ESL job interview question: What would you do if a student refused to sit down?


During my most recent teaching position, at a school for students with special needs, this was a common problem. I had one student for whom nothing we could offer her at her desk was more reinforcing than simply being up. Because this was her most motivating reinforcer, I had to find a way to gain control over it; if she could freely wander the classroom whenever she wanted, she had no reason to come back to me and engage in work.

I placed work materials at eye level around the classroom. These were materials she had previously mastered -- things like color ID, sight word reading, etc. When she would leave her desk and run to the window, she found sight words taped to the window and we reviewed them until she chose to leave the window. When she climbed under the teacher's desk, she found shapes to review. When she hid behind the door, she discovered community helper cards to identify.

Meanwhile, at her desk there were fun activities like stickers and her favorite coloring book. When returning to her desk became more reinforcing than wandering the classroom, she began spending more time appropriately seated. Once this change occurred, I was able to slowly fade in more academic tasks at the desk, interspersed with fun activities, until remaining seated at her desk was a part of her regular routine. I made "roaming the classroom" a reinforcer choice and allowed her to wander undisturbed only when she had engaged in a work task and earned all her tokens. What had once motivated her to tune out her teachers and leave her workspace now motivated her to remain in her workspace and engage with her teachers to earn her desired reward.

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