Behaviour Management

How to End the Tale of Telling Tales

Teachers can have an aversion to children telling tales after lunch and break time. Children can feel the need to report every misdemeanour they have ever witnessed on the yard to the class teacher upon their return. Some students can be compelled to do this even after reporting it to the supervising teacher and watching as the teacher dealt with the situation. There are students out there that just love to retell the drama of it all. This is fine to a point and we always encourage children to tell a teacher if something bad has happened. The issue arises where you get every minute detail after every break and the issues are nothing more than minor indiscretions that could be handled by the supervising teacher or even better, sorted out amongst themselves. At times the motivation behind this type of behaviour can be to eat up teaching time as the lesson is side-tracked by sorting the incident or simply just students who love to stir up a bit of trouble.

When you try to prevent the telling of tales by silencing them or by ignoring the undesired behaviour, perhaps it gets worse or the children are too frustrated to concentrate on the next lesson. When you try to sort it out quickly, it can unravel and take ten or fifteen minutes to reach a satisfactory conclusion. What is an alternative strategy that you can incorporate to deal with this issue?

Listen: But on your terms and their time

I had a chronic issue with this type of behaviour with a class I taught before. It stemmed from their hyper-competitive nature (that I loved) but their games on yard often ended in petty disputes that they loved to report back after the bell which ate up precious teaching time. I used a simple solution to decrease this behaviour.

Having tried for weeks with various strategies to prevent their minor disputes with reflective discussions, preventive discussion and positive reinforcements with no success, I simply started to listen.

Whenever the students would come in from the yard and begin to sort out their disputes and tell tales on each other, I would feign the utmost genuine concern. I would ask who was involved and take careful note of the names. I would say that it sounds very important and we should try to get a solution to this issue. I would ensure to attribute no blame or showcase zero frustration. Then, I would tell them their appointment to sort this issue is at the start of the next break.

The children were initially very satisfied with this as I was demonstrating concern and was showing how I was willing to listen so the lesson could instantly begin that I had planned. The next break would come, and I would funnel the rest of the class out to the yard and suddenly, it would dawn on the remaining children that this issue could be resolved surprisingly quickly.

I would move comically slowly to my desk and take out my notepad and pen and begin to ask each child, “How can we solve this problem?”. I would take the spotlight away from the blame and focus it solely on what we could do to ensure it didn’t happen again. The students became antsy at missing their break time and could think of several ways to sort out their problems. It was miraculous how little they wanted to tell tales when it was on their time. When a satisfactory discussion was had (usually 4-5 minutes was enough), I would let them out without an angry word and tell them to enjoy their break.

Sure enough, I had to do this more frequently at the beginning, but very quickly the children realised that talking about many of their issues wasn’t worth five minutes of their own break time. They began to sort the minor issues out amongst themselves or tell the teacher on the yard and the constant telling of tales in my room reduced to zero.

It was a simple strategy that saved a lot of time. Of course, I missed time out of my break while using this intervention at the start, but I saved countless time over the year. If you’re struggling with a group that love to tell tales, I recommend it as a go-to strategy. Let me know if it works!

Disclaimer: Of course, bullying is always dealt with very seriously and students are always taught how bullying behaviour is deliberate, hurtful and repetitive. I trust a teacher will not use this strategy to reduce the reporting of bullying and knows the profile of their students appropriately to judge if this strategy is useful.

Behaviour Management

ADHD, ODD, ADD: Is labelling our children counter-productive?

One of my favourite thought-provoking articles I have read is a research paper by Nardone and Portelli titled When the diagnosis “invents” the illness. It is a fascinating take on the world we live in and how we classify mental disorders. It proposes a move away from the rigid categorisation of disorders and toward viewing problems as dysfunctional systems of perception and interaction.

Its implication for teaching children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties would be a shift away from trying to fit children into a specific box such as ADHD, ADD, ODD, EBD etc which lead to predetermined strategies and instead focusing on a strategic approach where the problem is viewed on its own very specific merits and interventions are designed to help the student function better in their environment.

