Thursday, July 29, 2010

Using the Mistaken Goal Chart In the Classroom

(originally posted at Reepicheep's Coracle)

Since I wrote about the mistaken goal chart last week, I thought this week I would give my dear readers an example of how I have used it. Plus, I have been wanting to write more about my classroom/gym experience using positive discipline, so here goes.

I was teaching a one-hour 5 year old gymnastics class with 8 kids in it. Mostly, it is super easy to get kids to behave in gymnastics because they love to be there and naturally stay right on track. With the littler kids, though, there is often the problem of distractability in a gym where 6 thousand things are going on all around them. But for a 5 year old class like this, usually just calling the kids name snaps him back into the task at hand, and that's often all the discipline I have to do.

Most of my class management occurs before the kids even get there. I try to streamline the process of moving from bars to beam to floor to vault so that there is little time between activities in which to misbehave. I enlist the kids help for setting up, give them little tasks while moving between activities (like walking on toes), and try to minimize waiting in lines. Those things keep kids moving and having fun, so they don't even think of doing anything inappropriate.

I also use my energy level to keep kids focused. If a coach sits or stands still or stops talking and encouraging and laughing, the laws of physics state that the coach becomes a black hole and all the energy of the class will be sucked away. So I move constantly, touching everyone, giving constant feedback, laughing and joking and enjoying myself, and that keeps the kids energy where it belongs: in their cartwheels.

But I have had a few challenging students who required more support from me to behave well, and that's where the mistaken goal chart comes into the story. In this particular 5 year old class, I had a little boy who was a terror. He constantly irritated the other kids, would do one cartwheel and then stop, would wander away from the class, would try to get my attention every second, etc. He was one of those kids that gets talked about in the break room. Coaches try to teach classes he isn't in. He had several older brothers who also ran wild over the gym waiting area while the little one was in class, and they all drove the secretary mad. I asked around about his family because I never ever saw a parent with whom to discuss his behavior. I was told that he didn't have a dad, and his mom was almost completely uninvolved in his life. Basically, he was being raised by his older brothers who were still kids themselves.

Knowing something about his life did two things. First, it made me feel sympathetic to him instead of angry and annoyed. Second, it made me think about the whys of his behavior instead of just the what. So, I used the mistaken goal chart. I noticed that I mostly felt annoyed and irritated by him, so that's a clue that his mistaken goal might be undue attention. From what I understood about his home life, it seemed to fit. Why wouldn't a child who didn't get enough adult attention try to get it from every adult he came into contact with? And if he was being taught all his social skills by other kids, it seemed reasonable that he was using a poor method that wasn't getting results. I wondered about what school must be like for him; I would be willing to bet that his teachers think of him as a trouble maker (just like the coaches at the gym). He was probably getting mostly negative attention there too.

So I decided that I wouldn't wait for him to misbehave or ask for attention. I would just give him tons of physical contact and kind words from the beginning and see what happened. I would also continue to stop him from irritating other students, but I would worry less about how much gymnastics he was learning and focus for a while on what kind of experience he was getting from me (one of the few adults he ever interacted with).

I asked him if he would like it if I carried him from activity to activity. Yes, he said, with a lit up face, he would love this. Most 5 year old boys want to play roughly with me, but they aren't usually cuddlers, so I took this as proof that he desperately needed adult contact. I hugged him when I saw him. I touched his hair when I passed by him in line. I spent time picking him up and throwing him into the foam pit (I did the same to the other kids, since they all love this). I spoke with him before and after class. I waved at him on the playground when I saw him during his brother's classes. I carried him from beam to bars to vault to floor. I treated him like a darling child that I couldn't get enough of. And an amazing thing happened. He became a darling child that I couldn't get enough of.

His behavior improved A LOT. He stayed on task; he begged for attention less; he kept his hands off the other students; he stayed where he was supposed to stay. He blossomed when some love and affection was showered on him, not as a reward for good behavior, but as his due as a child.

Had I not consulted the mistaken goal chart, I would still have addressed his behavior using positive discipline. But I wouldn't have been fixing the problem he really had. I could have made him the line leader, but his problem wasn't that he felt a lack of power. I could have found him a smaller class with less going on in the gym at that time, but his problem wasn't over-stimulation. By using the chart to find his real problem, the misbehavior melted away. Jane Nelson really is right when she says that "children behave better when they feel better."

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