For posts on bullying, visit The Learn to be Buddies Series Blog.
All images and posts written by and copyright to Amanda Clements (nee Gray) 2009-2012 unless otherwise indicated.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Ask Amanda: The role of teacher's aides

Question from Shelley:
What does research generally say about aides and aide time - I am wondering for example how effective an hour's aid time a day might be as opposed to 1.5 days with an aid there all the time.

Comment by Sue:
Hi Amanda,
Just following up on what Shelly is asking about I have been really concerned about a growing trend which seems to be happening in schools at the moment. That being, that teacher aides are more often teaching students with special needs than their teachers are. Also that much of the planning seems to be left up to teacher aides too. Over the years I have seen many kids who come to a special education setting after completing their primary schooling who are seriously aide and prompt dependent. It is an even greater problem is schools where a student may have had the same ( well intentioned) teacher aide for the whole of their primary schooling.

The use of teachers aides is increasing. But we need to be clear on the role of a teacher's aide before we can effectively use them in the classroom.

Most importantly, it is important to know that a teachers aide or assistant is not a trained teacher. Here are some sites that tell you about the qualifications of teachers aides in Australia:

I found the Middlesborough Teaching Assistants site really interesting. The statement that is important is that the role of the teachers aide is to "enable access to the curriculum and to facilitate independent learning, and to promote inclusion."

It is really important to see teachers aides as facilitators rather than "scaffolds" or "supports".

This video also has some great stuff:

The Disability Standards for Education 2005 Part 3 highlight that all adjustments made to support students' learning must ensure that the child can learn as independently as possible.

The consistent presence of a teachers aide is possibly not as important as how the teachers aide is used, and what adjustments are being made in terms of teaching strategies, materials and grouping in the classroom.

As Sue mentioned, using a teachers aide in a way that will promote co-dependence or dependence in the student does not meet the aim of promoting independence. For example, I have seen situations where a student is placed at the back of the classroom with an aide to complete tasks that they could not complete without assistance, or tasks that are not connected to what is going on in the classroom. In these cases you often find the students have a low sense of self-efficacy. That is, if the teacher's aide is away the child refuses to complete work, or withdraws, or is constantly asking for the classroom teacher's assistance.

The aim should be that we make adjustments to the way we present information and work with the students. For example, we use more visuals and hands-on materials. We have glossaries and checklists. We arrange the physical environment with consideration for the child's needs. The aim is to ensure that the child can participate as independently as possible.

Then the best way to use a teacher's aide will be scheduling them on at times when extra supervision or extra one-one support may be needed for safety or equity reasons. For example, if the child struggles with literacy, then the teachers aide could be present at literacy lessons to work with small groups or pairs of students. Or they could be there, roaming the room, helping to answer questions so that the student can get adequate support without sacrificing teacher time for the other students.

The same philosophy could apply to situations where the student may have behaviour or physical difficulties. Example - a child with physical difficulties may be allocated a teachers aide during physical education. Or a child who is prone to "melt-downs" in noisy or less structured lessons is allocated teachers aide time so that they can help maintain duty of care even if the child has to leave the room for a "break".

We also need to ensure that the use of a teachers aide does not increase the risk of bullying.... see the previous post on this topic.

Perhaps we should see teachers aides as facilitators, an extra pair of hands in situations where duty of care or support for other children may be significantly affected by the needs of the child with a disability.

So to answer your question...

Research about resilience, high expectations and self-fulfilling prophecies suggest that:

- Making adjustments to resources and teaching strategies to promote independent learning are essential, whether a child has a teacher's aide or not.

- The way a teacher's aide is used is likely to be more important than how much time they spend with the child. The exception may be if the child really struggles to relate to "strangers" and needs routine. Then it will be important to allow time for the child to get used to the teachers aide being part of the classroom, unless they can be taught that the teachers aide is part of a particular activity (eg PE means the teachers aide will be there)

If we expect children to be independent, provided we have appropriate supports, materials and teaching strategies, then they are more likely to be resilience and confident learners.

One on one support is beneficial for many children with disabilities, but it can also be provided through peer-assisted learning. One on one support, however, is not necessarily essential for learning success.

The line between expecting too much and expecting too little is not always an easy one to find, but it is important that we recognise that children with disabilities are capable of learning independently.

The short answer??

1 hour a day can be just as effective as 1.5 days with an aide if the aide is used at a time when the child may need to ask more questions, or needs further supervision due to social, behaviour or emotional difficulties.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Helping children make good choices

The final four steps in the problem-solving process involve being able to identify your choices, analyse the consequences of these choices before you act, then being able to make the best choice in the circumstances.

Life isn’t black and white

We have probably thought at some point in our lives how much easier things would be if there was a clear, black and white, right or wrong answer to a problem. But life is not like that. It is full of shades of grey.

