All Creatures Great and Small
Hearing a commotion, I rushed out of my house, to see children from a nearby school pelting stones at my dog. She was chained to her kennel and barked helplessly. After threatening them of dire consequences, including complaining to the principal, I brought my dog inside. What made little children mete out cruelty to these mute creatures?
All God’s creations share the earth with us and have an equal right to live here. Then why do we humans have the urge to demonstrate our superiority by inflicting pain on other living beings? The recent heinous act of chopping a little pup’s ears raised an outcry from many members of our society. One wonders which is the animal here!
As parents and teachers, we need to educate and sensitize our children on the necessity of treating animals with compassion. Some of these animals are fortunate enough to live with loving families; for others, the streets are their abode. Just because they cannot protest, it does not mean we maim and injure them. They feel pain just as we do. Instead, giving them a little love and affection guarantees that they reciprocate the same in manifold ways and remain faithful to you for life.
We do have our little heroes; the seven year old girl who, on seeing the building watchman beating a stray dog that had loitered into the compound, rushed home and dragged her mother out to stop him. Her anguish saved the poor animal’s life! Mother and daughter took the dog home and nursed it till they arranged for it to be sent to a shelter.
It is heartening to see families coming forward to adopt these animals at the adoption drives regularly held in the city. There is no doubt that the entry of these pets into households brings a positive change in the lives of its members. The addition to the family brings immense joy and satisfaction to everyone. At the same time, it is also saddening to see pets being abandoned by families who are relocating to other places or are unable to take care of them. Would they do the same to their own children?
Apart from being a source of love and companionship, animals are increasingly being used for other purposes. Dogs have been an indispensable part of search and rescue missions for centuries. Their strong olfactory senses make them great assets to the police force, who use them as sniffer dogs to solve crime. In the field of medicine, pets are being used for their therapeutic effect on patients, both young and old. The heartwarming stories of dogs bringing miraculous improvements in the lives of autistic children cannot be ignored. Guide dogs for the blind have served their masters tirelessly for years.
Treating animals with respect is a lesson all children need to be taught. Simultaneously, we need to allay their fears too, as adults commonly transfer their apprehensions to children. The motto our society can adopt is ‘to live and let live’.
(Gita Nambiar is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)
Karuna Davis & Divya Suresh
Ruth, a third-grader, is very quiet in class. She does not ask questions or disturb others. Her teachers do not have to correct her for misbehaviour. However, Ruth’s class work is usually incomplete and she rarely manages to finish tests.
On the other hand, Vikram, her classmate, seems to have “ants in his pants”. He is a bundle of energy, always on the move. Getting him to sit in his chair is a big challenge for his teachers. He fidgets, makes irrelevant comments and disturbs the class umpteen times. Similar to Ruth, Vikram also fails to complete his work and is falling behind academically.
Ruth and Vikram both have difficulties paying attention but present different behavioural manifestations. Ruth tends to daydream and does not draw attention to herself, while Vikram’s behaviour is disruptive. The essential features of attention difficulty and hyperactivity-“is a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that is more frequent and severe than is typically observed in individuals at a comparable level of development” (DSM-IV, 2000).
Attention difficulties in children may manifest as pure hyperactivity like in the case of Vikram, inattention, like in Ruth or may even be a mix of both. A significant percentage of children with specific learning difficulties also have trouble paying attention and lack control over their behaviour. Such children may show deficits in executive functioning skills as well like planning and organization. Thus, children tend to have difficulty with problem solving, sequencing, prioritizing and an impaired sense of time.
Numerous strategies can be used to deal with these problems. Parents can create a visual schedule and go over it with the child a number of times. Tasks may be broken down into clearly defined steps, which the child accomplishes one at a time. Change between activities needs to be pre-planned. Time management in children may be inculcated with the help of checklists, and dividing long assignments into smaller portions that may be completed within a specified time duration. Parents must ensure that the child’s workspace is systematically organized and the child is allotted weekly time to maintain it. Finally, it is important to meet with teachers on a regular basis for feedback so that problems can be nipped in the bud.
