teacher who knows her students well.. maybe write a book about it.. or let other teachers know of your insight to helping children...

Thank you. The more we share, the more we learn.

It's nice to hear from a wonderful teacher, your patience is outstanding.<br />
My oldest sister was a teacher in Leavenworth, WA. She told her students little things to make them feel like they could make a difference. "Just think how much more beautiful the earth would be if we all picked up a piece of litter every day and put it in the trash". <br />
When I went to her home in 2002, I noticed a card on her kitchen counter, so I read it. A young man was thanking her for her gift. He was in college, one of her former students. Since she didn't have children of her own, she told her students, "If you go to college, be sure to write me and tell me how you're doing." I'm glad I discovered that she had been giving aid to her students, since she passed away during that visit. I know that most teachers don't receive the compensation that they deserve. She just happened to marry a man during her 40's that insisted she do whatever she wanted with her earnings. <br />
She also wrote a book during the last 5 years of her life, called "Dancing With Mules" I don't know how she perservered, she was battling cancer. She had to interview a lot of people to compile the old pioneer pictures from the wheat growing area where we grew up. <br />
I think teachers have one of the most difficult but rewarding jobs. Good teachers deserve our thanks.

Your sister sounds like she was a wonderful person with a real heart of gold. Her pupils were very fortunate. Thank you for sharing the caring things she did - I have taken note. And many thanks for reading this story and leaving such a remarkable and inspiring comment.

Thank you so much, DANNYBHOY66! Your words of encouragement have just made my day!

Thank you, EmmaSimpson, for your comment. There is a case for CP, the use of force as a last resort. That is, after all, how the real world operates. But as you say, the danger with young children is that their behaviour is construed as naughtiness when it is actually the result of learning difficulties. When CP is removed as a means of discipline, it forces the teaches to use their brains more to work out creative ways of managing the children.

Wonderful !!!! , I have just left an internet parenting group where people were advocating the use of CP in schools. I tried to give the oposite view but was hounded for it. Some parents even accepted that their own children should be whacked at school ???<br />
For the life of me I could not understand how any parent would accept that.<br />
I enjoyed your post, uplifting and full of comonsense and reasons why children like this need understanding not whacked or beaten because the teacher does not understand them. Thank you !!!!!!!!!!

There is much more understanding and awareness about ADHD nowadays. But do keep in touch with your son's teacher. Thanks for showing your interest.

I commented on this last year I think lol turns out my son has ADHD just wanted toto tell uu that ur a wonderful teacher hope my sons kindergarten teacher will be like u :)

Thank you for reading this and sharing your thoughts.

That is so kind, RickiChick!

I followed my friend here and I'm very impressed! I wish that our nestling would've had you as his teacher!

Thank you, angelkaty1975. I appreciate that you read this story and cared enough to leave a comment.

Thank you for your most interesting comment, RustyRider. Once we see people as the solution rather than the problem a universe of possibilities opens up. <br />
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Your niece has undertaken a noble profession and I wiould be most interested to hear how she gets on with it.<br />
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Thank you for sharing your own anecdote which does indeed illustrate the same principle - that love and support of people are motivating and empowering.

I for one cannot accept your apology in your closing paragraph - what you have outlined in your story would have to be entirely practical! Effective solutions in all professions and industries very often don't come from management. They come from those at "ground zero". <br />
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My niece has relatively little teaching experience and has been `thrown in at the deep end', finding herself teaching in Melbourne's western suburbs. I'm about to copy and send your post to her. She may sigh and wish I'd mind my own business. But when she has some experience behind her, I hope this list of solutions will still be sitting somewhere in a recess of her mind.<br />
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It's interesting to note that as a workplace technical supervisor I found the same approach was needed in the workplace with the odd adult staff member. <br />
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Things changed noticeably when we all purchased a funny sort of billiard table that used discs on a polished surface instead of felt and balls. The staff morale shot up in very short time. I went against upper management rules and would allow the odd quickie game during work hours, usually between jobs, and the difference in their attitude to the workplace, particularly when a game would break up in laughter, was amazing.<br />
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Thanks for your story. ..