There may be many different solutions to a problem, each with its own positives and negatives. And the best solution may differ according to the context you are in.

Problem-solver’s block (as opposed to writer’s block)

Problem solving involves a lot of what we call higher-order-thinking processes (Queensland government, 2004; Thomas, nd). That is, we have to be able to look at the situation and analyse it. We need to be able to predict how our actions may affect others or ourselves. We then need to make decisions about what consequences we can live with, and which ones we want to avoid.

These complex processes can become very difficult for some children. For example, most of us when under extreme stress or emotion just let ourselves go with what our body and feelings want us to do.

For example, when confronted with a live cockroach I am likely to utter a genteel (or not) scream and take flight to the nearest elevated surface. If I was reasonable, I would know that a cockroach cannot hurt me.

Alternately, when I was faced with a crisis when teaching I surprised myself with the ability to go through required steps to ensure the safety of those in my care… and when everyone had gone home, dissolved into uncontrollable tears.

In these situations I acted without thinking because the strength of the emotion interfered with the rational problem-solving process. The practiced, routine or natural response takes over.

In the same way, children living with anxiety disorders or depression may find it difficult to problem-solve as negative thoughts, tiredness and fluctuating emotions may make it hard to concentrate, organise their thoughts, and analyse the situation effectively (Crundwell & Killu, 2007).

So in the face of teasing or exams, they may become frozen or speechless or unable to work through the problem. Alternately, they may have a “melt-down” or demonstrate their emotion through verbal or physical aggression against others or themselves.

Taking things literally

For children with intellectual disabilities/developmental delays, the ability to use higher-order thinking skills is impaired. For the most part they will need to be taught, step-by-step, how to respond to difficult situations. The difficulty with this is that they may implement these steps rigidly, not adapting them to the required context (Raymond, 2004) .

For example, we met Jo in the previous post. Jo was taught to offer an exchange and take turns if a child has taken something of hers or something she wants. So at “fruit break”, when another child took the slice of orange that she wanted, she offered an apple in exchange. When this was refused, she suggested they “take turns” eating the orange. The difficulty with this is that, a school, there is a clear rule about not touching or sharing others’ food.

This is called a difficulty in adaptive behaviour, which is usually used as a key measure of intellectual or developmental delays.


As mentioned in previous posts, acting without thinking about consequences is a key characteristic of ADD or ADHD. For more on this, follow this link and also follow up the references to the Stop, Think, Do program by Lindy Petersen.

Think Good, Feel Good by Paul Stallard

This table could be a great tool to help children work through an issue. It comes from Chapter 12 in Stallard’s book. I would highly recommend that you access this book if your child is having difficulties with problem-solving due to confidence, anxiety or other issues.

You could adapt this table to help children with developmental delays in the problem-solving process. Using Boardmaker or other picture languages to complete this table, or creating social stories are some alternatives.


Crundwell, M.R., and Killu, K. (2007). Understanding AND Accommodating Students with Depression in the Classroom. Teaching Exceptional Children, 40(1), pg. 48

Queensland Government. (2004). Higher order thinking. Retrieved 28/08/2009 from:

Raymond, E.B. (2004). Learners with Mild Disabilities: A Characteristics Approach. New York: Pearson Education.

Stallard, P. (2002). Think Good- Feel Good. John Wiley & Sons: Australia

Thomas, A. (nd). Higher order thinking – it’s HOT! Retrieved 28/7/2009 from:


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Self-esteem, problem-solving and resilience

Step four in the problem-solving process involves being able to realistically identify what resources you have for dealing with the problem.

If you don’t have a good opinion of yourself or your abilities, you are unlikely to have a good opinion of your own resources. And if you believe you have no resources, then you are likely to just give up or ask for help without trying to solve the problem by yourself.


Self-concept: This is the broad term to describe how children perceive themselves, what they believe about themselves and how they describe themselves (Lynch, Foley-Peres & Sullivan, 2008; MacArthur & MacArthur, 1999).

Self-esteem: A person’s sense of their worth, and how much they respect, appreciate of value themselves translates into the concept of self-esteem (MacArthur & MacArthur, 1999)
This is part of a person’s self-concept.

Self-efficacy: This refers to a person’s belief in their ability or competence in different situations. For example, a child’s belief about their ability in sporting or academic tasks (MacArthur & MacArthur, 1999).

What effects how children perceive themselves?

- The difference between what is their ideal self, or what they think they should be and what they think they are….
For example, if a child thinks they should be able to solve all their problems without help, and they fail to live up to this expectation, this is likely to have a significant effect on their self-esteem and self-efficacy.

