* O is for Oppositional defiant disorder

As a longtime teacher of kids with emotional and behavior disabilities, I did see my share of students with a clinical diagnosis of ODD.  Oppositional Defiant Disorder is more than crankiness or ‘tude.  It is characterized by at least 6 months of a frequent and persistent pattern of anger, irritability, arguing, defiance or vindictiveness toward others.

ODDI found that these kids usually struggled with ADHD as well.  More than that, their parents were harsh and inconsistent, often neglectful and abusive.  Many of the parents were at least as oppositional as their kids, and occasionally, both kids and parents were acting out at school.  And with relatives. And in the neighborhood.  And with the law.  These families were frequently shattered and poor, with substance abuse issues and limited education.

Genetic or environmental?  Both probably.  It didn’t really matter.  I was occasionally successful in forming alliances with parents to improve their responses to kids, but mostly that was a wash.  Instead, I focused on my relationship with these kids.  What did I do?

  • Set clear and consistent boundaries and expectations.  My classroom management system was overloaded with positives and a predictable, calm response to misbehavior.  It cost me a small fortune to keep my classroom “store” stocked with goodies; I also spent a lot of time with kids out of school in mentoring relationships.
  • Created powerfully engaging projects, an abundance of field trips, and a classroom of pets (those were the days before school boards outlawed critters in classes).  I also encouraged kids to participate in woodworking and other projects from which they would normally be excluded.  What?  Give these kids a saw?  Oh yes.  And take them everywhere, publicly?  Yes!  I wanted them to empower them, to help them become fearless without hurting others.
  • Taught social skills all the time and enlisted kids from other classrooms to serve as buddies.

Was I successful?  A lot of the time.  By the time they were aging out of my class, they usually looked terrific at school.  Unfortunately, leaving my class was traumatic for those who had become especially close to me and my assistants.  The kids were still living in those desperate environments.  They had been slow to trust me and now had to start afresh with new teachers.  Some of these kiddos still stay in touch with me and have started their own, more successful families.  Some are in jail.  I loved each one of those kids except the one I thought was on his way to becoming a serial killer.  And that’s another story altogether.

* L is for listening

hearingListening in a large group is a crucial skill for students.  There’s a wide range of developmentally appropriate levels of listening.  Current research suggests that we have been guilty of bombarding the brain with much more than it can successfully process.  Why hasn’t that been more obvious?  I think these limits on listening have been partially camouflaged by compliant behavior; many kids look like they are paying attention.  The listening process can be supported by visual cues which extend the learner’s ability to track verbal information.  Teachers who help students make effective connections can also stretch that window of opportunity.  The timing of lengthy periods of verbal instruction is also a factor that influences how much the young brain can absorb.

Teacher behavior can short-circuit the listening process.  Teachers who maintain a constant flow of dialog, with directions lost in the midst of random comments, can make it difficult for students who want to listen.  Some directions are overly complicated and students may only catch the first or last steps.  Sometimes, teacher talking becomes a white noise that kids only “hear” when the volume goes up or their name is called.

Even the most proficient teachers are daunted by some kiddos with listening weaknesses.  Students with language processing issues, which can include a wide range of identified disabilities, may be trying to listen but find it too difficult.  For kids on the autism spectrum, written/visual information is usually more easily grasped.  Students with attention challenges are often distracted by “irrelevant” classroom sights and sounds; for this population, they may struggle to determine what is relevant.  (Check out the attention simulation on Understood.org for a glimpse of how this feels.)  Gifted kids may be inattentive due to boredom.  Twice exceptional kids may be anxiously preparing themselves for the next classroom challenge.

The most interesting non-listener I’ve ever taught (a student on the autism spectrum) simply could not “hear” the teacher in a group setting, despite numerous interventions.  He was bright and cooperative, but could not isolate the teacher’s voice, even in a quiet room.  Finally, using an earbud wirelessly connected to a teacher microphone (typically used by hearing impaired students), the teacher’s voice was amplified and this student learned to listen in 2nd grade.  It was a remarkable “aha!” experience for him.  And me!  Another autistic student needed a clipboard and graphic for recording specific components of a lesson, based upon his weaknesses in participating and listening to peers.  After a month or so, he no longer needed that visual support for listening in a large group.

I’m sure all of us can identify with kids who seem to be listening but have no clue what was said!

