You’ve asked what the issue is, you’ve listened, and it just… doesn’t match up to what you know (or what you think you know).
Some children lie. (Some adults lie) – and surely you know best anyway? The child’s not making any sense, they’re attention seeking, they’re not even speaking in proper sentences…
What do you do?
Believe what’s there – I dare you.
No, this is not a fool-proof approach, and yes sometimes they’re trying to pull the wool over your eyes – but most the times your Spidey-sense can spot that one.
Behaviour is communication.
So when they say it’s too hard.
So when they say I can’t be bothered.
So when they don’t even say anything but just grunt, ask yourself why.
It’s too hard – break it down, scaffold, question, provide key words, prompts, examples
I can’t be bothered – empathise (we all have tasks we can’t be bothered to do – why do we immediately penalise young people for expressing aloud what we often think?) then work out how you can move forwards – do they need a little motivation, a reminder of past successes on a similar task, a time deadline, an alternative to finish at break? What’s the carrot?
A grunt – what is that grunt communicating? Are they scared of failing, tired, upset, angry, stoned? – Each one will need another action if you are to adapt…
In one mainstream school I worked, I had a year nine class. One boy, we will call him Ian, was incredibly arrogant, backchatted and did little work – and yet he was intelligent, his backchatting arguments demonstrated that.
For the first few weeks we were at loggerheads. I couldn’t work out where his behaviour was coming from, what he was communicating and if I’m honest, he was pressing my buttons.
It got to the ‘little chat’ stage. He began with his usual rhetoric; coming from a place of high class, privilege and physical extra height he had on me, he attempted to belittle my questioning and enquiries.
I sat him down.(Highly recommended for all pupils who are taller than you when you’re having a ‘little chat,’ The animal status game can then quieten down and you can have a civilised conversation)
I was straight with him. I told him I felt he was trying to belittle me and that his behaviour was arrogant (not the pupil himself, avoid labelling pupils at all cost, they wear it as self-fulfilling badge of pride). I also told him I could see that he had great abilities in language and communication, I even quoted back examples to him of where his backchat had proved these skills. I asked him why these skills couldn’t be used in the actual English lesson.
His response surprised me “But I’m rubbish at English.” – Not what I had been expecting, and here is the moment where I’m asked to believe – is this a story? A distraction? An excuse?
I asked where he had got this story from. It turned out that in year 6 a teacher had asked him to read a story out loud to the class. He had got in a muddle and had had to sit down. He’d not been asked to read again in class. Since then his parents had re-enforced (lovingly) that “It’s OK, English isn’t really your thing is it?” Which brought us to today – three years later. He had decided, before he’d even set foot in my classroom that it wasn’t worth bothering. He’d already failed – and thus, the behaviour.
Over the following weeks I spent time with this student. I offered to give him 15mins in a lunchtime once a week to go over bits from my lessons – and he came. He was becoming an engaged, hardworking pupil who had started to re-write his story and identity with English.
By the end of term we were able to give him the English Award for the year. His parents were flabbergasted. Ian was thrilled to tell me the following day that his parents were so happy they’d bought him some new equipment for his camera.
Ian went on to study and create films.
It’s worth believing, it could make all the difference.
What’s the worst that could happen?