- What they take in from others
What they hear and see from others can effect a child’s sense of self. For example, bullying can have a significant effect on a child’s self-esteem (Delfabbro, Winefield et al, 2006). The labels and concept of self as communicated by the bully may become part of the child’s beliefs. The expectations and beliefs held and/or communicated by parents and other family members, teachers and friends can also play a significant role in the development of the child’s beliefs about themselves.

- Other factors…
As reported by MacArthur & MacArthur (1999) there are a range of other factors that can influence a child’s self-esteem or self-efficacy. These include the existence of disabilities, mental illnesses such as depression, obesity, failure or learning difficulties and so on. However, we can do things to mitigate the effects of these.

Helping children believe in themselves

- Give praise and rewards.
Different children respond differently to different things. This is a great blog post on Cranberry Corner that may be helpful.

- Get the child themselves to identify and record their own successes.
Sometimes it is not enough if it just comes from you – their parents or teachers. Getting children or youth to recognise their own strengths will mean that they are more likely to really believe it.
Some ways to do this is to use the idea of a celebration diary or journal. Or, if your child is using social networking (under supervision), then you could use this to have them celebrate successes.
You could also use self-assessment in the classroom or at home. For example, getting the child to recount to you something that they achieved or completed. You then record it on a rewards chart. Each recount is then awarded a number of points. Those points go towards a greater award at the end of the week, or for older children, you may set a longer-term goal.

- Give the child responsibilities, big or small … making sure they are able to fulfil them. For example, peer mentoring or tutoring has been shown to increase a child’s self-esteem and/or self-efficacy (Karcher, 2009). For example, using children in middle school who struggle with literacy to tutor Kindergarten or year one students in basic phonic or reading skills can increase their sense of competence when it comes to reading. It can also help ground them in a strong understanding of the basics of reading. But if we are going to use such programs we need to make sure the students are adequately trained and supervised to ensure benefits for both themselves and the tutees.

Having said that, the responsibilities can also be simple chores or responsibilities. They can be things like taking out the trash, helping to clean up or helping hand out worksheets in the classroom. Such responsibilities can help to build self-respect in children as it is an indication that we respect them.

When it comes to problem-solving.

When you are trying to help children deal with problems, it is important to get a sense of how competent they feel in the situation.

For example, if you constantly solve social problems for your child they may get a sense that they are incompetent to solve the problem for themselves. Instead, you should help the child work through their options and facilitate their progress through the problem-solving process.

Scenario 1:

Jo is playing in the doll’s corner at preschool. Nat arrives, and wordlessly begins to “care for” one of the dolls. Jo begins crying and calling out.

Miss D rushes over. She listens as Jo sobs out the reason for her distress. It seems that Nat has picked up Jo’s favourite dolly, and Jo wants it back.

Miss D talks to Nat, and swaps Jo’s favourite doll with another. She then gives Jo back the doll, and the two children go on playing happily. Until Nat picks up Jo’s favourite doll blanket…..

Scenario 2:

Jo is playing in the doll’s corner at preschool. Nat arrives, and wordlessly begins to “care for” one of the dolls. Jo begins crying and calling out.

Miss D rushes over. She listens as Jo sobs out the reason for her distress. It seems that Nat has picked up Jo’s favourite dolly, and Jo wants it back.

Miss D talks to Jo about what might be the best solution. Together they decide that the best solution may be asking Nat for the doll, and exchanging it with another. Miss D kneels quietly behind Jo, watching as Jo puts the plan into action. Jo puts her negotiating skills into action, and turns back to Miss D with a beaming smile.

“Nat gave me my doll back, and I gave him one, too.”

“That’s right, Jo! That was a good way to get the doll back, wasn’t it?”


Nat and Jo go on playing happily. When Nat picks up Jo’s favourite dolly-blanket, Jo says, “That’s my dolly’s blanket. You can use this one!”

With a little more negotiation and some reluctance on Nat’s part, Jo does get her blanket back with the promise to give Nat a turn later.


This theory applies to any age group…. It is only with practice that we build confidence in our own abilities.


Delfrabbro, P., Winefield, T., Trainor, S., Dollard, M., Anderson, S., Metzer, J., and Hammarstrom, A. (2006). Peer and teacher bullying/victimization of South Australian secondary school students: Prevalence and psychosocial profiles. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 76, pp71-90.

Karcher, M. (2009). Increases in Academic Connectedness and Self-Esteem Among High Schools Students who Serve as Cross-age Peer Mentors. Professional School Counselling, 12(4), pp292-299.

Lynch, M.D., Foley-Peres, K.R., and Sullivan, S.S. (2009). Piers Harris and Coopersmith Measure of Self-Esteem: A Comparative Analysis. Educational Research Quarterly, 32(2), p49-.

