Thursday, January 26, 2012

Collaborative problem solving - Drilling down by ' tabling'

One of the biggest challenges of collaborative problem solving – Plan B is to gather information from the child so we have a clear picture of his concerns. Kids have difficulty in articulating their concerns. Often they don't know, have not given it much thought or don't have the words to express their concerns. We need to use probing questions and drill down to their concerns. Kids have usually more than one concern and their major concerns usually surface well into the conversation.

Sales people -  not those who try to pressure one into buying something - do the same thing. Selling by attraction, means that the sales person helps the customer identify his needs and concerns and then shows how the product can meet those needs and concerns. Along the way , there are usually  'objections' such as price. The way to deal with ' objections ' is called tabling. You take the objection – the price is too high and ask '  if we found a solution that made the price acceptable to you, not a problem , would you be comfortable in buying the product ?  If the answer is No , we carry on drilling down for concerns.

Here is a great example of tabling used by a school psychologist Dr Rebecca Branstetter to drill down concerns of a student.

I have totally changed the way I consult about and frame discussions about kids with challenging behaviors. I have changed the way I interact with students. Here’s just one example of a technique that I got from the conference, called “tabling.” It is used in the Plan B “Empathy” step, to really try to understand the student’s perspective of the unsolved problem. In the case of my student, it was a middle school girl who refused to write during journal time. We had set up a behavior plan in which she got points for doing the journal and the points were tallied and sent home to parents, etc etc, and there was no change in her behavior. After the conference and my new framework for understanding the problem, I  interviewed her.

Me: I notice that during journal time, you are not writing.
What’s up? I’m not mad, I’m just noticing this. 

Girl: I don't know

Me: Hm. What do you think is the reason if you had to guess?

Girl: I don't have pencils.

Me: Great! So lets say your teacher went to Office Depot and got you tons of pencils. Then would you write during journal time?

[note: here is the “tabling” part—you table their first reason, because its usually not the only thing going on] 

Girl: No. 

Me: What else is getting in your way of writing? 

Girl: It’s too noisy because my friends distract me. 

Me: Okay, what else is keeping you from writing? 

Girl: I don’t like it [okay, this went on and on for about 10 minutes, and we tabled other ideas too, like she doesn’t like writing fiction, she doesn’t have paper, the room is too hot…and so on and so on. We finally got to the “aha!” moment at the end] 

Me: Okay, so lets say you had pencils and paper, all your friends have the flu, you get to write non-fiction, and the room is 68 degrees, then would you write at journal time? 

Girl: No, because the teacher has us read what we wrote out loud and my heart starts to beat fast and I think everyone is looking at me and that they all are thinking I’m a bad writer. 

AHA. So if we had continued down our current theory that she had a lack of motivation, she would have likely continued to balk at writing, because it wasn’t a motivation issue at all. It was a performance anxiety issue, and the lagging skill was her actual writing skills, or she wasn’t confident in her writing skills, or she was not able to regulate her anxiety about presenting her work. This changes the intervention, right? We teach writing skills and coping skills for anxiety. 

The intervention would be find a mutually satisfying solution that would address both the teacher and kid's concerns and also giving her more resources so to improve her writing skills and deal with anxiety.

What would have happened if behavior plan would have worked and the kid despite her anxiety and lack of confidence managed to pull herself together and write during journal time.?

We are still left with an unsolved problem. The unsolved problem is the anxiety and lack of confidence. The unsolved problem is not the ' behavior '.  Plan A  or behavioral plans deal with behavior with rewards,praise, consequences  , hijack the problem , but don't deal with the underlying problem. 

We also have not solved the motivational problem. As educators , we should be trying to help kids be intrinsically motivated and enjoy ' journal writing '.  Extrinsic motivators may get short –term behavior but undermine intrinsic motivation in the long term with kids losing interest in what they are doing.

According to the Self Determination theory of motivation -  when kids needs for autonomy , competence and relatedness are being addressed and met , the stage is set for kids becoming more intrinsically motivated.

Collaborative problem solving addresses the problems- not behaviors- that are getting in the way of kids in a supportive way  -  and thereby addressing the motivational issue.

 We need to remember    - Even if the motivators get rid of the behavior and the student manages to pull himself together and perform , it is usually despite an existing problem. The problem or unmet concerns are still not being met. This of course has a negative impact on intrinsic motivation. Not only because extrinsic motivators undermine intrinsic motivation,  but also underlying problems are not being solved

check the archives for posts on drilling down 

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