Why 1-1 Class Support For Kids is Usually Wrong & Why Classroom As
Feb 19, 2010 Teaching Methodology 3008 Views
What's this -- classroom assistants must learn to do nothing? Is this crazy talk or what? No, not crazy -- totally serious. It's is often extremely beneficial when managing children's behaviour to stand back and do nothing. But, be warned that doesn't mean ignoring kids' bad behaviour -- no way is that being suggested!
What's it all about then? Let's explain...
Imagine the scene. A child with behaviour problems has a classroom assistant assigned for 1:1 support. What happens? This is a common scenario...
A classroom assistant feels they have to be seen doing something with the child - they're there to support this child, after all. What do they do? More often than not they glue themselves to the child. They're almost joined at the hip! Lessons are underway and the child is expected to do their work. This causes the assistant to panic because their charge shows a severe reluctance to put pencil to paper! Oh dear, what's going to happen now?
It's pretty well guarantees that the assistant, 99 times out of 100, will do the wrong thing - not intentionally of course... They simply don't know what else to do. That's a tough view of a common scenario but it's true!
So what's so wrong about what they do? Well, they frequently get manipulated by the child who senses the anxiety about this work being completed. The child also has a pretty good idea that the adult won't make too much of a fuss in front of everyone else in class. So the adult's on shaky ground already. The child has pretty successfully moved themselves firmly into the driving seat and the adult is left floundering...
How's it happened? Quite simply, by being glued to the child the assistant has allowed themselves to be sucked into the child's world of 'learned helplessness'. This is where some children will happily exist, manipulating adults into virtually thinking for them and doing their work too.
How does 'learned helplessness' operate?
In class, the child is supposed to have started their work but they sit there, doing nothing. This leaves the classroom assistant feeling responsible for the child producing the required work, so they feel obliged to do something about the situation. They start encouraging, suggesting, helping, cajoling, persuading and then finally, practically doing the work for the child. The adult's been well and truly conned!
For example, classroom assistants are frequently seen almost doing a child's writing for them! They excuse this by explaining, 'He doesn't like writing'. Too true he doesn't like writing, but he still has to be expected to do it and he's certainly not going to write if he can con somebody else into doing it for him! The problem is that once you've allowed this situation to become established it becomes more difficult to change. It can be done, but you're better not allowing it to become a pattern of behaviour from the start.
What's this 'doing nothing' idea all about then?
It's necessary that classroom assistants to learn skills that will allow them to take control of situations where they are in danger of being manipulated. It really isn't difficult to learn. It's mainly about establishing confidence to ensure the child understands what their work involves, telling them you expect them to work independently for 5 or 10 minutes and then you'll be back to check how they're doing. (Obviously you build up from this initial time until the child is working for most or all of a lesson.) This gives you an opportunity to tell them that they're doing fine. Tell the child that you know they can do the work well but there are other children who need your help. Of course you're always vigilant and ready to step in if necessary. You also tell the child that there will be consequences if the work isn't completed properly. This must be carried through if necessary and the child must respect this.
Does this sound too simple? That's because it is simple! It's vital that children are encouraged to work independently at an appropriate level but they can't achieve this if there's an adult glued to them all the time. Children need space to think and work and they need to learn to think for themselves. It will probably involve some determination from adults if an environment of 'learned helplessness' has been allowed to become established. You have to stick to your guns and be totally consistent in your expectations.
It's so tempting to do too much for children but it's vital that you don't fall into this trap. It's so important for children's development that they're expected to become increasingly socially and emotionally independent. But if adults don't expect this then it simply won't happen.
Does this happen in my classes? Yes, absolutely. People often say that it's easy to work with small groups of children. But consider -- their behaviour is totally out of control in their mainstream schools but they're expected to behave well and also to work independently. They can, of course, ask for help if they're stuck with a problem but once that's sorted out they're expected to work on their own again.
A class is at its best when all the children are working happily and independently and the adults are practically redundant for a time. Just adults happily doing nothing with happy, confident kids, working and achieving well in their classes. It's great to see children happily doing their best in class. For many of them this is a novel experience. It just doesn't get better than that!
Remember, doing nothing for kids can be extremely productive at times! It's a simple concept that's pretty easy to learn to do.