MacArthur, J.D. and MacArthur, C.T. (1999). Self-Esteem. Retrieved 26th July 2009 from:


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Problem-solving for resilience Part 2

In the previous post I highlighted the key steps in successful problem-solving. These include being able to:
1. identify your emotion
2. control that emotion enough to
3. identify the problem,
4. identify your resources for dealing with the problem,
5. identifying choices and consequences,
6. select and implement the best choice,
7. analyse how this worked in a balanced way,
8. and assessment and rewarding self for successes.

Last post I also talked about ways to help children with identifying and controlling their emotions. In this post I will look at step 3.

Step 3: Identifying the problem

As mentioned previously, if a child is anxious or their emotions are still “out of control”, identifying the problem will be difficult. One of the things that may prevent them from “calming down” is that they see the problem as insurmountable or more serious that it really is.

How bad is the problem?
In the previous post I talked about the feelings thermometer. Another way this has been used is to help children identify just how “bad” the problem is. For example, see the thermometer by cognitive therapy for kids

This is a way of helping children identify the nature of the problem so they can then set about ways to solve it. It can also help them decide if they need help, or whether they can solve it themselves.

Describing the problem:
Some ways to help children identify the problem after they calm down or identify how “bad” the problem is on their thermometer:

- Get them to tell you what happened if they have good language.
For young children, make sure you get down to their level and use re-assuring physical contact (such as holding their hand or rubbing their back – each child will have a different preference).

For older children, make sure you give them eye-contact and your full, calm attention (BeyondBlue). Avoid trying to finish their sentences, and wait patiently with minimal prompting for them to explain what happened. And, most importantly, avoid making statements like “Why are you making a fuss about that?” Lead them into making their own judgements about the problem by asking questions like, “Do you think we can do something about it?” or getting them to rate the problem on the thermometer as discussed previously.

- Get them to show you what the problem is if they can’t tell you.
On of the difficulties with very young children who have high learning abilities (what has been called “gifted”) you will often find that their language lets them down. That is, their childish language does not give them the vocabulary they need to communicate the complexity of their thoughts. This can also be the case for children with expressive language disorders. This is a very frustrating experience, and can lead to “melt-downs” or “tantrums”.

The best way to deal with this is to get the child to point, role play, demonstrate or even draw a picture of their problem. The process may take a little longer, but it will be worth it.

- Get them to write it down.
For older children or teens who may be reluctant to talk about their problems, they may find it easier to write down the issue. For example, a youth who is living with depression may find it much easier to express themselves in song, poetry or journaling than in speech. However, you need to be careful about this. There needs to be some structure to the journaling or self-expression.

For example, a child with depression is likely to have a negative outlook on life and underestimate their own abilities to solve problems (Beyond Blue). So it is important that they are encouraged to write positive things in their journal. You might ask them to write one positive statement about themselves, or record their achievements, as well as journaling about their problems. Or you might format the beginning of their problem-solving journal like this:

You should also encourage them to share the key points in their journal with a trusted person, such as a mentor, buddy, counsellor or parent.

This will ensure that the journal does not just become one huge list of problems or dark thoughts. This is likely to make the child feel more overwhelmed, helpless and discouraged.

Some good references/websites


Tuesday, July 21, 2009


An important factor in the ability to “bounce back” in difficult circumstances is the ability to use effective problem-solving strategies. There are many factors that can effect how a child approaches a problem.

The cognitive problem-solving process

Problem-solving happens in our heads. We either consciously or unconsciously work through the issue. Some of us do it very rapidly, others take longer. The bigger the problem, or the bigger the problem seems, the longer it may take.

However, successful problem-solving usually involves self-talk. And it usually goes something like this:
1. Whoa! I’m feeling really angry/upset/frustrated/etc!
2. I better take a deep breath and relax!
3. I am angry/upset/frustrated/etc because….
4. But I am good at… or I think I may need some help with …
5. What I could do is…, but if I do that … will happen. Can I live with that?
6. Yep, I can live with that. Here goes…
7. Well, that didn’t work…. but that worked well… I might do …. next time
8. But I did a good job just having a go!

An unsuccessful problem-solving event may go something like this:
1. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

1. I’m feeling really angry/upset/frustrated/etc!
2. I better take a deep breath and relax!
3. I am angry/upset/frustrated/etc because….
4. But I am no good at anything. I need help. I can’t do anything …

Skills and strategies to help with problem-solving

Step One: Identifying your emotions
When a child is on the edge of a melt-down or explosion it is not a time to be trying to discuss what is happening.

Anxiety or any other strong emotion can interfere with the cognitive processes that are involved in the problem-solving. Children may not be calm enough to find the words they need. Or they may not be able identify or express with words exactly how they are feeling. Or they may feel that words are inadequate.

One strategy that is used is a feeling’s thermometer. There are many versions out there, but follow these links to find a few I like:

Or find Paul Stallard’s book, Think Good Feel Good. Chapter 10 has a great thermometer.