Thank you for the suggestion. Will certainly take it on board! Many argue the same about immunisations. Definite link with underdevelopment of the cerebellum ie cannot be cured by diet alone, but with a comprehensive exercise programme incorporating different balancing exercises.

You're welcome.

Hey, I don't have time to go through this in detail, but I have read that fish oil is very effective for ADD and ADHD, as it is for many mental health concerns. I think many such people may have problems that would be minimal if it were not for the curse of the modern high-carb diet. There is no doubt that these problems are far more prevalent than they were several decades ago. In the past, sweets and soda pop were a far less prominent part of kids' diets than they are today.

Thank you for sharing your own story of<br />
a special teacher in your life. I like her idea very much. Something so simple can say so much in the life of a young person.

I love how much you care about your students. Your advice is great and I will keep that in mind with my nephew since I believe he has ADHD. The world would seriously be a better place if there were more caring attentive loving and understanding teachers like you. You do make a difference I still have very fond memories of only two teachers growing up that really showed they cared. <br />
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My 8th grade teach Mrs. Johnson had everyone write down what kind of person they will be when they graduate from high school and what kind of job or college they want to go to. Or any other thing that they wish for themselves to achieve. She sent the letter to me when I graduated it was so special that she remembered that!

Thank you, smile, for commenting. Communication with parents is important as it established the expectations and assures co-operation between home and school. Much learning is, of course, routine, but that doesn't mean it has to be boring. We do our humble best!

kits, 55 in one class would, I think, be impossible for just about anyone, yet I remember when we were little, our class sizes were also large. But there was not catering for individual differences; you sank or swam. If you had problems you hid them and bluffed your way through, then turned out illiterate as adults.<br />
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By all means, share my thoughts with your friends if you think it will help. <br />
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And yes, I would love to have you in my classroom, not as a pupil but as a most valued colleague who also cares very deeply for his pupils.

Hello perseverer,your doing great stuff with those kids . when I was at school ( long time ago) most of the kids just bored in class .Today is sometimes the same get the kids to do more things in class and talk to the dad and mums to let them know what going on within the classroom with the child.They can help at home with the child it does help I have seen it with my own eyes.

Had I known more about this I might have postponed my retirement a few years.But 55 of them in one class was just getting too much for me and I later identified 12 groups in that class 'competing' with me.I can see you must be a wonderful class manager with very good knowledge and ideas and I am sharing it with some of me (ex) colleagues - I know you won't mind.<br />
(You have'nt got an extra desk there for a 62 year pupil willing to learn? Promise I'll be quiet.)

Lilt, I deeply appreciate you reading this and approving. You are so right about cookie cutter answers. If only! Still, if we keep nutting it out and sharing what we find helps we will still get somewhere.<br />
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Neeran, thank you for reading. You are totally right. Every person is different. I know as a teacher I find it for ever tempting to compare siblings, for example. But every child is a unique identity and not cast out of a mould.<br />
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Lottusflower, I am so glad this helped. Thank you for leaving a comment, and all the best with your search for answers.

amberdextrous, I would LOVE to have you in my classroom! You would be a teacher's dream come true. I wonder if you have heard of or read Winford Dore's book on Opening the Door to Learning. He developed a programme of exercises that literally cured learning problems. His theory was ba<x>sed on these problems being due to underdevelopment of the cerebellum, and he invested his personal fortune into researching and testing. He learned much, for example, with what was done with stroke patients, and also from astronauts returning from space missions. Interesting how you found juggling helpful, as one of his exercises is tossing a bean bag from one hand to the other. Unfortunately, the centres he set up were not financially sustainable and he was forced into receivership. I found his work thoroughly convincing and think you are really onto something with the circus skills. Perhaps you could arrange to teach me some so I could teach the children?U

Thank you so much for sharing this i am a mom n needed to find more info on this subject..this helps alot thanks :)

Awesome points. On the other hand Teachers shouldn't compare a student with another student.