* Students as teachers

In a previous post, I described how our special needs kids can develop leadership by “mentoring” other students, taking advantage of our kids’ interests and skills to teach others.  I recently came across this article from The Reading Teacher (Vol. 67 Issue 8, 2014), written by Megan Kramer.  She describes her classroom as a place where students are “experts” and the powerful impact it has upon struggling learners.  From kids on the autism spectrum to those with dyslexia, all our students are experts in some area.  Let’s provide opportunities for them to shine!  If you’re a parent, suggest this idea to your child’s teacher.  As Megan notes, it is not difficult to set up and the rewards are huge.Expert classes

* Writing surveys

For twice exceptional (2e), high functioning autism kids (ASD), and kids with attention disorders (such as ADHD), writing can be pure trauma.  The key to providing effective support is understanding where the writing process breaks down.  As I’ve mentioned before, careful assessment is vital.  Your student’s feelings and personal assessment should not be overlooked.  Apart from observation and analysis of student work, I use surveys and graphs to elicit feedback from kids.

The surveys always begin with a focus on positives, such as what kids enjoy and which academic subjects are easier.  I create a unique survey for each student, depending upon my assessment to date and their ability to answer questions.  I may already know the answers to some of the questions, but I am interested in the student’s perspective.   Here’s a sample:Survey

As students answer, they refer to the following chart:

survey 2

This chart helps kids keep the answers in mind, although I may probe further if their answers are unclear.  It also gives them something to look at besides trying to decipher what I am scribbling on my clipboard.  When I’m done, I can safely show them the actual survey, since my handwriting is illegible to all but me!

Next post: Writing Graphs

* “Go and play”

boy-608821_640“Go and play.”  These are the words kids may hear when they report problems at recess.  How safe is a playground?  How well is it supervised?  What are some ways to improve playground safety?

Let’s be honest.  The playground can be a tough place to supervise.  There are often blind spots behind climbing structures, the surface material may not soften falls, kids/adults may be too far away from each other for effective monitoring, and kids may use this time to bully others or dare them to take greater risks on equipment.  In most schools I’ve worked, playground supervision is probably second only to cafeteria duty in appeal to teacher assistants.

The playground can be a dangerous place, physically and socially.  Between 2001 to 2008, a staggering average of 218,851 injuries required emergency department care, mostly from falls.  That obviously doesn’t include all those cases where kids get ice and bandages from the school nurse. The National Program for Playground Safety identifies supervision as one of the key elements in ensuring student safety.  Playgrounds are also ripe fields for bullying.  At StopBullying.gov, children who are bullied generally have one or more of the following risk factors:

  • Are perceived as different from their peers, such as being overweight or underweight, wearing glasses or different clothing, being new to a school, or being unable to afford what kids consider “cool”
  • Are perceived as weak or unable to defend themselves
  • Are depressed, anxious, or have low self esteem
  • Are less popular than others and have few friends
  • Do not get along well with others, seen as annoying or provoking, or antagonize others for attention

Do those risk factors ring a bell?  For special needs kids, or black students in a mostly white school, recess may not be a time to relax.  It’s a time when these kids need greater support from supervisors who may not be equipped to provide it.  Over the years, I have attended a number of training sessions on how to improve playground supervision.  Providing an adequate adult-to-child ratio is crucial.  Ensuring that supervisors are not clustered in conversation is another key element.  A recent study to improve interactions on the playground suggested playgrounds be divided into sections by age, with supervision for each section.  Here are their results:

  • It was found that having a structured activity occurring within a section of the playground was related to much higher rates of cooperative play among children and less physical and rough play.
  • For example, having an activity in a particular section of the playground was associated with a three-fold increase in the probability that children would be engaged in cooperative play, while rough-physical play was cut in half and thereby reduced to a more normative level.
  • Further, when adults actively monitored their section of the playground, there was a significant increase in positive social interactions amongst children from different ethnic backgrounds.

As a special education teacher, I am particularly concerned about the safety of EC kids on the playground.  If a district has the resources, adding an additional assistant to watch out for identified kids can be helpful (if that assistant is properly trained).  Special ed teachers need to forewarn playground supervisors about potential social problems (see previous post).  I do not want to tell my kids to get help from an adult who routinely responds, “Go and play.”  I am also concerned that my kids may be perceived as the aggressors, no matter the circumstances.  In my next post, I will elaborate on these issues.

* Social skills: rubric for cafeteria

Again, in response to a request, here is a rubric for eating in the cafeteria.  Cafeterias tend to be large and noisy.  The following rubric would be useful for kids on the autism spectrum as well as kids with ADHD and social skills weaknesses.