But I would prefer to use one that has some strategies for the child. This means it is not just about identifying emotions, but about managing them as well. This is my version:

Step two: Controlling your emotions
I talked about the Stop, Think, Do program by Lindy Petersen in a previous post. This can be a very effective tool in helping children relax and more effectively work through the problem-solving process.

I have run out of time to write any more just now… I will come back later to work through the other steps of effective problem-solving….

References and resources to follow up:

Alabama Federation Council for Exceptional Children (nd). Tips for Teachers: Managing Students' Behaviours: Fostering Independent Learners through Self-management Strategies. Online at:

Barrett, P. (2005). Friends for life. Queensland: Australian Academic Press
Find out more at

Stallard, P. (2002). Think Good- Feel Good. John Wiley & Sons: Australia


Saturday, July 18, 2009

The power of thought and expectations

Mikey struggles with reading.

He used to love it when he was younger and there were lots of pictures in the books. Now the pages are full of a jumble of letters that he struggles to decode. He made a few mistakes when reading out loud in his reading groups, and while his friends did not laugh at him they did correct him and he felt he had “failed”.

When he was asked to read in the classroom, he often found an immediate need to go to the toilet. Or that something was in his eye. Or he simply uhm-ed and aah-ed until the teacher or his parents or friends filled in the words he didn’t know.

Until Miss G came along. She insisted, in a kindly and supportive way, that he “have a go”.

His response was, “I can’t. I’m stupid.”

No-one likes to make mistakes, or not be able to do things that peers can do. For Mikey, who is great at debating, good at sports and is popular on the playground, the sense of failure when it came to reading was demoralising.

He came to believe that there was something wrong with him. That he was in some way “dumber” than other children. So he stopped even trying to read anything that looked too hard.

So Miss G incorporated graphic novels (comics), DVDs, large-text books, books-read-aloud and one-on-one reading time into the classroom. Sometimes she projects the text onto the Smartboard and they all read along together.

Sometimes Miss G makes mistakes, or “gets stuck” so that the children know this is okay. And it lets her model problem-solving strategies. She hung posters on the walls and gave students bookmarks which told them what to do when they faced a word they didn’t know. She praised and celebrated, not just when her children got a word right, but when they “had-a-go”.

She’d give specific praise, like:
“You got the beginning sound right! Well done!”
“You remembered to check that the word fit into the sentence, very good!”
“You found smaller words in the big word. What a great effort!”

Hearing this repeatedly, Mikey rarely uses his “I need to go to the toilet” or “uhhm” avoidance techniques any more. He almost always “has-a-go”. And because he gets to read with one peer, or his teacher, or everyone together (instead of having to read aloud to a group of students) he feels less embarrassed.

Now Mikey is a reading buddy for a few Kindergarten children. He is so proud that he can help them with their reading.

And Mikey is starting to love reading again.

Some important rules in Miss G’s class:

“Have a go!”
“Tell your friends what they did well.”
“It’s okay to make mistakes. That’s how we learn.”
“It’s OK to ask for help, but only when you have tried your best.”

Visit SPELD (Australia) for some good resources on helping your child with literacy, as well as a list of books that have been adapted for children with literacy difficulties.

LD Online (USA) also has some great information and resources.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009


“Resilience is the ability to manage and learn from difficulties and to bounce back after diversity.” (Department of Education and Children’s Services, 2007 p1)

Each of us has a different definition of what is a “disastrous” event, an event that makes us lose control of our emotions.

For some it can take something as little as the inability to find one’s keys, for others it takes significant life events like the passing of a loved one. That is because we each have differing levels of resilience.

There is some debate over just what makes one person more resilient than another, but personality, life experiences, emotional intelligence and self-perception will all influence how well we bounce back.

How facing risk can build resilience

A list of school safety rules as seen in the BBC news

Wearing goggles to put up posters
Five-page briefing on the dangers of glue sticks
Ban on running in the playground
Wet grass stopping PE lessons
Ban on playing with conkers
One person at a time in staff kitchen
Ban on sweets because of choking risk
Buoyancy aids for capable year 11 swimmers on a school trip to France

It may be suggested that some of these are a little over-the-top. But we want to protect our children. Isn’t that a good thing?

Like for most things, we need to do it in moderation. There is research that suggests that children who face either low or high levels of risk through their lives, whether it be physical or emotional risk, are likely to be less resilient than those children who have faced a moderate level of risk (Fergus and Zimmerman, 2005; Gill, 2007). If a child has not had to face and deal with any risk before, they are more likely to be anxious and unsure of how to deal with problems or challenging situations in their lives. They may not be familiar with the feelings associated with a healthy adrenaline rush and may not be able to cope with or use that emotion to their advantage.