The paper makes a great case for this alternative way of thinking. It argues that a diagnosis has the potential to end up causing self-fulfilling prophecy and gives examples where this has been proven.

It gives one extreme example where a patient was admitted to the hospital as a manic depressive and was sedated with tranquillizers. The following day, she was to be moved to an alternative location but refused. The hospital insisted and the patient resisted. As they tried to forcibly move her, she became violent. She screamed. The doctor was called and a further series of injections were used to calm her as every time she woke, she became more violent.

This story may appear unpleasant but perhaps you may think “it was for her own good as she was manically depressed and they wanted to help her.” Your opinion may shift when you discover the police pulled over the ambulance when it was in transit to inform them that they had taken the wrong person. They had been injecting and sedating a “normal” person.

This story blew my mind. The nurses thought she was manically depressed so when she violently protested, they injected her as the diagnosis was there and the behaviour was interpreted as typical of the condition. How is this relevant to the classroom and students with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties? The story above is an extreme example but there are takeaways for us as teachers.

Let’s take for example a student with a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A teacher who has a student with ADHD in their class may expect certain behaviours. They may expect the child to be disruptive, energetic, and inattentive and may treat them accordingly. The child – if they are aware of the diagnosis – may expect to perform these behaviours too. There is an element of diagnostic prophecy to the condition. 

With this diagnosis, common interventions include behaviour therapy and medication. To pose the question, what if the child has been wrongfully diagnosed and their behaviour was the result of something else and now they are being medicated?

Consider a child who is considered “normal” in your classroom. If a teacher is teaching a lesson and this child is inattentive and disruptive, the teacher might come to different conclusions. The teacher might consider their teaching. Was the child inattentive because the subject matter of the lesson was too difficult? Was the child disruptive because the methodology used was too boring and sedentary? The teacher may change the way they deliver future lessons to try to increase their engagement.

Is it possible that medically categorising our students at a young age might not be the correct way to go? Potentially. If a child with a diagnosis behaves a certain way, it can be accepted as part of their diagnosis. If a child without a diagnosis behaves a certain way, it may be more likely considered as communication.

I would not suggest throwing out all forms of diagnoses in schools, but I would be slower to label children in primary school and treat them a certain way because of their diagnosis. Thinking strategically (as discussed in previous articles) is a way to steer away from pigeon-holing our children and helping them to function more effectively in the classroom. The teacher can observe the problem behaviour specific to its characteristics and context and attempt to intervene to help the child function better in the classroom or wherever the problem may be. Having a diverse range of strategies, interventions and supports available is key to this way of thinking. 

I think this ideology is incredibly thought-provoking, how about you?

Anger Management Behaviour Management

Stop….Have a Debate and Listen!

Have you ever had two kids who are constantly fighting? They just seem to rub each other up the wrong way. They can’t walk past each other without a sly comment, a slight nudge or out on the yard at lunchtime is a free-for-all with fighting, cheating and lots of other undesirable behaviours? These types of situations can be quite common in schools as children can find it difficult to cope when they believe they don’t like someone who is constantly in the same area as them. Learning to be civil around someone you loathe is a life skill.

There are common strategies to try to cope with these scenarios. Perhaps a reward chart might be incorporated and kind words, kind hands and kind feet are positively reinforced. The teacher might use a punishment strategy to try to decrease the undesired behaviour where the children lose privileges if they engage in negative behaviour. The teacher might read social stories, use the zones of regulation or try discussing their issues with them separately to try to calm them down. They might even use the I-ASSIST model or Letters of Anger. These are all good strategies which might bear fruit, but what if they don’t?

As I have constantly parroted on this blog, anger is an emotion like any other and it is okay to feel. It is how the anger is communicated that needs to change in these situations. An unorthodox strategy that may be worth keeping in your toolkit for these instances is organizing face-to-face debates.

