Last Friday I tweeted for #PedagooFriday that a behaviourally challenged Year 4 boy in my class had kept out of trouble all week and that he had written six pages in our weekly ‘Big Writing’ session. @Pedagoo asked me to blog it, so here we go!
Bit of essential background first. This young man didn’t come to us from the outset so he hadn’t been immersed in our ethos of good behaviour. He came from a difficult background too.
He arrived in a mixed aged class with an NQT who basically was scared to death of him. His oral communication before school had been with much older boys, and their attitudes had rubbed off on him too. Rule number one for teachers in applying discipline: Children smell fear!
In Year 2 his class teachers had a job share. Both were very good teachers; ‘Outstanding’ in fact. Their problem arose from the male PPA cover teacher, who again showed lack of strength. That cover was on a Monday afternoon, so they had the rest of the week to try and put things back together. That was because of another trait that emerged that year of deliberate disruption and involving other children too. He soon paired up with another child, and between them reduced Monday afternoons to complete chaos; shouting out, stupid comments, thrown pencils. By now his behaviour was starting to involve a sexual element too, telling girls how he was going to f*** them, showing his genitals, drawing people having sex.
The final act of the previous leadership, when he reached year 3, was not to stick by our policy of ability grouping of children in our mixed age classes, but to put him into a mixed year 3 and 4 class, to separate him from his ‘partner in crime’ of the year before. He was at least a level behind the rest of his year 3 classmates, in a class with another male teacher who had struggled with discipline because he was ‘too nice’, but worst still there were a core of underachieving boys in year 4.
Our new Head immediately saw the consequences of this decision, as within days of the year beginning, the core were in thrall to the boy’s influence. By this point in time he had an agenda to spend as much time disrupting what went on around him; he would lie to behavioural support staff about what he was allowed to do, would openly disrupt assemblies, and on one occasion tried to put a metal pole through the Deputy Head’s windscreen after school!
I observed that class three times in the year, with my literacy, leadership and performance management hats on. On each occasion, the ‘gang’ were literally being directed to misbehave to disrupt the lesson; nods and winks directing falling off chairs, projectiles being thrown, shouts and stupid noises. And this in an observed lesson too! It was far worse when leadership weren’t there, and near anarchy when PPA cover or supplies went in. The fullest consequences came from my data analysis (another hat) at the end of the term. The whole class had made no progress in mathematics at all, progress in reading and writing amounted to little more than half a dozen children making a sub-level of quantifiable progress. Now the teaching wasn’t bad, but the impact on children’s learning was substantial.Some progress was made by the end of the year, but of the children now moving up to year 5, many were now a level below age related expectations.
I had taught year six for eight of the previous ten years, but the Head wanted me to transfer my record for raising standards and for discipline to the middle of Key Stage 2. The core of underachievers was his motivation, yet the rest of the staff knew the real reason. Yet again I was expected to undo the damage inflicted by previous experience.
As I said before, this child had an agenda, no interest in his own work and progress, and a contempt for the authority of male staff in particular. Within one minute of the first day in September he had deliberately fallen off his chair attempting to start a chain reaction of disruption.
What he had not ever considered though was that someone would ever exert authority over him. First tactic employed, a good one for teachers struggling with a disruptive group, is ‘divide and rule’; catch one child doing something, discipline him for it, but knowing that the actual perpetrator has not been spoken too. Peer pressure soon kicks in, as do the concerns of the parents. ‘Well Mr and Mrs … you were spoken to last year about this behaviour. You weren’t? Let me assure you that it went on, and this is the impact it has had on your son.’ One look at how far behind they were, and a terse ‘I do not expect to be having to speak to you again about your son’s behaviour!’ made the picture abundantly clear.
Within two weeks I had dealt with six boys, and had the 100% support of the parents. The perpetrator was literally isolated, particularly after one child asked if he could say what he thought, and spilled such a barrage of dislike about the other boy’s behaviour, that for the first time in his school life he cried. Seating plans, of which I am a fan normally, meant that none of the core could face him without turning around or making a disturbance themselves.
I had to make him aware of the impact of his behaviour on his learning. His results are poor but he is of above average intelligence. I begin each year with a 100 question tables test to organise the class for their weekly tests. Many of the highest achievers score 100, and even the less confident score around 50 knowing their facts up to x5. He scored 6. He had been trying to distract others, dropped his pencil and undid his laces several times. Normally I would stop, but I had a point to make. Similarly, in a piece of free narrative to assess the children’s work, he failed to pay proper attention and produced five lines, whilst most of the rest of the class wrote three or more pages.
He also craved attention because of three years of getting away with poor behaviour. He gets no negative attention now, all misbehaviour simply being marked on the discipline board without the flow of the lesson being interrupted. What he does get is positive attention, when he genuinely struggles, and for the positive contributions he has started to make.
All this may make me sound like a bit of a bastard! Definitely not. He has had three years of behaviour policy being applied to him inconsistently, and he knew it. All my strategies are supported by behaviour policy and by the Head and SENCO. When he is told that the next action brings consequences, the consequences follow. Not once has he been shouted at, just clearly and firmly spoken to. The slow drip, drip, drip of consistency has been rubbing off.
Which brings us to his work. Six pages in forty minutes. His handwriting was very big, and there were no full stops often for ten lines or more, but he sat and wrote for the whole time, which is a long period for an eight year old with a poor concentration span. He was very pleased with himself, especially as some of the more able writers managed only two sides, and that his work sounded so mature when read aloud by another child.
The battle isn’t won, but it is a start. His followers have seen the error of their ways and are starting to claw their way back towards expectations. Our subject will still remain a thorn to supply teachers and PPA cover, unless my TA sits with him, as she is equally as consistent as me.
It is these kind of children and the impact we can have that make this such a rewarding profession to be in.