(Karuna Davis & Divya Suresh are Special Educators at PRAYATNA.)
Reference: American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
NCLD Editorial Staff, (2010, December 17). What is Executive Function? Retrieved, September 20, 2011, from LD.org, National Center for Learning Disabilities: http://www.ncld.org/ld-basics/ld-aamp-executive-functioning/basic-ef-facts/what-is-executive-function
Bullying at School
When we hear this word ‘bullying,’ many of us recall instances from our own school years when we were humiliated or hurt by schoolmates. When we see our children go through the same thing, what can we do? First, we need to be able to identify ‘bullying’. According to Dan Olweus, "A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself." Further, he states that bullying involves three aspects—aggressive behaviour that follows a pattern and exists when there is an imbalance of power between the bully and victim.
Bullying can take various forms. Verbal bullying includes teasing, harassment and name-calling, extortion, threats and the spreading of malicious rumours. It is the most common and most painful for of bullying with a long-lasting impact. Bullying that is more overt takes the form of physical violence and damage to property. A student can be bullied by one child or a group for years. Bullying can also happen sporadically or over a period of time. Both girls and boys can be bullies or victims.
Bullying not only hurts a child, it also destroys his or her self-esteem. Parents and teachers must not ignore instances of bullying. However, we must remember that both the bully and the victim are in need of counseling. A child who bullies is usually troubled and needs help. It is helpful if parents and teachers have open channels of communication where sensitive matters like bullying can be brought up. A school counselor is usually equipped to handle the issue sensitively.
References: http://olweus.org/public/bullying.page; Retrieved on 31 January 2012
(Supriya Raja is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA).
Managing Difficult Behaviour
Often, a child’s behaviour impedes his performance in academics. For example, Vani, a Grade III student, complains incessantly to finish her activities, while second grader, Arun, does not remain seated during class. Fourth grader, Vijay, frequents the restroom every ten minutes. In order to address these issues, we introduced a behaviour management program, which works on the principle of behaviour modification through positive reinforcement.
First, we explain the program to parents and get their consent. The program works by selecting a few target behaviours and rewarding the child every time he or she complies with a predetermined standard set by the teacher. While the child initially works for the reward, the goal is for the behaviour to become internalized so that the child may comply even without an external reinforcement. As the success of the program initially depends on the child working towards a reward, we also parents that they should refrain from buying the child gifts that are being used as reinforcements at the centre. Instead of being bought item, the child has to earn it by behaving well.
Gokul, a Grade V, was highly distractible and inattentive in class. He was restless and fidgety. He would drop his stationery every two minutes and use it as a pretext to leave his seat. Further, he interrupted the class with irrelevant comments. In order to help Gokul focus better, we introduced a behaviour management program.
We started by picking two target behaviours. We told Gokul that if he did not make irrelevant comments or drop his stationery during an activity, he would be rewarded with two smileys. The child was then given a short break after every activity where he could get up and move around for a couple of minutes. After the program was initiated, Gokul was able to complete at least four activities in a class; earlier, he was able to do only two. Once he obtained the requisite number of smiley faces on his form, he exchanged them for a gift.
We are currently studying the benefits of this program in a systematic manner. Our experience suggests that it helps both the teacher and child as the class proceeds with fewer interruptions and the child is able to focus better.
(All names of children have been changed.)
(R. Saraswathi works as a special educator at PRAYATNA.)
The matter of sibling involvement was a point brought up at a recent parent forum at PRAYATNA, Bengaluru. Parents are often overwhelmed by the problems exhibited by their special child that they fail to provide adequate attention to the siblings of such children. Ms. Arati Devaiah, a psychologist in Bengaluru, was a guest speaker at the forum and spoke about the significance of a sibling's involvement in a child’s difficulties. Ms. Devaiah felt that explaining what the issue is to the sibling demystifies the problem for them. Getting the sibling to help a brother or sister with difficulties by reading to them or by assisting with homework is a good idea too.