Face-to-face Debating

Often, children who are furious will only settle when they feel the situation is resolved to their satisfaction or their point is heard. Organising a face-to-face debate facilitates this as they get uninterrupted time to voice their grievances without fear of interruption of reprimand. There are several ways that this could be successfully implemented.

If the two children are fighting daily, religiously schedule a debate for after lunchtime where each gets five-ten minutes (depending on the context) to air their opinions and not a minute longer than the teacher prescribed. The other child must sit and listen for the full five minutes before he can speak for five minutes also. On the following day, the child who went second in the debate gets to start it. Once this is made a routine fixture, the pair should reduce their number of arguments outside of the designated debate time as they realise they will get their chance to argue later. It is, therefore, a great tool for de-escalating out on yard as the teacher can remind them to wait for the debate time.

There are other benefits to this method such as the building of a positive relationship with the teacher who is clearly impartial and no longer must seek who is to blame or reprimand negative behaviour. As the children have a full five-ten minutes to speak, apparent misunderstandings will appear, and the children will listen to how the other perceived what was happening which can help prevent future incidents. Finally, on the days that there are no issues, having to sit opposite each other as if to start a debate can provide a spark of humour and demonstrate the progress made. Perhaps make them just talk that day and see how a rapport may flourish that could even become a friendship.


I am sure that there will be teachers reading this horrified. How can you organize the very situation that we want to avoid? Where will I get this time for a debate? What if it escalates the situation further?

To these teachers I would say, this strategy is great when other strategies are not bearing success and alternative logic is needed. It is apparently time-consuming, but the chances are if you are using this strategy, you were losing teaching time anyway having to deal with these negative situations. This is a method that gives the teacher control over a tricky situation. I would encourage the teacher to set firm minimal rules for the debate such as no swearing and having to remain in your seat. Otherwise, the teacher must sit in stony silence and allow the venting to occur.

What do you think? Could it work? Let me know your thoughts!

Thanks to Papantuono, Portelli, and Gibson’s book “Winning without Fighting” for the idea.

Behaviour Management

I’ll be brief.

As social, emotional and behavioural difficulties are considered to be a complex issue, many theoretical perspectives have emerged to attempt to explain their formation and guide intervention. No single method is bulletproof, however, and I would encourage teachers to build a diverse toolkit of strategies and theories to help empower them to successfully manage any kind of a difficulty a child may be experiencing in their care.

A theory that is relatively unheard of that may be a beneficial tool to teachers is the Brief Strategic Approach. Here are four key concepts to this theory below that are simple to understand and may give some food for thought:

· Brief Strategic Interventions are based on the concept that problems are considered to be a result of the environment the child is interacting with as opposed to pathology. They move away from focusing on a label such as ADHD, ADD or ODD.

  • Brief Strategic Interventions focus on how things work as opposed to whyThey want to make them work as effectively as possible. They argue that we can intervene in the persistence of the problem, not the formation of it.
  • Interventions and solutions are based on the very specific characteristics of the individual problem rather than the problem having to fit into a rigid theory.
  • The Brief Strategic approach is based on a circular model of interaction. It believes behaviour is cyclical as opposed to linear. As opposed to believing one behaviour causes another in a straight line, it believes in focusing on disrupting the cycle of interaction with some kind of change to alter the problem behaviour. 

How can it help?

Brief strategic interventions and thinking are very useful when you are finding that ordinary logic and common solutions aren’t working. Lots of theories have rigid pre-determined strategies like behaviourism and the strategy of reinforcing positive behaviour but, what happens when these strategies aren’t working? Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. This is where a brief strategic approach can come into play. This approach throws out labels and pre-decided interventions regardless of the issue and starts with defining the problem as it appears in the “now”. 

A very quick-guide of a brief strategic approach looks like this:

  1. Define the problem clearly.
  2. Identify what the failed attempted solutions so far are. (tip: discontinue these)
  3. Identify when the clearly defined problem does not occur. (tip: use these as clues)
  4. Ask yourself how you would make the problem worse. (tip: important to know what not to do)
  5. Set a clear objective.
  6. Formulate an action plan that uses the above steps to help guide the process.

