Vladimira

Working with difficult students – Vladimira Chalyova

Meeting Everyone’s Needs   — Vladimira Chalyova

I believe in second chances. In fact, I believe in giving second chances for as long as they’re needed. That’s basically my attitude towards difficult students, though I cannot really relate to putting the word difficult next to the word student. For me, such students are either lacking something or have more to give than the teacher is asking them to give.

I am convinced that such students would thrive if they were given enough opportunities to express themselves.  Unfortunately, it’s unlikely they’ll come right out and explain what they need. They might not even realize what they need. That’s why it’s so important to be a careful observer and an active listener.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a good frame of reference.

 

There’s probably not much you can do to help with the basic physiological needs at the bottom of the pyramid, but you can work to understand where students are coming from and how that might be contributing to classroom behavior.  With such understanding you’ll know that students who are falling asleep aren’t bored. They’re lacking a basic need: sleep, and there’s a reason for that. Talk with them privately learn about their situation and thus avoid misunderstandings. With higher level needs such a love, esteem, and self-actualization you’ll probably find something lacking in every challenging student you encounter. Think about:

  • The way you teach: your beliefs versus their needs and expectations.
  • The atmosphere in the group: is it supportive, safe and friendly?
  • Your own personality: are you always fair, open and understanding?
  • The bigger picture: do students know why they are doing what they’re doing?
  • Space: is there space and time for students to put their personalities into their work.

If I’m able to eliminate issues related to basic needs, I can focus on belonging, esteem and self-actualization by asking myself questions like those in this illustration:

These ideas from John Medina’s book Brain Rules is also a framework:

  1. We can fully concentrate for only 10 minutes. Then it is time to wake up the brain with a break that is somehow related to the topic.
  2. Our brain loves balance so provide a combination of rules and improvisation. Make it clear how things work but give time and space to practice it in various situations.  Don’t let students wander around hopelessly in exercises or feel stupid because they can’t get a rule from context because their brain works differently.
  3. The more senses you involve while learning, the stronger the memory path that is created and I presume the more students will remember. Definitely, learning will be more enjoyable.

By paying attention to brain rules like these  — especially with teens and young adults — we make learning actively purposeful and therefore increase the level of class satisfaction.

Psychologist Ed Diener writes thatpeople evaluate their own lives more highly when others in society also have their needs fulfilled. Thus life satisfaction is not just an individual affair, but depends substantially also on the quality of life of one’s fellow citizens.”

Replace the words lives/life, society and citizen with learning, the class and classmate.

The spirit of a class is as important as the information we pass to our students. If everyone in class is learning happily and needs are being met, challenging students are less likely to be difficult.

~  Vladimira Chalyova

Connect with Vladimira, Chuck, Scott, Tamas,  Nour, Ann and other iTDi Associates, Mentors, and Faculty by joining iTDi Community. Sign Up For A Free iTDi Account to create your profile and get immediate access to our social forums and trial lessons from our English For Teachers and Teacher Development courses.

Like what we do? Become an iTDi Patron.
Your support makes a difference.

Published by

Vladimira

Vladimira Chalyova teaches English as a foreign language at State Language School in Slovakia. She teaches general and business English to adults and teenagers. She is interested in student-centered approaches, developing learners' autonomy and believes that a teacher shouldn't be a slave of course books and that inspiration, motivation, purpose and meaning are essential in learning. She brings colours, crayons and surpr@ise (surprise + praise) to her classroom and just recently also on the canvas.

19 thoughts on “Working with difficult students – Vladimira Chalyova”

  1. Hello,
    I do not mean to entirely disagree to Maslow’s pyramid of needs. I understand that once one’s basic needs are met, one thrives to make a difference and move forward in life. Note that It is not limited to only difficult students;It is applicable to everyone. However, there are many people who reach the highest level of the pyramid, though they have problems providing their basic needs (clothing, food, etc.).Therefore, the hierarchy of needs, as presented by Maslow, is not self explanatory.