You’ll notice that that the rubric can be used to determine whether kids are getting foods they like to eat.  Kids need adequate nutrition if they are to make it through a long school day.  I have found that some kids need support in asking for food they want, rather than simply accepting the tray handed to them.  Cafeteria workers are under time pressure; if a kid cannot easily be heard or make a quick decision, that child may not get what they want.  Parents and teachers can help with this, whether it is practice in speaking clearly, holding up an index card, or checking the menu choices before arriving at school.  Also, parents may need to know that their child is tossing the lunch prepared at home.  I am sometimes surprised that parents don’t know their child HATES peanut butter sandwiches.  If parents want to “train” a child to eat foods through their school lunch box, please think again.  Kids get so tired and irritable on an empty stomach.

As I’ve noted before, don’t just send a rubric along with a student, hoping it will work.  Each of the items must be discussed and rehearsed, while several of these will need role-playing.

 

rubric for cafeteria

* Homework? Yea or Nay?

People (like me) have strong opinions on this topic while the research is inconclusive. In fact, more recent studies suggest that homework may be detrimental, not just ineffective.  After decades of debate, without any conclusive evidence that homework is beneficial, I think it’s past time to abandon this “strategy.”  If homework were truly valuable, that should be evident by now.  I do get passionate (and frustrated) about this topic because I’ve seen too many kids and their parents go through nightmarish struggles for no good reason.

1.  For special needs kids, but especially twice exceptional kids, the school day has been hard and long enough.  Sometimes attendees at a workshop on learning disabilities participate in activities that mimic the struggles of learning disabled kids.  Participants typically report that they had no idea school could be so difficult.  Here are some examples of worst case scenarios I’ve seen numerous times:

  • You have a reading disability. You spend the day surrounded by written directions and worksheets that cannot be deciphered.  You rely on other kids for a sense of what to do.  You don’t bother with the directions that you can’t read them, so you make many mistakes, even while copying others’ work.  Some kids get annoyed at you for copying them. You may be good at math, but you can’t read the word problems.  You struggle to copy words and sentences from the board.  Even working as hard as you can, you lag behind the other kids.  It’s impossible to keep up!  You spend your day stressed and trying not to appear as stupid as you feel.
  • You have a writing disability.  You discover that you must write all day long.  You write in reading, math, science, social studies, and then there’s writing itself.  Even though you are great at math, now you have to “explain your thinking” by writing a paragraph, so math is no fun any more.  You have no idea how to spell most words correctly, so you try to copy what other kids have written or hunt for words somewhere in the room.  You feel like an idiot when you’re told to use a dictionary, because you have no idea how to get beyond the first letter (or maybe two).  If you do finish your writing assignment, it doesn’t look anything like the other kids’ work.  You spend the day stressed and trying not to appear as stupid as you feel.
  • You are on the autism spectrum.  You are trying your best to understand the directions, but the teacher is talking too fast.  You have no idea what’s important and what’s not; it’s a jumble of words.  You try to copy a kid nearby, who gets upset.  Now you’re in trouble and feeling mad.  The teacher isn’t fair at all, you have no idea why she is upset with you, and you still haven’t finished that work.  None of it makes sense and the other kids are driving you crazy.  You feel like you are crawling out of your skin.  Will this day ever come to an end?  You spend the day stressed and trying not to appear as stupid as you feel.
  • You have an attention problem.  You thought it was going to be a good day because the class did this “brain jam” action thing first thing in the morning, but now, you have to sit for a LONG time and listen to the teacher talk.  You notice that another class is walking by the room and you wonder when it’s time for recess.  Your feet accidentally hit the chart stand and the teacher calls your name, telling you to sit at the front of the group.  You move up there but the other kids don’t give you enough space.  Then you notice a beetle crawling right along the edge of the wall.  Someone pokes you because the teacher is calling your name.  Now you have to sit in a chair next to the group.  Some kids make faces at you so you do the same back at them.  Then the teacher assistant calls you to her desk, asking why you can’t pay attention.  You spend the day stressed and trying not to appear as stupid as you feel.
  • You are twice exceptional.  You used to love school but now it’s one boring thing after another.  On top of that, you can’t read like other kids.  That doesn’t make sense, since you can understand more about the characters and plot than many other kids.  You are terrific at math, but can’t read the directions so you skip them.  It looks like really easy math, anyway, but after you finish, the teacher says you did it all wrong.  You try to pay attention but nothing is interesting.  You feel this knot in your stomach because reading group is coming up.  You imagine how you could get the teacher to cancel reading groups, coming up with a couple of good ideas.  But then reading begins, after all.  You spend the day stressed and trying not to appear as stupid as you feel.