Perserverer, Thank you for sharing such a wonderful post.<br />
What I hear shining through every word, is your enormous respect for each student's spirit.<br />
Each year you open your heart and door not to a "class," but a room full of individual little people with huge personalities! And often special needs. All of your suggestions are spot on. You also recognize there are no cookie-cutter answers. Ours is a job of "creative problem solving."<br />
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In a time when there is a lot teacher bashing going on, I wish everyone could read your story.

As a parent of a child with Asperger's, and another probably with ADHD, I appreciate what you've said here. Having been in your classroom, and having spoken to parents at the school, I have heard on numerous occasions that you and your husband are the best teachers in the primary school. Having insider knowledge, I'd just like to mention here for the benefit of your friends that you are, and always have been, the most diligent and dedicated teacher I have ever known. God bless you always.

Thanks Nell. Just doing my job!

Thank You for this wonderful insight into your day to day classroom management, perseverer, and for sharing some of your strategies for dealing with children's learning difficulties. You are obviously a very sensitive, observant and caring teacher, dedicated to her noble profession, and I have worked with many educators who would benefit from reading your story.<br />
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As an education assistant responsible for children with special needs, I worked in a mainstream school with several autistic boys and another with dyspraxia. It was easy to see that there were other children with a range of behavioural and learning problems in each class, and I made sure to help as much as possible with the teacher's management of them, as well. <br />
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One activity I might add to your list is juggling. I have seen children with ADHD develop their concentration skills, dyslexic children improve their writing, and whole classes raise their literacy levels, as well as spin-offs in terms of confidence and self-esteem, hand-eye coordination, reflexes and aerobic fitness.

JoeDakota, thanks for reading and commenting. Every child is a gift from God and it is a privilege to work with them. I couldn't agree more with what you are saying. Seeing every child with his or her individuality as a gift and being grateful for him or her does create a disposition to openness, to learn and grow together.

JB4J thanks for the boost. When I retire, I hope to do more in the way of writing about professional issues. For a long time, the conditions referred to above were not even recognised as such but were thought of as naughty, undisciplined behaviour. These children were thought to have "discipline problems". We now know more about ADHD and Asperger's and that both are actually Autism spectrum disorders. Even OCD is now considered to be Autism spectrum. With knowledge and understanding comes power.

perseverer...No 1: Why arent you a professional Writer?<br />
No 2: where were you when I WAS IN SCHOOL? Excellent Write! You truly are a loving & caring teacher. :-)

1Gia it must have been an inspiration then! Of course you may share this with your friend! It has made me so happy to know that my little story might be helping someone! Thank you for your comment; as per usual, you have encouraged me no end.

Your kind words of encouragement mean heaps to me, amandashell; thank you so much! Recently I spent time with a child who was melting down, had lost all sense of self esteem and meaning and purpose in his life, purely because of his difficult behavioural issues. He was suicidal. I know his teachers; they are fine and competent women. But I also know that as a teacher there is so much to do and cope with that in the quest for the lesson or the perfectly managed environment you can lose sight of the world of the individual child who is sitting there dying because he can't understand, can't focus and can't keep up. I know from my own experience that often it is just little things that make a wold of difference and if sharing some of the practical tips I have picked up can help just one child like the one I was with last night, then it is well worth the effort. Thank you again for your thoughtful comment; I do appreciate it.

"It is of the utmost importance to truly understand and accept that conditions such as Asperger's and ADHD are features of the child's personality and not penalties or impediments, and certainly not discipline issues. Once you believe that and enter into the world of someone with these issues it really does become a joy to work with these people."<br />
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You must be a wonderful teacher. I am sure you have affected many students. How can I know this? Because of the way you so clearly write, you've given what you do a lot of thought. <br />
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But, mostly, it is the telling words you used that explain a lot to me: You figure out how to "enter into the world" of someone else. You don't stand by and expect them to come to you. You actively figure out how to bring to their world what you need to reach them, to teach them.

Megwa, some children do indeed have an uphill battle due to diffficult home situations. And that is all the more reason for their classroom to be a safe and stable place for them. Thank you for reading and commenting.

Some children hav truma it's from bad parents like their fathers smashin into them callin them names don't look at a child different cause it's havin trouble Lear in talk to them u may find in their homes is unstable