On the other side, children who face high levels of risk in their lives are likely to be worn down by unhealthy levels of fear and anxiety. Every person has a breaking point, and there is a point at which fear and anxiety can limit our ability to problem-solve or manage our emotions.

But it is more complicated than that…

We cannot simply push children to face “moderately risky” situations and hope they will develop resilience. As mentioned before, we don't always know what can be defined as a "moderately risky" situation for a person. And we also need to think about what will help children learn good coping strategies.

Research suggests that children are more likely to be resilient if they have good role models, adequate supervision and good social/emotional supports (Fergus & Zimmerman, 2005). They also need to be educated on risks and problem-solving.

Let’s take the simple example of the glue sticks. We probably don’t need a five-page briefing on the topic. However, you will need to choose child-friendly glue sticks, supervise young children closely whilst using them and occasionally remind them that the glue is for the paper not for their mouths.

Coping skills

How we deal with every-day problems tells us a lot about resilience. What do our children or students do when they are faced with problems?
· Are they curious or do they show signs of anxiety or fear?
· Are they confident enough to make mistakes – and learn from them?
· Can they change their minds or ways of doing things when things don’t go the way they planned?
· Can they honestly express their feelings, or do they withdraw or hide behind humour or acting out?
· Can they defend themselves?
· Can they see the positives that come out of any situation?

Children with disabilities

For children with disabilities there is a number of factors that can influence their resilience.

For example, children with developmental delays or literacy difficulties might have frequently experienced failure in classroom settings if their needs have not been accommodated adequately. This is likely to influence their sense of self-efficacy. And this, in turn, can lead to refusal to attempt work they perceive as too difficult.

Children who have difficulty with higher order thinking skills such as reasoning, problem-solving, analysing will struggle to cope with every-day problems. For these children you may see frequent and sometimes violent outbursts. These could be due to anger, frustration, fear and other strong emotions they are not able to manage.

Children with language delays will find it difficult to use conventional problem-solving methods such as communication of feelings or negotiation.

Children with sensory sensitivities may be so overwhelmed by noise, sound, movement or touch that they are not able to control their response.

Education and emotional literacy

To build resilience, we need to think about specifically teaching our children or students the following:
- self-esteem and self-belief
- coping and problem-solving skills
- recognising and managing emotions
- self-defence mechanisms (preferably not of the violent kind)
- communication skills

In my posts this month I will try to share a few strategies, resources and programs that may be helpful.


Department of Education and Children’s Services (2007). Resilience. Issues in Society, 260, p 1-3.

Fergus, S, & Zimmerman, M.A. (2005). Adolescent Resilience: A Framework for Understanding Healthy Development in the Face of Risk. Annual Review of Public Health, 26, p399-419.

Gill, T. (2007). No Fear: Growing up in a risk averse society. London: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ask Amanda ... high expectations for all students

Q: One of the issues I am pondering at the moment is the NSW Quality Teaching Model and ways of incorporating it in my pedagogy. Part of this is the social justice component that deals with raising expectations for children with special needs, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island students and children from lower socio-economic groups. I am really wanting to find ways of increasing academic outcomes for these groups of children in my class and am wondering what your thought on this issue are.

For those who are not familiar with the NSW Quality Teaching Model you might want to visit

Intellectual Quality

One dimension of the QT model is intellectual quality, or a focus on “important, substantive concepts, skills and ideas.” p9 It is about involving students in analysing, problem-solving and developing their own deep understanding of key academic concepts.

The difficulties faced by students who have different language and/or cultural backgrounds, or differences in self-direction or higher-order thinking skills, is that the basic skills involved in these processes become a stumbling-block. Hammond (2008) discussed this in the context of students with English as a second language (ESL). Essentially, her research suggested that to raise academic performance and meet the standards set by the QT model it was necessary to increase focus on language and literacy support.

This idea could be extended to students of differing abilities. For example, students with developmental delays, such as those with Autism or Down Syndrome, will struggle with the processes of higher-order thinking as well as communication and metalanguage. It is essential, then, in order to raise academic performance that these skills be explicitly taught within the curriculum.

Self-directed learning can be difficult for a range of students with disabilities, so the idea of scaffolding is essential. If you want a student with autism to be involved in problem-solving, you will need to explicitly teach the process. For example, you may have a step-by-step flow chart of questions that will lead the student to finding a solution to a problem. This makes the process explicit and concrete, rather than abstract.

Metalanguage will also be a stumbling block for students with language, literacy or developmental disabilities. The element of intellectual quality that requires lessons that “explicitly name and analyse knowledge as a specialist language (metalanguage)” p11 is a significant element for children with diverse needs. However, we need to think of that knowledge on three levels when teaching to ensure that we don’t overwhelm students with too much new language. We need to think about the fact that what may be a new word or concept to a student with language, literacy or developmental disability will not be the same as other children in the classroom.