  2. Dear Shahram,

    Thank you so much for your great comment and reflection. I completely agree with you in that.
    The thing is Maslow never claimed that not meeting your basic needs would prevent you from reaching the higher ones. And more than that, he never aimed that at education. It is just that in most cases his studies showed that people who were kind of stuck needed to fulfill their basic needs in order to get over it or when you struggle to get to higher needs, realizing you may miss something more basic as a mean to get to that higher point is helpful. That’s why I think it is useful to take into account all the possible factors when you have a student who for some reason does not thrive in your class. Just as we can’t take Maslow pyramid as a rule, we also can’t expect that everyone can thrive even when they do not have the basic needs met.
    Anyway, I think it is a good frame to think about when you have to deal with a student who is challenging and as I wrote in my post, sometimes the students may have more to offer which means they are already reaching their higher needs and need to be given opportunity to express themselves freely, creatively.
    You know, teaching is not always easy and very often demanding and we need to care about all the students, challenging ones as well as those who are not, and I think some little frame, “hook” to help us get oriented in situation quickly is a good thing to remember. That’s how I understand Maslow pyramid in education, a little hook to get oriented before I can get into in more.

    I really recommend reading that aricle where Ed Diener’ study is mentioned.The author, too noticed that there is far more to that pyramid than just basic and higher needs of an individual.

    Anyway, thank you again for the post which I truly appreciate and please, share with us the way you deal with students who are challenging, I am sure you have something to offer and I can learn from too. Thank you again!

    Vladka

  3. Dear Vladimira,

    Thanks a lot for your good and insightful re-comments.I do not know if what I want to say fits any psychological principles of dealing with difficult students. This is a story of one teacher who went into a large city to study at the university. As part of of teacher training, he had to teach at a high school where most of the students were difficult ones mostly pampered by their parents and had turned their classes into hell and made the their teachers really miserable. They spent most of their time dancing and singing annoying both one another and their teachers. Given the fact that the new teacher was inexperienced and a novice one, most of his colleagues and the school principal doubted that he would be able to control and manage the classes. Anyway, he went into one of the classes where the students were most notorious for trouble making. As he entered, the students, as usual, started to sing and dance in choir. He did not get angry with them and started to dance along with the students himself. The students got really surprised because such reaction was considered odd and unexpected from a teacher. They suddenly calmed down and the teacher took the advantage of the atmosphere and a gave a short speech telling them that he was there to teach and help them with their problems, and from then on he would behave as they desired. If they wanted to dance and sing, he would follow them “going with the stream” rather than against the stream. Afterward that class, considered to be the worst, turned into one of the best ones at school.

    1. Wonderful story, Shahram! It isn’t easy to be students, hour after hour of boring lessons that has nothing to do with their real world, exam after exam, with the end so far away… The authorities often forget that.

  4. Definitely, Vladimira. It’s tremendously important to be a careful observer and an active listener. It all boils down to knowing your students. All too often, teachers are quick to say they haven’t got the time. They’re too busy looking at the syllabus and grades that they forget there’s a heart and soul behind the eyes staring at them. They forget that they, too, used to be on the other side.

  5. Huh, I’ve got an old “difficult-student” story, it’s so sentimental, you just won’t believe it.

    Years ago I was teaching a child, she was the about 5. Her background was ok, she was nice and intelligent, gifted and beautiful, hard-wired for learning. The only thing about her was her frequent tantrums. It was not only in English lessons (one-to-one), she did it anywhere, any time, in any company. You know how difficult it is to teach someone who might kick your head any time XD.  
    So I did some research, read everything within reach, subscribed to the “your problem child” newsletter, etc.  As I remember all I found was that kids often burst out in fury, you may want to wait till its gone, they may lack security, love, blah blah ….
    But this little one had a loving family and I just could not afford to wait 20 minutes for her to calm down. My job was to teach her English. And another thing, when I waited for her to finish crying and shouting around, … it just got deeper and longer.
    I was really lost. One day when I was at the point to give it all up I had a …an idea? I just told her (when she had a silent pause) “hey, it’s kind of funny, I love you so much because it is just fun to be with you, I enjoy teaching you (“teaching” was  playing stories with plastic toys :)) and I just can’t understand these tantrums, it just can’t fit in with my picture of you.”
    That moment everything changed. Since then there hasn’t been a single moment of those old fury, we’ve been bestestest friends. 
    I guess this girl just needed extra large amount of security or praise.
    These needs (lower or higher rank) must be very individual. It was just not enough to know her. I think what  I used was a sudden idea from somewhere in the universe :))))

  6. Dear Shahram,
    thank you very much for a great story you shared with me. It is really beautiful and it just nicely reflects how important really is to take into account our students and what they have to offer.
    I remember what Luke Meddings said during his presentation on Surpr@ise Day. He said that we should come with our plan in one hand (ideas and things we want to do with our students) and keep the other one empty for what students bring with them. And we should use our both hands.
    Thank you again for reading my ideas and sharing yours!