This approach is a great one to use if you feel overwhelmed or frustrated at the lack of success. If you feel unqualified to deal with labels such as ADHD, ODD or ADD, this approach can empower you by locating the specific problem which can seem far more changeable than a medical label.

I will add more depth to this topic in the coming weeks with examples and a detailed step-by-step model which can aid you in taking a brief strategic approach if it is something that appeals to you.

Thanks to Papantuono, Portelli and Gibson’s book Winning without fighting and Nardone’s Knowing Through Changing for the literature that guides this article.

Anger Management Behaviour Management

“Dear Donald, I’m f*cking furious…”

Children who struggle to manage their anger can be quite intimidating. Outbursts can be violent, self-harming, loud and laden with profanities. Tantrums and outbursts can lead to other parents coming in complaining about their child being the victim of violence or having to witness/listen to inappropriate behaviour. It is only natural that a teacher wants to shut down these forms of angry behaviour as quickly as possible for everyone’s sake – not excluding the angry child themselves who can become very stressed and upset. The question is how?

There are a couple of fundamentals that can help. Allowing anger is an important concept. Everybody gets angry and this is a normal emotion like happiness, sadness and fear. Trying to suppress anger can lead to a volcanic eruption when it becomes too much. I have often found that children who struggle with anger find it hard to comprehend that anger is okay. Once they are calmed down and a discussion occurs, they might make a wild promise like “I’ll never get angry again”. It’s important to separate the behaviour and emotion. It’s fine to get angry but to hit or swear or scream is not okay in a school setting. The Zones of Regulation program, social stories and SPHE lessons are great ways to discuss anger and explicitly teach this depending on the age group you are teaching.

If you are trying to reduce certain behaviour, it’s important that you are trying to replace it. If you’re telling a child that anger is okay but the way they are demonstrating it is not, then you must teach them a way that is appropriate.

Letters of Anger

Letters of anger is a strategy that I found beneficial over the past few years with children old enough to write. It’s a very simple and empowering strategy. The premise is that if a child who struggles to contain his anger has a forum to express his anger in any way they wantThe child can write a letter to the individual they are angry at, to the teacher to explain why they are so angry or a diary-style entry to vent their frustrations. They can swear and speak their mind in their writing without fear of reprimand. They can show the teacher at the end if they wish or they can put it away once finished. They are not allowed to show it to other pupils, of course.

The benefits of this exercise are the implied message that anger is acceptable when projected in the right way and the expression of anger is encouraged in a child who struggles to manage it instead of attempting to push it down. Writing a letter is like slowly releasing the lid on an over-fizzed bottle of Coca-Cola. Releasing the lid too quickly can result in a mess. 

There are also the benefits that writing a letter takes time which will help the child gradually self-regulate their emotions while if the teacher is allowed to read the letter, they will learn to understand the child’s perspective which could build rapport and help prevent further similar outbursts. In my experience, the children wanted me to read their letters and there was an instantaneous improvement when I introduced the strategy as if they were relieved that their anger was being accepted.

Give it a go if you have a child in your care who struggles to contain their anger and let me know if you find it as beneficial as I have. This is one tool to add to your behaviour management toolkit which could come in handy one day.

Hat tip to Winning without Fighting by Papantuono, Portelli and Gibson where I found this strategy.

Behaviour Management Inclusion

Why we shouldn’t include.

Inclusion is amazing to watch. Watching true inclusion take place can spark so much joy in people as they watch someone who “shouldn’t” be participating thrive in an environment despite the potential barriers that could exist. People can have a narrow perspective of inclusion and others can have a wider lens.

If you ask someone with a narrow perspective what inclusion is, they might tell you about the importance of including a pupil who is in a wheelchair in physical education or how a child who is deaf can be included in drama. What they might not consider, however, is the wider perspective of including pupils with social, cultural, behavioural or emotional needs.

