Monday, September 2, 2013

Review of Dr. Pearnel Bell's book

In an interview with Dr. Pearnel Bell on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which I posted on January 22, 2012, she informed me that she had written a book on the behaviour disorders, which would soon be available in books stores in the USA. A Teacher's Guide to Understanding the Disruptive Behaviour Disorders: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, and Conduct Disorder is now available in Jamaica. Copies were on sale at Dr. Bell’s book launch on Friday, August 23. 
    The information in this book made a profound impression on me. Since reading it, certain ideas have played over in my mind. One of my passions is that all children should learn to read. I volunteered at Chetwood Memorial Primary School, one afternoon a week to help Grade 2 children who had not yet learnt to read. Mrs. Amoy Virgo also helped the same children on another afternoon. A student from Montego Bay Community College helped in the 2011-12 school year. He motivated the students, and they liked him. I had hoped to involve more volunteers, especially students at the tertiary level, but this was not to be. Perhaps there was a reason. I had concentrated on the teaching of reading instead of focusing on the children.
    Mrs. Virgo and I were faced with a real problem when it came to discipline. Several of the children couldn’t concentrate for more than about five minutes – they crawled around under the desk to pick up things they’d dropped on the floor, they liked to slide on the ceramic tiles in the library, they were distracted by every little thing and made frequent requests to go to the bathroom. It is possible that they had a disruptive behaviour disorder. The better behaved children in the groups were distracted by them. I tried to use positive reinforcement, but I have to admit that from time to time, I raised my voice and glared at them. One student may have suffered from Oppositional Defiance Disorder, as he point-blank refused to do as he was told.
    Dr. Bell’s book indicates to me that I should have taken an entirely different approach. Ideally, the children would have been referred to a psychologist, who would work with teachers, parents and social workers to modify the children’s behaviour. Given the large numbers of children in relation to the numbers of psychologists and social workers, the second-best is for the teachers (including myself) to have a better understanding of the disorders, and reward desirable behavior instead of punishing undesirable behavior.   
    The book does not prescribe a simple remedy to the problems confronting teachers when they have children with disruptive behaviour disorders in their classes. Rather, it identifies the direction in which teachers should look to find their own solutions to these problems. Dr. Bell begins by defining the disorders and discusses teachers’ knowledge and perceptions of, and experience and attitudes towards them. She recommends that teachers read more about these behaviour disorders and provides and extensive list of references.
Dr. Pearnel Bell
        In her second chapter, she draws on her own research into Jamaican teachers’ knowledge, experience and attitudes. When confronted with a child with a disruptive behaviour disorder, many teachers will reprimand, shout, give the child a cold stare, or even beat the child. When these strategies are ineffective, teachers are overcome with feelings of frustration.  They may send that child to the Guidance Counselor, or Principal, or send the child out of the class. Not only are these strategies ineffective, they have actually been shown to make matters worse. In her third chapter, she discusses in a balanced way the use of medication as a treatment option.
    Chapter 4: “Strategies Teachers Can Use to Deal with ADHD, ODD and CD Students”  is probably the one which many teachers and administrators will find the most helpful. The usefulness of the ecosystem approach, involving psychologists, teachers, social workers and parents is explained. The shortage of trained personnel in Jamaica hinders widespread use of this strategy. However, much can be done by administrators to train teachers and encourage teamwork among teachers and parents. The importance of teachers giving positive reinforcement for good behaviour cannot be overemphasized. “Experts are unanimous in supporting the use of praise and positive reinforcement as a powerful tool for reducing problem behaviour and improving academic performance.”
    The final chapter “Self Care: Stress Management for Life Management” is an often overlooked aspect of training for teachers. Throughout the book, Dr. Bell makes reference to how disruptive students make teachers feel, and therefore react, and the effect of the teachers’ reaction on these students. Chapter 5 includes stress reduction tips and emphasizes the importance of self-reflection and self-monitoring.
     I strongly recommend this book to all teachers and school administrators. A copy should be available in every school and teachers’ training college. Since it is based on workshop content, it could also be the basis for workshops within a school or college. Chapter 4 ends with questions for discussion among workshop participants. I regret that it was not possible for Dr. Bell to include samples of responses to these questions. We look forward to further publications of this nature by Dr. Bell.
    There is evidence that children with untreated disruptive behaviour disorders often find themselves on the wrong side of the law. What if all of these children could be treated, or at least given positive reinforcement for desirable behaviour by their teachers? Perhaps we would see a reduction in the crime rate, hence a reduction in the cost of crime. The money saved could be used to employ more psychiatrists and social workers. 


Melanie K Wood said...

That sounds like an excellent book, Helen. It reminds me of the quote that you cure more sin with compassion than condemnation. It's natural to get annoyed and fed up with repeated misbehavior, but catching kids being good and praising them builds their self-esteem. Knowing that they are accepted but that their misbehavior is not helps them to want to change it. They will mature given the guidance and safety to do so.

Thank you for promoting this good book!

Helen said...

Thanks, Mel."They are accepted but their misbehaviour is not" - an important concept which some people find hard to grasp.

Amoy said...

This is very interesting and certainly something all educators, including parents should be looking more into.
Our culture has always been such that if a child is not performing well in school he/she is labelled as 'dunce' and if he is restless, he is called 'bad'. These labels are applied and many times stays with the child for many years, causing even further behavioural problems which now stems from low self-esteem or from seeking attention.

Helen said...

Thank you for this observation, Amoy. I think several of the children you and I were trying to teach suffered from ADHD, which was why they wouldn't settle down.