Conway (2008) discusses the importance of prioritising content and vocabulary into three categories when learning:
* Must know – information essential to mastery of the topic
* Should know – what the majority of students will learn in the topic, but additional to basic mastery
* Could know – this may be seen as extension work

When working with children who have diverse needs, we still need to maintain high expectations (QT dimension 2 quality learning environment). However, we need to focus on mastery learning. That is, don’t expect the child to master the “should know” if they haven’t first mastered the “must know”.

It may also mean that we need to look at alternate forms of communication, such as pictures, role play, and project or hands-on work, to ensure that the students have the greatest chance of being able to demonstrate and “converse” about what they know.

For students with behaviour or emotional difficulties, or students who have a long history of “failure”, being confronted with new language, unstructured or self-directed learning, or expectations that they feel are unachievable can be a cause for distress and may limit their involvement in learning. So in order to meet the dimension of intellectual quality for these students, we need to be conscious of building a scaffolding system constructed from tasks broken into smaller parts, a focus on mastery learning, and frequent praise and reinforcement of even the smallest successes. It is also important to teach them how to self-assess so that they develop their own, inner sense of success to replace the prior experiential sense of failure.

In conclusion….

While I won’t go further with this discussion at this time, I just want to note that the whole dimension of significance is critical to teaching children with disabilities or diverse needs.

For example, if you don’t tap into the interest areas of a child with Autism or Aspergers, it will be very difficult to ensure the element of engagement within the dimension of the quality learning environment. This doesn’t mean that you have to teach every lesson about trucks if that is the child’s interests, but it does mean that you should incorporate examples, rewards or narratives about trucks within your lesson at some point.

For children with developmental delays it is essential that you link everything back to their experiences of real life. This ensures that you are helping them “see” what you are teaching them, making the concept concrete rather than abstract.

And if you ensure that you incorporate some language and examples that come from the cultural knowledge of students, then you are more likely to ensure that they are engaged.

The dimension of significance (eg. using student interests, learning style, background knowledge, culture and real life experiences) is an essential tool in ensuring more time is spent teaching than focusing on behaviour management in the classroom.


Conway, R.N.F (2008) Adapting Curriculum, Teaching and Learning Strategies. In P. Foreman (Ed) Inclusion in Action, p95-163. Thomson: Australia.

Hammond, J. (2008) Intellectual challenge and ESL students: implications of quality teaching initiatives.(english as a second language)(Report). Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 1-JUN-08 retrieved 11th July from:

Professional Support and Curriculum Directorate (2003). Quality teaching in NSW public schools. Retrieved 11th July from:


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Ask Amanda

I am so sorry I have been neglecting my blog lately. It has been a very busy time getting Dave is Brave ready for print. But it is at the publishers now so I should have a little more time to write this week.

As I usually do at the end of every month I try to answer some of the questions asked by parents and teachers reading my blog. In this post I want to address the question directed at me from a parent. The question was….

Do you have suggestions how to improve working memory and executive function?

Here are a few things to think about…

Helping address working memory

… by linking new information to what the child already knows or using routine

If you are trying to teach a child a new skill in a way that will help it stick, make sure you tie it into something that the child is interested in or knows about. Keep referring back to this. Repetition may also help it stick.

Of if you want them to remember things like the equipment they need to pack in their bag for school, establishing a routine could be helpful.

For example, every day before school have your child do the same sequence of things – get up, have breakfast, get dressed, check the day’s timetable (if in secondary school), pack required equipment, watch cartoons if there is any time left.

The same principles can be applied to learning. Establish a classroom routine. When teaching new concepts, give examples that the child can relate to. Use their interests, like their favourite sport, art or music, to help establish the new concept in their minds.

…. By using songs, rhythm and rhyme

In addition to routines and repetition, use rhymes and mnemonics.

We (especially of the older generation) are likely to remember key spelling rules through rhymes like “i before e except after c”. Or the mnemonic “every, good, boy, deserves, fruit” to help us remember musical notation.

These can be useful and fun tools both at home and in the classroom to help children remember concepts and tasks.

… by using visual or written reminders

Most children with working memory issues will also benefit from visual or written reminders as well.

To help children learn maths, spelling and reading, hang words, numbers, formulae and poems or short stories around your house or classroom. Read these regularly. Label everything, and get children to read the label every time they want to use that object. Keep the same words hanging in one spot until the child can un-erringly read it for three or four days in a row. But make sure it remains fun, even if you have to use incentives.

For example, you might have a lucky dip box. Have a word or phrase or number on that box. Every time the child reads the word, they get to open it and take a reward. But make sure you reward their attempts at reading the word as well as their successes.