    Vladka

  7. Huh, I’ve got an old “difficult-student” story, it’s so sentimental, you just won’t believe it.

    (Sorry if I’m sending this for the second time, I tried to comment earlier but it didn’t seep to appear.)

    Years ago I was teaching a child, she was the about 5. Her background was ok, she was nice and intelligent, gifted and beautiful, hard-wired for learning. The only thing about her was her frequent tantrums. That WAS difficult!! It was not only in English lessons (one-to-one), she did it anywhere, any time, in any company. You know how difficult it is to teach someone who might kick your head any time XD.
    So I did some research, read everything within reach, subscribed to the “your problem child” newsletter, etc. As I remember all I found was that kids often burst out in fury, you may want to wait till its gone, they may lack security, love, blah blah ….
    But this little one had a loving family and I just could not afford to wait 20 minutes for her to calm down. My job was to teach her English. And another thing, when I waited for her to finish crying and shouting around, … it just got deeper and longer.
    I was really lost. One day when I was at the point to give it all up I had a …an idea? I just told her (when she had a silent pause) “hey, it’s kind of funny, I love you so much because it is just fun to be with you, I enjoy teaching you (“teaching” was playing stories with plastic toys :)) and I just can’t understand these tantrums, it just can’t fit in with my picture of you.”
    That moment everything changed. Since then there hasn’t been a single moment of those old fury, we’ve been bestestest friends.
    I guess this girl just needed extra large amount of security or praise.
    These needs (lower or higher rank) must be very individual. It was just not enough to know her. I think what I used was a sudden idea from somewhere in the universe :))))

  8. Great post (and comment). Thanks for quoting my talk Vladka, I do love that metaphor but (although I’d love to claim it as my own) I must credit it to Kim Hermanson http://www.examiner.com/article/holding-what-we-know-one-hand-holding-the-other-hand-open – I love her article, it says a lot in a few words. Having just posted an abstract for a talk called ‘Messy Tech’, I’m amused to see that her book is called.. ‘Getting Messy’! I wonder if she is a surpr@iser at heart 😉

    1. Dear Luke,

      I found her short article very informative. Her argument is amazingly applicable to ELT as well. I understand she has discussed teachers’ stance in the class as people who stick to the textbooks and methodology they are imposed on (often by the institute). This is what I have experienced myself teaching in a language school where all teachers have to teach based on a devised (archetypical one if I could call it ) methodology book following uniform procedures (stemming from an audio-lingual and structural approach to language teaching). An evasion of the procedures would be penalized by the observers. Given such an archetypical view of language teaching and learning, there is no room for creativity on the part of both teachers and students. Of course, at times (in the language school where I used to teach) the teachers have been observed to come up with their own creativity, evading the procedures, an indication that it would be impossible to stick to uniformity given human nature.

  9. Hello Vladka!
    What a great post! :) I even copied some of your ideas into my specialized notebook for teaching notes and reflections! :)
    I was also surprised at the coincidence! Just the other day I was thinking about the discipline in the classroom especially when it comes to teaching kids or teenages one-to-one! It seems to me that ALL my students are difficult and I’ve been too liberal with them doing as that teacher from Shahram’s story was doing – dancing, singing, listening to their endless stories in L1. It’s all right. But how about learning English? With some of my students we are going nowhere but going in circles, learning very little, and spending too much time in vain.
    But I feel that some of your ideas might work out for me! I’ll go and try them out. I particularly love the thought that our students might have more to give than we are expecting or asking them to.
    Perhaps, I just need to look at my situation from a new surpr@sing perspective?! :)
    Vladka, do you have a story about a similar case as Barbi’s? If you do, please, share! The best way to learn is to learn from each other! :)
    Thank you for your post! It’s very thought-provoking and informative!

  10. “The way you teach: your beliefs versus their needs and expectations.”

    This is difficult for me. For example, if my belief is that experiential learning is most effective and I have a student who wants handouts, handouts, handouts so he can study (I.e., translate every word at home using an electronic dictionary) … Do I need to bring in a pile of handouts every day just for him? Rhetorical question! I try to use authentic materials that may answer his handout needs (and make sure he notices that there can use them this way if he wants to). It helps, I think, that he sees I’m aware of his preferences and trying to accommodate them.