My point is that school is stressful for kids with special needs, probably in far more ways than I have ever observed.  Then what happens?  They are assigned more work on what appears to be an endless school day.  After exhausting their mental effort and emotional resilience all day, they are required to find some fresh source of concentration and energy on tasks which only trigger memories of their failings during the day.

2.  For special needs kids, homework is usually ineffective practice.  There’s a reason that students are identified as having special needs.  Even with an inclusion or mainstreaming model, these kids often need work that is tailored to meet their unique learning challenges.  By definition, practice means that key skills are already in place.  Homework is not the time for students to learn new concepts.  Many parents fill in that knowledge gap by “helping” their kids through assignments which their kids find confusing, boring, repetitious, and unpleasant.  The learning disabled kid who did not have the requisite skills to complete a similar assignment in class, long before it was 6 or 7 PM, must now tackle the same type of work.  The ADHD kid may be completing unfinished classwork as homework, which is punishment for having a miserable day.  For the twice exceptional kid, it’s more drudgery after a grueling day of drudgery.  For the ASD kid, this may be the first time they actually attempted work of this sort, having missed the instructions and eventually tuning out the barrage of teacher-speak.

3.  For the parents of special needs kids, homework is often a source of confusion and misery as well.  Many parents find themselves in the unenviable role of homework coach or hapless cheerleader, trying to pull their child through the homework tangle.  Just when these kids need a chance to chill, they may spend more than twice as long as their peers on “practice,” accompanied by unintended conflicts with parents.  Some special needs kids are so rule-oriented that their parents can’t stop them from slaving away all night.  Other parents are fully convinced that the teacher must know best, so they badger and cajole their kids through inexplicable assignments.  Even if an IEP provides modifications for homework, such as transcribing or reduced time, many parents feel guilty about using these modifications, as though they have failed in some way (perhaps conditioned by their own homework experiences).

Special needs kids do often need additional practice on skills, but that should occur during the school day.  If that isn’t occurring, then something needs to be changed at school, not added to the child’s backpack.backpack

* Twice Exceptional Kids

This post is the first of a series describing the challenges and solutions for children who are labeled “twice exceptional” or “2e.”

What does “twice exceptional” mean?  These students are gifted but also have a disability, such as dyslexia, high functioning autism, or attention deficit disorder.  There is no single special education “label” for 2e kids.  They may be labeled by a disability, such as Learning Disabled or Autism Spectrum Disorders.  They may identified as gifted.  And they may not be labeled and/or identified at all.  Twice exceptional children are both under-identified and under-served.

What challenges do 2e kids face?  The 2e child often struggles with feelings of anxiety, discouragement, “stupidity,” and frustration.  Both the regular classroom environment and special education setting can be a poor fit for twice exceptional students who need both remediation and stimulating instruction.  These 2e kids may act out in a classroom as a result of the discrepancy between their giftedness and learning challenges, or they may try to blend into the background, hoping not to be noticed.  Such a student may be able to solve complex abstract problems but be unable to write a complete sentence.  They may develop anxiety about going to school, especially over subjects related to their processing weaknesses.  Many of these kids are working twice as hard as their peers at school, holding it together during the school day only to fall apart when they get home.   And then they still have homework to complete!   Young twice exceptional students cannot make sense of their struggles any better than their teachers (and sometimes, parents).

What challenges do parents and teachers of 2e kids face?

Parents first:  Think about parenting a child with average abilities who is also hyperactive, learning disabled, or on the autism spectrum.  Now add superior intelligence to the mixture.  What do you get?  A handful!  Toss this into a school environment and you usually get misery.  Parents may be as confused as teachers about why their child is struggling.   They may react with the same distress as their child.   Now let’s suppose that you have somehow navigated the world of 2e and finally have some sense of your child’s needs.  How do you convince the teacher that your non-reading child is gifted?  How do you explain that this disruptive child is cooperative and pleasant with their neighborhood friends?  How do you pay for private evaluations so that the school will recognize your child’s giftedness?  Do you also pay for private tutoring  so that your child will learn?  Or do you let your child “fail” so that they can be identified as disabled?  Do you become “pests” to the classroom teacher for continually trying to help the school understand your child’s unique challenges?  How do you help your child with their nightly tears and morning struggles?  You may often feel alone, a voice crying aloud in the wilderness.