Using repetition, and the child’s learning style – whether it be visual (pictures), hands-on (learning by doing) or auditory (singing, speaking) – will increase the chances that they will remember what they have been taught or told.

Other aspects of helping address executive function


Acting impulsively can be a great difficulty for children with executive function impairments. One of the tools that can be adapted for children, and adults, is the “stop, think, do” process.

This is a program originally introduced by Lindy Petersen, a child, clinical and family psychologist.

Basically it is about using visual and physical cues to help children stop and think about the consequences of their actions before they “do”. For children who act impulsively, this is the function that they fail to go through.

An example of how it may work:
You have a picture of traffic lights hung on the wall. You talk about what each colour means.

Red = stop = stop what you are doing, take a breath and relax.

Orange = think = ask, “What am I going to do? What will happen if I do it? Is there a better choice?”

Green = go = only go when you have thought about what will happen and made a good choice.

You then establish a signal. For example, you may hand out a red card like a penalty card in football (soccer). Or you may use a “stop” hand signal. The child then understands that they need to work through the process.

For a while you may need to get them to talk through their options with you, but the aim is to eventually get them to work through the process quickly and without your help.

You can read more about the process at:

There are also articles on the site about how the process can be used to help children with ADHD, Autism and anxiety disorders.


Some simple things to help with the problem of disorganisation and forgetfulness:
1..Checklists of equipment hung on the wall, or on your child’s timetable. These can be visual (such as a photo) or written, depending on the child’s learning style.
2..Timetables, visual or written, hung on the wall preferably so they cannot be misplaced. These will help you establish your routines and help your child get into good habits – both at home and at school.
3..Set storage spaces. Have routine and even labelled spaces for important equipment that may be continually going missing.
4..Diaries may be useful, but only if the child doesn’t lose them. Try using email, watch alarms, or programs like Outlook to ensure your child is less likely to lose the tools meant to help them remember things like homework etc.

I hope that is helpful.

Picture from Dave is Brave,


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Responding to bullying: Counselling or punishment? …part 2

One approach to responding to bullying is what has been called the “restorative justice” approach. The aim of this approach is to use supportive communities to hold individuals accountable for their actions and increase student’s sense of safety within their community.

Researchers studying this approach have found it has had some success. However, like any other approach, it is not going to address all types of bullying.

Restorative justice: The key principles as seen in Morrison (2002)

This approach is about using what Morrison (2002) calls “adaptive shame”. This basically means the child who is bullying another is confronted with the effects of their behaviour on the child who is being bullied. They are also confronted with the feelings and emotions of their own friends, family, supporters and the school community. If this is done supportively, then the shame of what they are doing and how they are affecting others will lead to a change in behaviour.

However, this only works if the key principles or beliefs outlined by Morrison drive the process. These principles are:
1 - Bullying behaviour can be changed
2 - It is the behaviour, not the whole child, that is being put down
3 - The harm done by the bullying needs to be acknowledged and repaired.
4 - Both the child who is bullying, and the child being bullied, are valued members of the school community.

If these principles are not adhered to, then the child who is bullying another is more likely to be stigmatised than supportively shamed into changing their behaviour. And stigmatisation will lead to a cycle of increased bullying due to feelings of rejection and loss of self-esteem.

Restorative justice may not work if….
#The supportive network (family and friends) of the child who is bullying another reinforce rather than reject the behaviour

#The child who is being bullied and their support network feel threatened by the support network of the child who is bullying.

# There is a significant, underlying emotional, behavioural or social issue/disorder that is contributing to the bullying behaviour and limiting the effects of “adaptive shame”.

What are the alternatives?

In-school suspension may be the best option for both protecting the child who is bullied and catering to the needs of the child who is bullying if the above factors come into play. It may also be used to protect the child who is being bullied as the process of restorative justice is followed.

In-school suspension means that the student who is bullying others is not fully excluded from learning. But it does mean they are excluded from any social situations at school that provide them the opportunity to bully the other student.

This may also need to extend to transport to and from school if they travel on the same bus as the student being bullied.

Counselling and behaviour intervention may be an essential component of addressing the bullying behaviour. For example, if a student is bullying others due to their need for power over “weaker” students, then it is likely that they have significant issues with self-esteem. Their may be things going on at home, in the community or at school that need to be identified and addressed in order for the student to feel empowered to change their behaviour.

There are many different approaches to dealing with bullying. But in the end, whatever we do, we need to try and balance the need to keep our children safe with the need to address the reasons behind the bullying behaviour. And we need to do all this within the bounds of the standards set by law.


Morrison, B. (2002). Bullying and Victimisation in Schools: a Restorative Justice Approach. AIC Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, February 2002. Online at

Or find her book:

Other useful information: These are the guidelines for NSW public schools on dealing with bullying.


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