Inclusion can be considered the right to participate in everyday life. Children with behavioural, emotional and social needs can face challenging and invisible barrier to participate in day-to-day classroom life that might appear self-imposed whilst really deriving from a series of complex issues.

As these are issues which are extremely challenging for teachers and can be the cause of great frustration and upset, these children can be actively excluded through withdrawal, suspension or punishment or passively included where they are present in the room without meaningful engagement.

I have seen many instances of wonderful efforts and time being put into including these children but there are also incidences where these children are not included, and people feel it is either justifiable or are willing to turn a blind eye. Teachers should feel compelled to apply the same creativity and effort to include those with unseen needs as they are compelled to include those with physically visible needs.

Including children with physical disabilities can entail adding resources and removing barriers to ensure they can access and participate. Including children with complex emotional and behavioural needs can entail changing your whole style of teaching and communicating, your normal rules, your timetable and your reward systems along with many more factors.

If someone walked into my PE hall where a child in a wheelchair was sitting out because they couldn’t get involved with the lesson, there would rightly be uproar. Would the same uproar occur if a child with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties was left sitting out because they were unable to access the lesson without a meaningful effort by the teacher to include them?

The question should be framed when planning an activity as to why we shouldn’t include as opposed to why we should. The answers to why not to include may be solved by simple solutions, complex interventions or creativity and a can-do attitude. Maybe there is a valid reason, as there sometimes is. What’s right is the same effort and compulsion be provided for all, whether the need is visible or not.

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Behaviour Management

Call-and-Response 101

The basics of classroom management are the basics for a reason: they work. Personally, a fundamental strategy for the younger classes that I use is call-and-response chants to get the whole class’ attention before I begin instruction. This is a very simple strategy that can prevent you from having to repeat instructions multiple times or speak over the class to get their attention.

To ensure this basic strategy works, I would advise (as always) explicitly teaching the expected behaviours attached to the call and response while praising any student who fulfils these expectations thereafter to maximise compliance.

Maintaining these consistent expectations and reinforcing regularly through praise or a reward system can ensure the listening skills in the room develop to a high level and students learn to really tune in to your voice when you use this strategy. Over-use can be detrimental to its efficacy and keeping it fresh will help ensure that it works systematically throughout the year.

To keep it novel, I suggest changing the call-and-response every month to ensure that children don’t become immune to it and to remind yourself to reiterate the expectations and continue reinforcing them. I’ve attached below a suggested call-and-response grid that might be useful for any interested teachers:

MonthTeacher CallStudent ResponseExpectation
September“Show me Five!”“Eyes are watching, Ears are listening, feet are still, hands are quiet, you should really try it, you should really try it, listening well, listening well.” (To the tune of Frere Jacque)Everything in the song is completed by the time the song is complete.
October“Hocus Pocus”“Everybody Focus”All children turn and point their finger towards the teacher (as if casting a spell) with their eyes on the teacher and their voice off.
November“Voices” (Loud voice)   “Voices” (Medium voice)   “Voices” (Whisper)“Shhhhh” (Loud Voice)   “Shhhhh” (Medium Voice)   “Shhhh” (Whisper”The teacher calls the first time loudly and the children respond loudly, the second one is responded to quieter before being fully silent and eyes on the teacher following the final call.
December“Zip it, Lock it…”“Put it in your pocket!”The teacher mimics zipping their lips and turning the key while the children mimic putting the key in their pocket before folding their arms and looking at the teacher with voices off.
JanuaryClap a pattern.Children repeat it.Repeat three different patterns. By the end of the final pattern, all conversation has stopped, and eyes are on the teacher with.
February“1..2..3..eyes on me..”“1..2..eyes on you..”Eyes focussed on the teacher and voices are off.
March“Hands on top”“That means stop”Children empty their hands and put their hands on their head with their eyes on the teacher and voices off.
April“Ready, Set?”“You bet!”If the children are ready to listen, they give you two thumbs up while they are looking at you silently.
May“L-I-S”“T-E-N”Children finish their conversation or activity immediately and watch the teacher for their next instruction.
June“Ready to Rock?”“Ready to Roll!”Children do a rolling motion with their two hands before folding them and looking at you attentively.
Anger Management Behaviour Management


