Developing Perseverance

Perseverance is defined as continued effort despite encountering difficulties. It is identified as the first mathematical practice in the Common Core of State Standards. We encourage and celebrate perseverance. What is missing is developing perseverance, and even defining it.

Often, we conflate completion of work with perseverance. Sometimes students complete work but did not have to persevere as the work was easy. Sometimes students do not complete work but they persevered. If students are given mostly or only work that is easy to complete, they do not learn to persevere and becoming accustomed to work that they know how to do makes it harder to learn to persevere.

Perseverance is a behavior so it can be shaped, as is true for critical thinking and other self-help behaviors. I broke down the act of perseverance using a task analysis approach and created a table for progress monitoring (below). This handout has an outline of an IEP objective, the table, and additional information.

To shape the behavior, I present students with tasks for which they can come up with some answer, albeit not the correct answer. For example, the image below shows a problem of counting up squares (including bigger squares made up of the smaller squares). When they come up with an answer, I praise them for the attempt and following directions, then explain that there are more (no one has come up with the answer on the first attempt). They have hit a road block and are now prompted to continue their effort. That is perseverance on a smaller scale with prompting. This is an entry point.

In this task, the students have multiple criteria to address. Often, students will shut down and immediately respond with that they don’t know what to do. I will prompt them to try something and many will simply fill in the boxes in order with 1, 2…9. Some will simply write in 9 in each box. I explain that they met the first criteria or partially met it, then ask them to try to meet the next criteria. As in the checkerboard activity, I am guiding them through the process for perseverance. The handouts for these activities are located here.

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Perseverance is essential for not academic situations as well. For example, if a student counts out the incorrect amount of money at a grocery store in a post-secondary situation he or she will need to try again – to persevere. If they are reliant on educators or parents to fix this situation they will be reliant when the parents and educators are not around. Try to mimic real life problem situations with scenarios which allow shaping. For example, a student in class learns to pay a price with dollars and cents. Create a purchase scenario but don’t provide them with coins and do not explain what to do. That can be a first step in shaping perseverance.

Secondary Characteristics: A Performance Factor

For students with a disability, performance does not align with ability.

In my view, there are 3 different categories of performance factors: the disability, gaps in achievement, and secondary characteristics. (Percents are contrived to provide a visual representation.)

To address these secondary characteristics, which manifest as a set of behaviors, I suggest a focus on shaping with a token board.

Here is a video explaining this.

Long Term Effects of Disabilities

Often we view disabilities in the context of the individual as a student, or a child or adolescent. The long term effects may be had to understand or extrapolate based on what we see at the younger ages.

There was teacher candidate whom I trained who had ADHD and struggled in the program in which we worked. He shared his struggles to keep up with the programming, organization, and in general, keeping up with the demands placed upon him.

I asked  him to write a statement explaining his challenges that I could share with others. The statement is shared below. I hope this can help parent and educators make a more refined connection between the setting at an earlier age with the settings and outcomes the individual will face later in life. I explain to sped teacher candidates whom I train that we have an awesome responsibility and opportunity in how we can impact young lives…when they are no longer young.

Token Sheet to Address Target Behaviors

Perhaps the vast majority of students with disabilities need support with math. Their challenges with math can be directly related to their disability or can be the result the effects of an ongoing struggle with math. The later results in what is termed secondary characteristics.

When I work with students with a disability, I first seek out background information about the student to identify what interests them, what reinforcers (rewards) can be used to enhance their performance, and what challenges and behaviors need to be addressed. Upon gather this information, I often decide to use a token sheet that is personalized for each student.

Below is an image of such a token sheet. At the start of our work together I felt the student in question needed immediate reinforcement for work completed to get him into a groove. I was also targeting a behavior in which he would draw dots on each digit he wrote, which slowed him down considerably. He would earn a Scooby (I would circle it) in the middle column for completing his work and an extra Scooby in the right column if he wrote digits appropriately (no dots). After 2 sessions, his dot writing dropped significantly to the point that I was able to remove the column on the right. As you can see at the bottom, 5 Scoobies resulted in iPad time.

This can be particularly effective for students who have more severe math anxiety, a fear of failure, or have ADHD. Such a token sheet can be included in the accommodations page of the IEP.

Secondary Characteristics – Math Anxiety

Watch the video of 2 students, 1 with ADHD. You will notice differences.

Some differences are directly related to ADHD. Others are the result of secondary characteristics. In special education these are characteristics of a student that result not from the disability but from how the disability plays out in an academic and other settings. For example, a student with a speech impediment may be very timid and anxious in situation in which he or she may need to speak.

