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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Language-Based Discipline-Part 2: A Quick Peek at Techniques

The following language-based interventions for reducing disruptive classroom behavior were excerpted from my new book, Watch Your Language: Ways of Talking and Interacting with Students that Crack the Behavior Code.

Ø Turn a Submissive Action into Assertive with Active Sentence Stems

Sentences with the action or verb in passive voice imply an external locus of control orientation, suggesting that feelings or situations happen to the actor or child, instead of the child making things happen. Children that are aware that they are the ones responsible for their feelings and behaviors are in a better position to overcome pessimistic and/or helpless feelings and behaviors. To develop and/or strengthen an internal locus of control orientation in children the first step is to help the child restate a passive and submissive sentence in a way that puts the child in charge of the feeling or behavior. A sentence stem that forces the child articulate the feeling or behavior in active voice is, “I feel _____ about _____ because _____.” For example:

·        This situation makes me feel angry- I feel angry about _____ because _____

·        This situation worries me- I feel worry about _____ because _____

Ø Make Children Accountable for their Actions with the Active Voice of the Verb

Active verbs help emphasize the action (e.g. “Sandra yelled at Rosie”).  Another important function of active verbs is that, being direct, they identify who or what is responsible for an action in a clearer way than passive verbs do (e.g. “Sandra yelled at Rosie”). Have you noticed how, when they need to get out of a troubling situation, children use the passive form of the verb? (E.g. “Rosie made me angry” or “Rosie yelled at me first.”) To be fair with children, adults do the same thing. The active form of the verb indicates directly who is responsible for the feeling or the behavior, making difficult for the child to “hide” quietly and passively beneath any other child to justify (or to downplay) own feelings and actions. For this reason, to teach children to assume direct responsibility for their feelings and/or behavior have them use the active voice of the verb. To train children, the first step would be for teachers to stop asking questions in passive voice (e.g. “How arguing with Rosie makes you feel?”); instead, ask the question in an active voice (e.g. “How do you feel about arguing with Rosie?”). The question in passive voice implies that the child’s feelings happened because of the argument; on the other hand, the question in active voice signals to the child that she is the one responsible for her feelings, good or bad. Secondly, we coach the child in describing her feelings or behavior in active voice, specifically, talking about her own feelings or behavior, not about what the other child did or said. For example, “I feel hurt because I did not like yelling at my best friend.”

Ø Downplay the Actor or Child with the Passive Voice of the Verb

The passive voice of the verb can identify the actor (e.g. “This mess was made by my dog”), although it is often possible that the actor or subject is not identified (e.g. “Tell me about this mess that has been made”) (Who made the mess?). Named or omitted, passive verbs downplay the actor or the child.

Ø Downplay the Action (Behavior) with the Passive Voice of the Verb

When an action seems hostile or aggressive, using the passive form of the verb weakens the emotional impact (e.g. “Messes will be made by dogs”). To talk about a problem that may trigger strong emotions, change from an active voice to a passive voice. Some examples:

·        Fighting with your best friend weakens the relationship- The relationship is weakened when your best friend and you fight

·        This disruptive behavior distracts you from learning- You are distracted from learning by this disruptive behavior

Ø Downplay the Actor or Child by Focusing on the Object

In English grammar, the subject (e.g. dog) acts (e.g. made) on the object (e.g. mess). When we switch this order, making the object of the sentence the focus of attention instead of the subject, the subject loses center stage, slipping unnoticed (e.g. “Look at this mess made by your dog!”). In the example, the focus is on “mess;” the dog is not the focus. By placing the focus on the object (mess), the passive form of the verb is downplaying the actor (dog). Therefore, to defuse or to remove blame and culpability from an action, make the object the focus of the sentence, paying less attention to the subject.

Ø Weaken a Negative Child-Behavior Connection with Demonstrative Pronouns

If we need to talk about  negative or disruptive behavior, the best way to do this is by keeping the child’s identity, personality, and/or character as removed and disconnected from the negative behavior as possible. One way to do this is by turning a “you” message (e.g. “You are selfish” or “Your behavior is troubling”) into a message where the subject or actor is not named; demonstrative pronouns (this, that, these, those) help us do just that. For example:

·        You are selfish- This is selfish

·        Your behavior is troubling- This is troubling

·        Your behavior was troubling- That was troubling

·        Your actions were dangerous- Those were dangerous


To preview this book on Amazon, click here.


A Call to All Teachers:


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