As teachers, we can often end up mediating conflicts or handling crises throughout the day. Successful management of these situations where tensions or emotions may be running high does not need to be a win-lose scenario where the teacher wins and asserts their control while the student or students back down, or worse, when the student wins and the teacher backs down! Anger is an emotion that adults can struggle to deal with when children are in a full tantrum or heightened state. However, meeting anger in a child with anger from the teacher is a bit of a hypocritical response when you think about it. Managing these scenarios most effectively can result in a win-win for everybody as the situation is de-escalated and the student is offered a way back that is respectful of their anger, yet, assertive that there are other ways to deal with it.

The I-Assist model is a great strategy for diffusing such situations and ensure that everyone feels safe. It offers the student an avenue to avoid making a difficult situation worse in a few clear steps.

  1. Isolate the situation: Get the student on their own by either removing them or removing the other pupils present. This should be done in a calm manner rather than authoritative or accusatory. Managing a conflict in front of an audience can make it hard for both the teacher and student as nobody wants to be perceived as “losing face”.
  1. Actively listen: Listen to the student and paraphrase back to them how they are feeling to demonstrate you are listening and understanding. Take the focus away from blame and insults and put it on their emotions and feelings.
  1. Speak Calmly: Using a calm tone of voice despite what might be being said about you or others is important in ensuring the situation doesn’t escalate. It is very hard to argue at somebody who won’t argue back.
  1. Statement of Understanding: Use statements like “I understand you are angry with _____ or because of _____, however, there might be a different way to deal with these feelings”.
  1. Invite them to consider positive outcomes: Ask them what might happen if they were to calm down and deal with this a different way. Offer them a way out rather than trying to talk them down or impose a solution on them.
  1. Space to person to consider: Give them physical space to think about their next step. We’ve all been angry before and having an individual rushing us or in front of us when we are trying to calm down does not speed up the process I think we can agree.
  1. Time to think: Once you have made a request or given them choices, let them have some “wait-time” to decide. Pushing them can lead to further inflammation or escalation that we want to avoid.

There are steps here that we might already do in our classrooms as it is but the nice thing about the I-Assist strategy is it puts a nice consistent structure for dealing with conflict or anger outbursts to ensure that the teacher responds in a structured manner when situations arise and the children will learn what to expect if they are to react a certain way. If you incorporate this strategy, it can easily be shared with others who come in contact with your class so there is a consistent method used. It is a calm approach to a difficult situation that I am on board with.

Credit to the Therapeutic Crisis Intervention programme developed at Cornell University, New York for the idea.


What is your Hidden Curriculum?

In every classroom, there is a formal curriculum the teacher teaches. Certain skills are taught, certain processes and certain subjects. Everyone knows what it is, and it is there for all to see and assess. However, what about the hidden curriculum? What are you covertly teaching unbeknownst to yourself? This can be known as the hidden curriculum.

The hidden curriculum is considered the beliefs and attitudes that are taught to children indirectly. Children learn through watching and interacting with their environment and through being present in the classroom and watching the teacher’s actions, words and body language, they can learn this hidden curriculum.

A simple example of this is the relationship between teacher and students. The student learns what the dynamic of this relationship is through watching how the teacher interacts with pupils, what is appropriate to say and when and what is inappropriate. The teacher may not sit down and explicitly teach the children this dynamic, but it is indirectly taught as part of the hidden curriculum.

Where the hidden curriculum becomes particularly important is where we start to tie it in with the concept of inclusion. Here are some questions to consider:

  1. Does the teacher use the correct language and tone when speaking about minority groups? Does their body language demonstrate openness and effort to including children with various needs? 
  2. Does the teacher display pictures on the wall of white “normal” children only or is there a mix of children with physical disabilities, different ethnicities, same-sex parents etc?
  3. How are pupils grouped in the class? Are they streamed according to their literacy ability?
  4. Does the teacher use a different tone of voice when speaking to a child who has a disability?
  5. Does the teacher go the extra mile to include children with differing needs into lessons?