Dr. Betty Osman, a psychologist in the US, writes, "Although studies are inconclusive in assessing the impact of learning disabilities (LD) on siblings, it is generally acknowledged that the presence of a child with LD in the family affects the social and emotional development of siblings." Often, the sibling’s friends question them about their brother's or sister's poor academic performance. Equipped with knowledge of their sibling's issues, children may tackle questions confidently and ward-off teasing or bullying that could arise in such situations. In addition, siblings who wait in the lobby while a child attends remedial classes can be a source of comfort and moral support. Also, some siblings miss out on their parents' time and attention since the parents' focus is on their child with a difficulty, they can become resentful and anxious. Involving siblings in matters assures them of their importance in the family and their parents' love.
Here are some points to consider while dealing with the sibling of a child with learning difficulties:
With the right support and treatment, siblings can become the greatest advocates for children with learning difficulties
(Ambika Sosale is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)
Workshop on Managing Classroom Behaviour
On 25 February 12, PRAYATNA organized a workshop for teachers on managing classroom behaviour. The workshop was inspired by the works of Bill Rogers, Steve kellick and Martin Seligman. We commenced with teachers reminiscing about their best and least favourite teachers. Participants said they were moved by kindness and teachers who did not frown on failure or mistakes. Passion for a subject was often transmitted by a good teacher.
The workshop continued with a discussion on behavior of students. Behaviour can be complex, situational, depending on the dynamics between student and teacher and other external contextual effects. Teachers need to have sensors to find out causes of misbehaviour. The teacher-class-student trio mutually affect one another.
The fact that emotional intelligence, a concept popularized by Daniel Goleman, is a better predictor of success than IQ was discussed. Emotions are fundamental to our functioning, a fact not recognized by most schools. Emotional literacy incorporates awareness of one’s emotions, motivation to persist despite challenges, empathy and relating to others. The necessity for teachers to recognize and control their emotions was stressed. Only when teachers can control their own emotions can they work positively with students.
Ideally, a teacher should build bridges of communication with her students by conveying positive emotions verbally and nonverbally. An effective teacher should communicate enthusiasm for a subject, establish routines, prepare interesting questions, encourage and give positive feedback.
Establishing rules is another important aspect of teaching. Rules should be in place for treating teachers and fellow students, communication, learning, movement in and outside the classroom and problem solving.
To demonstrate the impact of routines in classrooms, participants were asked to perform a short exercise. They were asked to leave the room and then return when a bell rang. The teachers took 50 seconds to assemble. They were again asked to leave the room, but this time return in an orderly manner, forming a line. This time it took only 35 seconds. This exercise brought out the importance of planning and creating routines to save time within a classroom.
Students may be involved in rule making. Rules should be specific and positive. Likewise, the consequences of breaking them should be clear and proportional. Some of the do’s for teachers included giving instructions slowly, with pauses, avoiding questions and avoiding excessive movement while giving instructions. No matter how unruly the class, their tone should be calm and pleasant.
Discipline in the classroom is of prime importance. While dealing with a problem, secondary behaviours should be ignored and focus should be on the primary issue. Sarcasm and foul language should be avoided. The tone should be assertive, respectful and the language, positive.
It is normal for a teacher to feel frustrated and angry, but she has to calm herself before communicating her disapproval. Cool off time can be provided to the erring child and further follow up can be done out of class. Arguments should be blocked and children given a chance to correct themselves. While dealing with misbehavior, the teacher should focus on the behavior and not the child
Effective learning in the classroom goes beyond cognitive aspects. There can be different manifestations of angst in the child. A good teacher should look for behavioural changes and try to ascertain the cause. Participants were given tips on managing inattention, hyperactivity, depression, poor social skills and severe behavior problems. The importance of colleague support was also discussed. To sum up, in the words of Karl Menninger, “What the teacher is, is more important than what he teaches.”
(Gita Nambiar is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)