With my last post for paras, I did a 3 part series that addressed being a support in the regular education classroom. You can find the final post here. In that post, I talked about the most common problems I see with kids such as work avoidance, lack of focus, work being too hard or needing more time to work. This post delves a little deeper into problem-solving strategies and assumes that you have put in the time to form a good relationship with the student(good listening, being clear and consistent, sticking to your word) you are supporting. If you aren’t doing that, it’s important to pause and read the 2nd post in the series I mentioned. That post is here.
Dig into the Paperwork First
When I’m trying to figure out what makes a kid tick, I really need to dig in. I generally start with whatever paperwork is included in a student’s special education file. This can provide a lot of background knowledge about where the student started, where they’ve been and how far they’ve come. Or what is still standing in their way. While I can access much of a student’s paperwork as a case manager, you also can have access as a person who works closely with that student, so you can certainly ask to see IEPs and evaluations if you feel like it would be beneficial. Everyone should know the goals we’re trying to work toward.
Watch and Ask Questions
But the truth is, even without the paperwork, I still can learn a whole lot about what makes a student tick (and so can you)from observing how they behave in different scenarios and by asking pointed questions about what I’m seeing. Looking at what a student is doing and what it might mean is something I’ve been doing for quite some time, so unpacking what I’m doing, is kind of a weird process. I don’t really think about it anymore I just sort of do it. And honestly, I don’t have generally have a plan when I approach a student to do a task, but if an opportunity presents itself to learn more about a student I take it.
There are more obvious times I ask questions like when I’m doing a reading assessment. This is a great time to learn more about what a student thinks about their reading but these types of scenarios only present themselves if you are assessing students in reading or if you have a reading group. For students who are getting their instruction in regular education you have to be more slick about it.
An academic example
Here’s an example. Let’s say I want to know more about how they do with writing. I may check in several times during a class period or sometimes just sit right down with a student during a writing activity and observe. Are they struggling? How? Are they waiting for me to tell them what to do? Do they ask questions that show they learned something from what the teacher was talking about? Are they getting stuck because they can’t spell words? Because they can’t think of what to say? Or are they avoiding the whole task altogether by asking to use the bathroom? If I can’t tell from observing, I might ask about something specific about what they write.
While I might ask several questions, I don’t bombard kids and I can sense when I’m doing this before it gets out of hand. In these cases I collect this information over time and class periods. I try to make all the questions as natural as possible and to flow with what’s going on in class doesn’t seem so obvious what I’m doing. That’s the art of asking. Knowing when to ask and knowing when its not a good time. Knowing you will have another chance.
A Behavioral Example
Let’s look at a behavioral example. A student walks in late. I could just say where’s your pass? This may be a part of the conversation but what I really want to know is where were they? So I would start with I my gosh I’m so glad you are okay I was worried about you! What happened? Maybe there is a reason that makes sense before I jump to conclusions about their error in judgment. Or maybe not. Either way, I won’t know if I don’t ask.
These are just a few examples of how I try to engage with a student to find out more about what’s going on. I try to see them in multiple circumstances to see if they If I can get a good sense of how they will behave or handle work over days and weeks with different teachers and different situations. Everything I learn helps me develop a deep understanding of each student so that I can design appropriate learning tasks across classes as well as build solid teacher student relationships that can weather challenges.
When you know why a student is behaving the way they are, it informs where you can go next as you are trying to support them, so start observing and asking to find out!
How do you get to know your students better? Let me know in the comments below.