What challenges do teachers of 2e kids face?  “What are 2e kids?”  “What are you talking about?”  Despite educational research of twice exceptional students that predates the 1970’s, many teachers have little understanding of this dual exceptionality.  This is true for special educators as well.  Twice exceptional kids present serious challenges for educators.  It can take time to assess and determine the special gifts and weaknesses of 2e kids.  There is a reason that so many of them “fall between the cracks”: their strengths and weaknesses may mask one another.  This is especially true of gifted kids with learning disabilities.  They may even appear average and receive average grades at school.  As mentioned above, teaching 2e kids requires a fine balance between remediation and appropriately challenging instruction.  This can be extremely difficult in a large group setting.

The following video from the Your2eTV on YouTube proves a short overview of the twice exceptional student and their needs.

In the next post, we’ll look at examples of 2e kids from my own teaching experience.

If you have experiences and opinions related to this topic, please share them.  If you request, I can delete any identifying information before approving your comments.

* Survival tip #5: Hold your horses

The following events took place in a far off galaxy, many, many years ago.  In fact, there’s no proof that it ever happened.  Any videotapes have long since been trashed.  Our world has changed. Our laws have changed.  And anything I said or did may not be used against me.

There is much good to be said about working with kids who have behavior difficulties, especially those with ADHD.  They remind me of wild ponies: spunky, high spirited, and ready to run.  As a kid-whisperer, I have learned that opening the stable doors is a way to develop trust, both in me and in themselves.  They wonder, “You mean I can go there without a warden?”  “You trust me to step outside the barn and return?”  Yes, yes, it’s a gradual process, but once you give these delightful ponies their head, they are so willing to come safely home again.

My confidence in their return was what prompted me to release a pair of these spirited ones to look for worms.  Our animal collection was in its crayfish phase.  Almost daily, new arrivals of crayfish arrived in pockets and plastic bags.  Most of them survived but these roachy little specimens refused conventional fish food.  There was nothing for it but to send a team of ponies to hunt for worms.  All of them pawed with excitement, “Let me go!  I can find a million worms!”  So I sent one team out, flying high, to a secure hill outside our room.  Those ponies certainly had a sixth sense about being observed; they managed to find a corner of the hill that was a just out of sight.  There was no way of “escape” except running past our windows.  I knew these ponies well, so I gave them a moment to reappear.  Of course, the other ponies sensed an adventure, growing frenzied in their desire to bring the original pair back to a visible location.

I sent a second spirited team to nudge the first team into place.  When they also disappeared, I sent two more teams, one quickly after the other, to nudge the whole lot into place.  Now all my wild ones were dispatched and for a few seconds, I breathed in the silence of the room.  I was about to rethink my kid-whisperer judgment (a little late, perhaps), when the entire herd returned in a stampede.   Of course they had assumed I could still see them.  But most important was their serendipitous discovery of a patch of bricks on that hill.  They lifted each brick in no time at all, finding about a million worms.  We chatted about pony safety.  I reflected on my poor judgment.  Then we settled back into our morning routine, the ponies thoroughly delighted with their success.  The kid-whisperer was delighted with their success.

The next day the principal arrived at the classroom door.  She was one of the dearest administrators I’ve known, not the least because she understood ponies and kid-whisperers.  She spoke to me quietly in the hallway.  “The PTA came to me with complaints about the hill by your room.  It seems they had placed bricks there as a counter-erosion measure and every single brick has been upturned.  Do you know any thing about that?”  She had come to the right class, of course.  Within the hour, my energetic ponies had stamped every brick (mostly) back in place.  And those crayfish?  They didn’t touch a single worm.

* Peer pressure

The ways kids influence one another are probably second only to teacher-student relationships in impacting the classroom community.  For better or worse.