In math a major secondary characteristic is math anxiety. This is a performance issue vs an ability issue and it must be addressed as a legitimate obstacle for the student. I work with graduate students who still suffer math anxiety years later.

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Meeting Needs Part 2

In the past year I have helped two 7th grade students who are categorized as twice exceptional (2e). Both had more severe math anxiety that impacted their performance and masked their ability. When we started both were working on elementary school level math. Within a couple of months both were working on algebra. (Both had gaps but I was testing their ability by test running higher level math with them.)

As I shared in a previous post my approach is to focus on meeting needs. I want to elaborate on this. My secret is I listen to the student… In other words, the student drives the instruction.

Here’s an analogy. You go to a frozen yogurt or ice cream store and they offer you a sample. You try a couple then go with the one you like. That’s what I do. I try out different types of instruction (samples of the ice cream) and the student tells me (verbally or by the response to the instruction) which one they want. That is the I in IDEA and in IEP.

icecream samples

Performance vs Ability

In the effort to assess student ability performance factors are likely present. It is incumbent upon the educators to mitigate the performance issues to assess true ability.

For example, I conducted an evaluation on a student in middle school who has ADHD. All of her testing records indicated that she would lose focus during the assessment and that the focus was problematic for testing. Before we met I surveyed her on her favorite snack (didn’t know Sour Skittles is a thing), brought this reinforcer along with a bottle of water. She sat through an entire 1 1/2 hour KeyMath Assessment without incident.

performance vs ability

List of Performance Points

 

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Painting the letters on the ground is a performance point for the person responsible for this task. The task was discussed at some other time and location. Performance points, as explained in another post, are the situations or locations or times that a person has to perform a task. For students with special needs this is where special education gets real. It is where the supports play out. For students with more severe disabilities, e.g. ADHD, Autism or Down Syndrome, most if not all performance points require some support so identifying these points is important and often overlooked.

Below are a list of performance points students encounter in k-12 education.

  • transition between classes
  • using a hall pass
  • arriving or leaving school
  • riding a school bus
  • transition to and from lunch
  • transition to and from specials
  • gym
  • playground/recess
  • entering and starting class
  • packing up and leaving class
  • transition between activities during class
  • choice or down time during class
  • following directions given in class
  • retrieving, using and returning class materials
  • sharpening pencil
  • asking permission to use a pass
  • identifying appropriate reasons to use a pass or to ask a question
  • responding to questions or participating in class discussion
  • paying attention to presentations
  • group work
  • individual work
  • homework
  • studying for an assessment
  • long-range projects
  • bringing materials to class
  • organizing notebook and book bag
  • using a notebook effectively, e.g. finding and following examples
  • interacting with classmates in a socially appropriate manner (during classwork, free time, down time, in the hallway, at lunch, at recess) – note: socially appropriate would need to be defined with observable behaviors
  • empathizing with others
  • reciprocating in a social conversation
  • curtailing behavior when presented with negative feedback
  • initiating conversation
  • greeting others appropriately – initiating and responding
  • identifying non-verbal cues and communication

Certainly there are more. Please comment below if you want me to add anything to the list.

Address Skills at Performance Points

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In the photo above you see a contrast between how children learn and how educators often teach necessary skills. Children learn to ride a bike by actually performing the target skills. This is a performance point – the setting in which the child actually performs. In school students are often taught necessary skills in isolation, away from the performance points. Imagine teaching a child to ride a bike by having him sit at a desk while the parent points out all the steps for riding a bike.

Often accommodations and supports are provided in isolation or out of context. Students with autism have lunch buddies in a contrived setting with an educator leading conversation. Students with ADHD have a weekly time to organize their notebooks. Students who have trouble functioning in a general ed classroom may be pulled out as a result.

Below are a couple of examples of how support can be provided at the points of performance. The photo below shows a checklist I used for a students with autism in my algebra class. They would follow the checklist and self-evaluate by checking off each step as it was completed. They were learning how to perform necessary skills at the point of performance.

checklist-in-class

Another overlooked point of performance is in organizing a notebook. Students should organize a notebook while IN CLASS and on a DAILY basis. I use the rubric below to help support students with this task.

checklist-for-notebook

Dr. Russell Barkley, an expert on ADHD, talks about performance points for students with ADHD in his book and in his ADHD Report. This focus at the “points of performance” can and should apply to any student with a disability (and students in general).