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Common sense included

News | Published in TESS on 16 September, 2011 | By: Raymond Soltysek

Understanding Challenging Behaviour in Inclusive Classrooms

By Colin Lever

Longman (£19.99)

4 out of 5

One of the saddest aspects of teaching in the last decade or so is the way “inclusion” has become the enemy. Faced with a growing range of abilities in classrooms and a rising number of diagnosable learning difficulties, many teachers have - perhaps understandably, but regrettably - turned on the whole notion of teaching all children together as a dangerous liberal fad which can only drive down standards and increase teachers’ stress. When this is compounded by children with challenging behaviour, the argument that the “system” has deserted them in the face of hordes of “feral” children has become ever more vocal and, often, bitter.

This book takes a refreshingly commonsensical approach; well-trained teachers, armed with the knowledge they require to recognise issues and a range of strategies to deal with them, will have greater success than those who don’t, regardless of any other factors.

What I like is Lever’s starting point: learning, and the barriers to it. The very first chapter is “Readability”, the second “Differentiation”. What that establishes immediately is the link between learning and behaviour; get the first right and the second is much more likely to follow.

The remainder of the opening section discusses those classroom strategies which manage behaviour to create a productive ethos. There are two big pluses here: first, Lever is clearly of the view that behaviour management is not about disciplining misbehaviour, and stresses that recognition of the positive behaviour which characterises most pupils can be an excellent classroom resource; second, he refuses to be wedded to any particular theory, and positive and assertive strategies such as “catching them being good” are given equal attention to mediative techniques which build emotional awareness and intelligence. As the title of Chapter 5 (A Solution-Focused Approach …) suggests, his whole approach is geared to finding solutions.

Lever’s book then focuses on many of the barriers to inclusion which teachers may face, from autism and dyslexia to self-harming and drug- taking. The approach is enlightening, providing indicators for teachers to identify such issues and strategies to deal with them. Information is the key, and Lever provides this very effectively. Finally, in a section that could merit a book on its own, he sketches some of the whole-school issues.

Very few of the suggested strategies will be new to teachers, but the book integrates it all into a focused package, from considering the classroom environment to the means by which we can help pupils engage with their own behaviour. This is done in a way which allows teachers to revisit the kind of learning that is important to them and the relationships they want to have with all their pupils.

The book’s breadth is both its strength and its weakness. At one point, Lever says: “This brief chapter does not really do … justice”, and that is perhaps the only criticism to be levelled here; the book does an awful lot, but not much in any depth. But as a handbook to help teachers navigate inclusion in the classroom, it can be highly recommended.

About the Author

Colin Lever is a teacher of 34 years, and has a career that is steeped in the education of children with learning and behavioural difficulties. He has developed and led major inclusion and integration initiatives and has written extensively on the subject.


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