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  • Writer's picturelaura ma

Challenging Behaviors: A Scenario and Solution through the eyes of Vygotsky

Behaviorism refers to theories created by scientists including Skinner, Vygotsky, and Piaget. The  Behaviorists argue that environmental stimuli and consequences help change behavior. They state that learning occurs through a process of conditioning based on stimuli. 

Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory states that "cognitive development is influenced by cultural and social factors". He also stated that social interaction plays a main role in the development of mental abilities e.g., speech and reasoning in children. He focuses really heavily on children learning from a “more knowledgeable other” such as peer, tutor, or teacher. The learning environment plays a main role in the social, cognitive, and academic development of the child. 


In order to better understand Vygotsky’s theory, let’s examine a case study. Using Vygotsky’s theory, we will propose some strategies to increase this student’s engagement and manage behavior.


Case Study: Kevin

Name changed for safeguarding purposes

About Kevin

  • Demographics | Kevin is an age 6 year old Chinese boy in a Bilingual Private school. He is an only child of two parents who are upper middle class. He spends a lot of time with his grandparents who are his main caregivers. Both parents work full time. They are going through a divorce. 

  • Academics: Kevin earned an A in English last term. Academically he is a strong student who likes to learn English. His spoken English is strong but he needs extra support on phonics and reading. He scored a B in the soft skill from last term which was self-managment. He enjoys helping students with lower level English. 

  • Behavior: Kevin feels angry when he looses at a game or he feels there is unfair treatment. He will scream, throw things, and walk away from teachers. He can pay attention quite well during class time but looses focus if he is triggered. Kevin cares a lot about the positive attention of his peers. He makes friends with boys easily. The other children in the class are very patient with him when he has big feelings. When Kevin does have an episode, it often disrupts the whole lesson and affects his focus for the rest of the day.

  • Scenario: Kevin is playing checkers with 3 other boys during unstructured playtime. He looses the game and proceeds to yell angrily and storm out the classroom. The teacher follows him to ask where he will go. He does not reply. He starts walking back toward the classroom quickly and angrily. He proceeds to knock all the checker pieces on to the floor and scream out angrily. Then he angrily walks to another table where other students are playing with blocks and tries to knock all those over too. The teacher intervenes by gently moving him away from the other students. He goes to see the counselor to cool off. 

Strategies used thus far:

  • Relaxation station - Kevin can trace animals while doing breathing exercises in the relaxation station. He also likes the rubix cube and fidget spinner there.

  • Counselor - Kevin knows he can see Miss Wendy, the elementary school counselor, when he has big feelings and needs to seperate himself from a situation. 

  • Sticker card - Kevin earns a sticker on a punch card for each lesson where he behaves well. His current goal is to stay in the classroom for the duration of the lesson even if he feels angry. We are encouraging him to let out his anger in the relaxation station rather than always going to see the counselor. He can see her at break times.

New strategies to try:

  • During games, pair Kevin with a well emotionally regulated child, Kris. Kris will be told in advance about it and will be asked to pay special care to Kevin. He will know his role is to help Kevin practice being patient and handling his emotions if he does lose the game.

  • Ask Teaching Assistant to repeat rules of games to the student to ensure he understands.


Goals set for student

  • Remain in the classroom when you have big feelings.

  • Tell the teacher how you are feeling when you are ready.

  • Use strategies to calm down independently such as deep breathing or counting back from 10 to 0

  • Practice reading at home with adults at least 3 times a week for 20 minutes.

Positive incentives

  • Classroom responsibilities like being the pencil sharpening leader or materials monitor.

  • Utilize the sticker card. Set up rewards for once stickers cards are complete. 

  • Attend a sports class with his adults after filling the sticker card.

  • Go shopping for legos with his adults after filling the sticker card.


Consequences

  • Take away break time with others if big feelings turn violent.

  • Letters of apology if he loses control and hits someone.

  • One to one session with the counselor (neutral consequence).


Parent Communication

  • Parents receive a biweekly email detailing his learning attitude, highs, and lows of the week. We revisit the previously decided rewards and propose a new set up if Kevin is ready to start targeting another behavior. For example, one he is able to stay in the classroom the whole lesson, then he can focus more on expressing his feelings. The sticker card will be given new targets related to feelings.

  • Emails will remind parents about specific books they can read or activities they can do to model positive behavior and emotional regulation.

  • Every 2 months parents will come in for a face to face meeting to discuss progress.

  • Parents will be invited to observe class as needed.


Considering the sociocultural development theory and Kevin’s situation, it is very important that he continues to be surrounded by more knowledgeable others to support him. His classmates, the counselor, and teachers can model positive emotional regulation. His parents can do the same at home. Working with peers really helps Keivn’s motivation and helps him remain calm if he loses at a game. He also can practice empathy. 


The sticker card allows the teachers to track his progress with specific behaviors and link his progress to rewards at home. Kevin knows that his parents have partnered with the teacher to help him. As Vygotsky says, the community and environment around which a child is nurtured plays a key role in their cognitive, social, and academic achievement. By following the above plan with consistency, the teachers and adults at home can support Kevin as he develops.


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