Students who have experienced trauma and chaos in their home lives have specific learning needs. These are challenging students and many of them have suffered violence and neglect. Teachers can make an enormous difference in the lives of these students.
1. Make sure you have work that is both at their level yet interesting and not the same stencil they’ve already thrown at the wall. Sometimes teachers will give a year 5 student with low literacy work designed for 6 year olds. This is often a source of humiliation for the student and conflict for the teacher.
2. Always have several ‘back up’ activities that the student can complete if they reject the original task. This is not ‘pandering’ to them, it’s a bid to keep them in the room and maybe experience some success.
3. Have a routine and stick to it. Students who have experienced trauma will be used to chaos at home and by following a predictable routine they can feel safe in the knowledge that they know what’s happening next.
4. Adopt a firm yet friendly manner to build the relationship, this is crucial to success. Share a joke or tell stories to demonstrate your humanity. Be careful not to focus on being liked, you need to be safe and steady for them and sometimes they won’t like you but make sure they know you like them and care about them.
5. Use consequences and never threats, this will never work with these students. When you finish all five tasks then you can work in the book corner, computer…whatever the desired task is for that student.
6. Give regular feedback. Make sure you make all praise behaviour specific “You didn’t think you could read that and you did, well done”. This helps to shape the desired behaviour. Visual feedback in the form of a graph is an excellent strategy. This can be generated by giving the students scores on a monitoring sheet with specific goals for each week. Always frame these in positive terms.
These students need teachers who care about them and their learning outcomes and they are not students who are always easy to like. Don’t give up on them.