1. Your student shows no interest in rewards or praise.

First, it’s very possible they DO care, they just don’t want to show you. So after class, when you’re no longer around, they tell everybody under the sun, but you never know it happened and think something is wrong. Moral of the story: don’t let the students reaction alone dissuade you from giving them rewards or praise, as positive reinforcement is essential to the student developing confidence and choosing healthy behaviors.

But what do you do when the student is genuinely not interested? You might try to introduce some kind of new reward system. I save warm fuzzies and cold pricklies until later in the schoolyear specifically for this reason. Keep a jar of colorful pom-pom balls and a jar of paper clips at the front of the classroom. Every time a student does something kind, give them a warm fuzzy. Every time they do something mean, give them a cold prickly. When they get 10 warm fuzzies they get to pick a prize from the box. A new reward system like this can inject life into the classroom, and give motivation to those students who are losing interest.

2. Your student keeps calling for their “mommy.”

Start meeting the mom and student outside the classroom at the beginning of the day, and bring a funny hand puppet with you. Use the puppet to try to make the student laugh and feel comfortable. Then, when it’s time to enter the room, the student might not feel so afraid about being separated from their mom. In other words, try to nip it in the bud before they enter the classroom.

It is also okay to have the mom come into the room, but not indefinitely. Let the mom know that this can only go on for a couple weeks, so she in turn can let the child know.

3. Your student gets upset whenever they lose a game.

Change the focus of your activities to be more cooperative than competitive. For instance, a board game like snakes and ladders could be played in teams, with team members doing a Q & A when they land on a square. When the first team finishes, congratulate them for being the “First Finishers.” When the second team finishes, congratulate them with the same enthusiasm as the “Second Finishers,” and so on. This way the emphasis is on them practicing English with each other and finishing, as opposed to winning.

However, this problem is really solved at the curriculum level, with the core of that curriculum consisting of cooperative learning techniques and social and emotional learning. Assignments need to be organized into jigsaws, placemats, etc., and clear expectations need to be communicated to the students from Day 1.

4. Your student simply will NOT listen to you.

Use Instruction-Checking Questions (ICQs) to determine if the student understands what you want them to do. For example, if you tell the class to underline all the adjectives in a text, the ICQ would be, “Okay Timmy, what do you do to the adjectives?”  These can be very simple, and seem too obvious to ask. But it’s very easy for English language learners to miss a word or phrase, and sometimes students just zone out.

But what do you do if the student does understand you? And what if it’s not just about staying on task? What if they’re running around the room, disturbing other students, and not listening when you tell them to stop? In this case, you must explain to the student the effect their behavior is having on the class and how it makes you feel. For example, you might say, “Timmy, every day when it’s time to sit down for group reading, you have a problem listening. You run around the room, and it’s always a lot of work to get you to stop. It’s not the end of the world, but it makes me feel sad. Group reading should be a fun and happy time when we read stories together. If you run around, we lose that, so I’m hoping we can find a way to make it better.” If the behavior starts to change and the student starts to listen to you more, let the student know that you appreciate it. Explaining, together with positive reinforcement, are the two most effective classroom management techniques in a teachers arsenal.

5. Your student seems unable to sit still.

Begin sprinkling self-regulation and self-control activities into the lessons. A common one to try would be “3-2-1 Freeze!” At the beginning of class, have the students choose a pose. For instance, standing on one leg with arms spread out wide like an airplane. At random times throughout the class period, call out “3-2-1 Freeze!” and have the students hold their pose for 30 seconds or so. You now have a classroom management technique as well that you can use if/when you need to regain control of the class. Also, make sure you have a healthy mixture of “stirrers” (activities that get the students out of their seats and moving) and “settlers” (activities that students complete in their seats).

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