Get your act together first.  You must set a positive tone for relationships in the class.   One common question in a teacher interview is:  “How would your students describe you?”  That is an important question to consider daily.  The best way I can discover how I’m REALLY doing is to videotape myself.  Even knowing I’m being filmed changes my behavior for the better.  It engages the self-monitoring part of my brain, something we hope to elicit in our students as well.  Give that a try if you are feeling perpetually grumpy or if you are always “putting out fires” in your class.  It is helpful to establish videotaping as a routine part of your class from the beginning, or you will have kids endlessly posturing for the camera.  You don’t actually have to be filming at first; just keep the camera and tripod visible.  Use a dark pen or tape to blot out the red recording light.  When the kids ask why you’re filming, tell them it’s so you can be a better teacher.  They won’t believe you for a moment but eventually the novelty will wear off.  And then you can use videotaping to change their behavior as well as yours.

Let’s take a look at ways to enhance peer relationships in the context of difficult students.  We’ll assume you have a fairly active class but one kid rises well above the rest.  We’ll call him Damon.  Damon is a pinball, ricocheting around the room unless you pin him to your side.  He has the attention span of an 18 month old.  You can count on him to both create and broadcast the news about any bodily functions, especially passing gas.  Although he can be quite funny, he also has a short fuse.  Even so, Damon is a leader of sorts.  He goes where no student has gone before, which attracts followers and admirers.  But many kids are wary of him because he’s so mercurial.  He doesn’t share materials, interrupts when others are speaking, and gets in trouble a lot.

Tip #1: Learn to love Damon. ( He would likely improve with a behavior contract but that’s another post.  On the assumption that he has just started his new contract, you can rightly assume that he wants to do well.)  Be deliberate in your interactions with him.  Ask yourself how many times you smile at him (not counting baring your teeth).  Monitor yourself  to improve your ratio of praise to correction.  Think of how he looked as a baby.  Cute, huh?  Focus on some traits you enjoy about him and share those with him:  You are such a fast runner at recess!  You always have something to contribute in group.  You really want to do well in 2nd grade.  You have a super smile.  You draw interesting pictures.  I like having you in my class.  You make me smile.

Tip #2: Don’t always pick Damon to be the class “whatever” in order to give him attention and supposedly build his self-esteem.  I know we were all taught that giving kids special jobs makes them feel special, but if that strategy were effective, you wouldn’t be struggling with him.  I would assume he knows why you always call on him first or ask him to distribute materials:  You are trying to get a step ahead of him; you are trying to change his behavior and he knows he’s falling short.   Use your regular class helper routines and don’t favor him.

Tip #3: Help Damon’s peers love him.  DON’T demonize him.  Ask the guidance counselor or family specialist (who probably both know him and his family by now) to take Damon out of the room for about 15 minutes.  Use that time to talk to the class about the “new” Damon.  Talk to them about his lovable traits.  Tell them some things you appreciate about him.  Tell them that he really, really, really, really wants to do well in school and that they can help him!  Yippee!

Sample script:  “You guys already help each other in so many ways.  Raise your hand if someone has helped you in this class.  Great!”  Damon’s classmates already know he needs some help, so you don’t emphasize his weaknesses.  Just list the goals he is trying to achieve: staying in his space, raising his hand, and saying appropriate things.

Sample script: “It’s so easy to laugh at some of the things he says and does, but that makes him do them again.  And then he’s in trouble because those aren’t appropriate for school.  Real friends help each other.  Real friends might give him a signal to raise his hand (demonstrate), even if he has blurted out.  Real friends might say,  Stay here with us, Damon.  Who can be a real friend to Damon?  In fact, you can all be great friends to each other.  I’ve already seen you do that.  Let’s practice helping someone stay in their seat.  Remember that you can say it one time, but after that, it’s the teacher’s job.  Otherwise, kids will feel that they are being bossed around.”  (You probably need to reemphasize the bossiness issue.)  Now you have set the stage for all the kids to help Damon AND each other.

Tip #4: Conduct regular class meetings.  You might want to read about how these meetings can be handled effectively if they’re not already a part of your repertoire.  Class meetings are a way for kids to develop a sense of community and create opportunities to discuss behaviors in a matter-of-fact way.  Establish your class meeting rules from the start, such as ‘say kind things about others’ and ‘listen to others.’  Common topics include what they’d like to learn in some subject area, what they thought about an assembly, how to help one another, or what’s hard about a subject at school.   You can keep some meetings short with simple thumbs up-thumbs down responses.   Class meetings are invaluable for making it OK to discuss behavior problems (and responses to passing gas.)  Don’t start with the latter topic, but you can take away the novelty and startle effect of misbehavior if it’s routinely reviewed.  These discussions shouldn’t be a guise for writing prompts or letters home.

It will be rewarding to watch Damon flourish with peer support.  And with that behavior contract in place.