    Here is another one to watch for: when the needs of the students don’t match the intentions of the program and program policies don’t address the mismatch. Our nonprofit offers English classes so students can better interact with their community (we’re an ESL program). Some students, retired, use the program AS their interaction with the community. They will come faithfully to class for years, if at all possible. Once they reach a level just below “graduating”, they stabilize and don’t improve any further. It may not be a problem if you have one student like this, but in one class I had 7! They were dear people and I liked them all personally, but the needs of other students in the group were not being met (not to mention the needs of the ones I couldn’t take in because the class was full). I struggled for months and blamed myself for not being able to find a way to get these “difficult students” to improve. Then I started listening more closely to them. More than one confessed: “I don’t WANT to go to a higher level, teacher. I want to stay here.”) I had been taking that as a sign of affection (and it did stroke my ego) but I realized they meant it! I would not be surprised if one or more were deliberately fudging the post-tests. It wasn’t me.

    My program has now set a cap on the number of hours a student can attend without going up a level and these students have all “graduated”. With my encouragement, they now have a weekly conversation group with a volunteer at the library!

    Kathy

    PS, thanks for the link to Brain Rules!

  11. Dear Naomi, Alexandra and Kath

    thank you so very much for amazing comments full of your great ideas and experience. it does mean a lot to me!
    Just to add one more thing that maybe was not stated or clear in my post, every single student is an individual and needs/wants somethnig different. Yet, another individual is a teacher who may want something else as well. it is not easy to match that but if you built a group of people who respect and tolerate each other, it will work.

    I am a kind of teacher who, if I could, would never go with a coursebook. But I know that most of my students do want it and I also understand why (it gives them structure and sense of progress). I would “make” everyone use markers and colours and playing with mind maps for eaxmple but I know not everyone likes that, no matter how many advantages it brings.
    The beauty is in diversity not uniformity! And as we try to be creative and inpirational, we need to remember we are there to serve them and respect them as well.
    I remember how we talked about teachers’ believes at university and it was when I realised that we as learners ourselves have our own ways and tend to move on that way also as teachers.

    So my idea for that? Here comes the purpose of stepping back and listening because the classroom is their place to shine.

    Alexandra, I also understand the way you feel about your students and I confess I feel the same. I absolutely love Shahram’s story but I am not that kind of teacher either. I am not an entertainer (I wish I was sometimes, but it is just not me) but I have found my own ways to accept my students.
    And yu asked on my story with difficult students. Well, of course I have several but the tough one I remember most and at the same time most rewarding is on Ken’s blog where I wrote about it: http://kenwilsonelt.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/guest-post-23-vladimira-michalkova-on-getting-students-to-write-diaries/

    Thank you all for wonderful comments, for sharing a bit of you with me!

  12. Dear Vladka,

    What a great blog post full of hope for your students – one sentence says it all, that you cannot fathom putting the word “difficult” next to the word “students” : ) That totally touched my heart, it should be on posters and banners in teachers’ rooms and everwyhere in schools!

    Super post!

    Hugs,
    Vicky

  13. Hello, Vladka!

    Thanks for sharing your blog post! :)
    I’ll definitely watch the film and try out the diary technique with my absent-minded teenage student. In fact, he abhors writing and his handwriting is horrible. I wonder will keeping a diary change his attitude?

  14. Hi Vladimira

    I really liked the fact that you didn’t want to put the word difficult next to students.And that’s what i firmly belive in really.Those kind of students are just different not difficult and we as teachers and educators need to devise new ways and methods to approach those kids and support them.Because, if we have that concept-difficult-in our mind they will be so.So, the best strategy-to my understanding- is to create classroom activities which would suit their pattern of learning and boosting their confidence and sel-esteem.
    Thanks for your ideas.

  15. Hi Vladimira,
    I love your post so much, it’s full of positive thinking towards the students’ behavior. Those kinds of thinking towards the students are what most teachers are lacking of. We mostly think negatively about the way students behave in class, for the behavior we can’t tolerate or out of ordinary, then we just don’t pay attention to the students instead of trying to find out what makes them do that.
    Your post is so inspiring and reminds the teachers that we are not just teaching the students but we are also educators. We have to think that all the students are smart, it’s just that their needs aren’t fulfilled.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>