The answer to each of these questions contributes to the hidden curriculum the teacher is teaching whether they like it or not. What is missing can be as important as what is there!

For those interested in creating an inclusive classroom, there are six different elements to contemplate which can contribute to a hidden curriculum any teacher could be proud of. These are:

  1. Classroom Environment
  • Ensure the classroom is suited and adapted to the needs of all children in the class. Children with physical disabilities should be positioned with clear access, for example, or if a child is blind, covering the room with as much brail as writing to create equally print-rich environments. Display pictures of all ethnicities, minorities and abilities around the room to provide balance and normalise them to the students.
  1. Curriculum
  • Differentiate the curriculum to ensure success for all students in the classroom. This can be as simple as adjusting expectations for the children at both ends of the ability spectrum in the room. When teaching physical education to a class who have students with physical disabilities, there can be more preplanning involved but with the internet, there is a wealth of ideas to aid you if you want to be inclusive.
  1. Teaching and Learning Strategies
  • Ensure that a wide variety of teaching methods are used to achieve successful learning objectives. Including choice in how children can respond to stimulus. Perhaps the children can orally give their response to a story on occasion or pictorially? Freeze frames and other drama-based strategies can be great ways to stoke the imaginations and creativity of children and those who have weak literacy skills can thrive.
  1. Student Well-Being
  • Demonstrate care and empathy is a great way to promote well-being. A nice way to do this is by displaying red, yellow, red and blue chart paper on the wall (as per the zones of regulation) and get the children to stick a post-it or clothes peg on the zone they’re in. Red can depict anger or upset. Yellow for excited, silly, frustrated or other slightly heightened states. Green is happy, calm or okay. Blue is sick, tired or sad. It can help you adjust your interactions with the children while also showing the students that there can be lots going on in other’s lives that they may not know about. 
  1. Assessment
  • If you are differentiating your teaching, it can make sense to differentiate your testing. This can be done by giving extra time, resources, fewer questions, more questions or orally answering the questions. Thinking outside the box is key.
  1. Classroom Behaviour
  • As the popular quote goes, fairness is not everybody getting the same but everybody getting what they need. Different children can require different behaviours being tolerated. Children understand this quicker than adults at times and allowing extra wiggle room around rules for the children that need it is a necessity at times to be truly inclusive.

The concept of the hidden curriculum is something that caused me to reflect a lot on my practice in the classroom. What was I teaching indirectly and was this the message I wanted to convey? In lots of ways, I was happy with the answers but there were one or two gaps that I will strive to improve on. Take a few minutes to answer honestly how inclusive you are in your practice, attitudes, behaviour and language around inclusion and your hidden curriculum will start to reveal itself. A truly worthwhile activity.

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Special Education Verbal Behaviour

Verbal Behaviour Theory: What is it and How can it help?

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I have attended three workshops over the past few days and committed to making a post on each workshop about the key facts and actionable steps that I considered important having digested the information that was relayed. To give a wider context, I have recently switched roles to teaching in a special class for teaching children with autism. So the three workshops are tied into improving my teaching in topics related to this. I will break down my first workshop on Verbal Behaviour into theory and practice trying to be as simplistic as possible to give you a general sense of what it is and whether you’d like to research it further.


The cliff notes around the theory were:

  • Language is learned in response to the environment. The elements that influence language learning are motivation, reinforcement, extinction and punishment.

N.B. Punishment is meant in the applied behaviour analysis sense as something which decreases a behaviour.

  • When thinking about language and communication, consider the antecedent, behaviour and consequence.

E.g The child sees a biscuit is the antecedent.

      The child says “biscuit” is the behaviour.

      The child gets the biscuit is the consequence.

