Friday, February 10, 2017

Book Review: How to Reach and Teach Children with Challenging Behavior

When I started my school psychology internship at a private K-8 school, I never expected to be standing in front of a classroom full of seventh grade boys. Little did I know, it was standard practice at this school to use all available staff to cover for absent teachers. This way, the “sub” would be a familiar face and, theoretically, able to continue with the planned curriculum in a way that an outsider could not. I thought this was a great idea, until it was my turn to lead a small language arts class for 60 minutes. Like many first-time teachers, I was given a harsh lesson in the realities of classroom management. It became immediately apparent that I needed help, so I took two steps.

First, I began observing my peers to see what strategies worked for them in their classrooms. This was a great way to learn about the culture of the school and what the students responded to. I also bought a book that looked promising, called How to Reach and Teach Children with Challenging Behavior, by Kaye L. Otten and Jodie L. Tuttle. It ended up living in my backpack for the rest of the year, because I could never be without it and its reproducible resources.

How to Reach and Teach
is a series of books published by Jossey-Bass Education that aims to provide teachers and other school professionals with interventions and strategies to help children with challenging behavior, ADHD, or dyslexia. There are also two books in the series focused on teaching in an inclusive classroom (i.e., a class with students in both the mainstream and special education programs) and using a balanced literacy approach. I have only used the book geared towards working with students who present behavioral challenges in the school setting, and find myself recommending it to all new school professionals, from teachers to psychologists to learning specialists.

The book takes a positive approach to behavior change with a focus on specific behavioral strategies to help individual students. It also includes detailed strategies for preventing challenging behavior and setting up a classroom that is conducive to learning. The book is user friendly and appropriate for teachers with even the most minimal psychology or classroom management training. It starts with the basics of the authors’ philosophy, which is heavy on developing respect for students and an understanding of why they behave the way they do. It goes on to explain how to use behavioral reinforcement for individuals and groups of students. There is also a chapter on “logical undesirable consequences” which, the authors point out, is not the same as punishment, which in the long run does not teach students the best way to move through school and life. Finally, the book explains the full process of implementing a plan, from operationally defining problem and replacement behaviors to tracking progress.

The book also includes lengthy examples of cases that have worked in the real world and a chapter on how to handle crisis situations. Those who have purchased the book are allowed to photocopy all the resources, which are printed on standard 8x11 paper. This book is one of many great resources for working with students who are having difficulty in a traditional educational environment, and it’s definitely a permanent fixture on my bookshelf.

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