In this instance, the behaviour (the child speaking) is likely to increase as they got reinforced through getting the biscuit. Consider the inverse of this, if a child takes your hand and drags you to the biscuit and you give it to them, this is the behaviour that will increase.

  • With language, we can consider form (grammar, syntax) and function (why they are speaking). When working with children with language delay or who are emerging speakers, function is equally – if not more – important than form so they can communicate needs and requests.
  • Skinner defined eight kinds of “verbal operant” which is in layman terms, forms of verbal behaviour, these are:
    1. Echoic – repeating back words, parroting
    2. Imitation – Repeating back actions, very important it is part of any verbal behaviour programme.
    3. Mand – Asking for what you want. Obviously, this is critical.
    4. Tact – Labelling what you see, hear, smell, taste and touch.
    5. Intraverbal – Conversation, finishing off a rhyme or song, giving a description etc.
    6. Receptive by feature, function and class aka RFFC – Allows children to respond to questions like “what has a tail?” or “What can you do with these items?”.
    7. Textual – Reading, this is social when learning and for pleasure when proficient.
    8. Transcription – Writing what is heard.

The key points for me on the theory were thinking about how language and the speed at which it is acquired is affected by motivation and reinforcement. Children will learn when they are motivated to or rewarded for it. This can be done through ensuring they need to speak or by rewarding them with a truly desirably object when they do. If you took nothing else from this post, this would be the one fact to ruminate on.


There was so much information given in the workshop today but I boiled it down to four actionable steps which I will be taking with me as I progress:

  1. In a classroom where the goal is to increase the children’s ability to request an item they want using verbal behaviour, consider spending the first half an hour of the day working on this. Have items which the children like out of reach and visible around the room. Give the items to the children for a number of minutes when they use the word/point at the picture in their PECS book/sign the word or however they are communicating. This session starts the day off on a positive note if you are in a special class as the child and adult will find it easier to establish rapport.
  2. Manipulate the classroom environment as there are not enough scenarios in a day to motivate the children to request items. For example, give children a yogurt with no spoon. Start an art task with missing supplies. The idea here is that the children use the language to request the items. It was emphasised that the children are not ignored if they are struggling, they can be prompted to repeat the work after you if that is the level they are at, for example.
  3. Use shaping, reward the child for making successive attempts at getting closer to the desired result. It was recommended to have just a list of ten core words for this. If they want a bottle, for example, the first day they might say “BaBa”. On subsequent days, the child shouldn’t be reinforced by getting the bottle until they get to that same level or to a slight improvement. If they say “Ba”, this should not be reinforced. Prompting the child and encouraging repeating the word will help.
  4. Use the Verbal Behaviour Milestones Assessment and Placement Programme (VB-MAPP) to help assess and guide your teaching of verbal behaviour. This is an extremely comprehensive programme which will help you identify where the child is at and how to get them to the next stage with suggested tasks broken down step-by-step. I couldn’t even start to breakdown this programme in a few words but it is extremely impressive and is something I will definitely be recommending to teachers teaching children with autism or language delays.

Concluding Thoughts

Skinner’s theory on language and verbal behaviour is extremely interesting and easy to grasp. I really think the concepts are worthwhile and intriguing. The actionable steps that are borne from the theory are pretty simple to incorporate in the classroom and I will certainly be using the VB-MAPP to guide me in assessing the children’s current position and planning the way forward as it is so comprehensive.

A really worrying point was made today that language acquisition is being delayed in some children as they don’t get as much motivation and reinforcement for using language in the early developmental stages as children used to years ago.

The reason?

Adults are spending more time on their phones than attending to their child.

The last thing I would suggest reflecting on is if you have a child who is a selective mute or an emerging speaker, have you ever fulfilled the need of the child before they have to speak? When you see them struggle to reach something silently, do you walk over and hand it down? I know I have and with this workshop in mind, perhaps this kind of reaction borne out of kindness is actually hindering the child’s acquisition of language. Lots to consider!