The book’s opening premise asks the question “What are we going to do about Joey?” The rest of the book slowlyanswers that question, using a tool called the ALSUP, or Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems.
The book follows the story of Joey, a middle school student with severe behavior problems both at school and home. The story the author follows also includes the points of view of Joey’s mother, Ms. Lowell, a frustrated single mother; Mrs. Woods, Joey’s teacher, who is just as frustrated about Joey’s behavior in class as his mother is at home; Mr. Middleton, the assistant principle who is drawn into the story when he has to deal with Joey’s extreme behaviors; and Dr. Bridgeman, the new school psychologist, who brings to the table a new way to work with Joey, and other kids with similar issues.
The main point that Dr. Bridgeman is trying to get everyone involved to buy into is the fact that the behavior issue children they dealt with daily was that they “Lacked important thinking skills.” The distinction is made early that these lacking thinking skills are not of an academic origin, but an emotional “developmental delay.”
The author gives the following premise: Understanding why a kid is challenging is the first and most important part of helping him. He believes that if we can find the kid’s “lagging skills” then we have our first tool to work with on the road to helping the student. He further questions when challenging behavior most likely to occur, and concludes: When the demands being placed on a kid exceed his capacity to respond adaptively.
There are a consortium of skills that can be lagging, from “difficulty making transitions” to”difficulty seeing how one is perceived by others” and the author goes into detail on each one, breaking in down to basics and shows why it is important and why it is lagging.
The next thing the author addresses is the case of “Unsolved Problems.” These are what the author calls “Triggers” and “Antecedents.” Before a certain behavior occurs, something happens first and provides the impetus for the behavior in question. He explains that “Lagging skills are the why of challenging behavior, and unsolved problems tell us with who, whom, over what, where and when, the behavior is occurring”
After Dr. Greene explained the foundation of the ALSUP he began providing examples of the types of behaviors and types of kids that went with them in the form of short scenarios of each.
*Cody: 6 year old 1st grader with problems of physical aggression toward his peers. Consequences in the form of privilege or activity removal results in more acting out on his part. His teacher is frustrated by his lack of communication about why he does what he does. She creates an ALSUP on Cody and finds where his “Lagging skills” are and what they are as well. (ex-Difficulty considering a range of solutions to a problem)
*Kelvin: 10 year old 4th grader found to be below average in all academically important areas. These behaviors have resulted in Kelvin being placed in a self-contained classroom. The classroom climate is built around a token economy of rewards and withdrawal of rewards, which does not work with Kelvin, whose disruptive behaviors only increase with removal of rewards or privileges. Teacher’s report that the most trouble comes when they are working with Kelvin on an assignment he does not understand, or if directions about any change are ambiguous. An ALSUP found him to have lagging skills in transitions, outcomes or consequences of actions; his unsolved problems included: losing points, moving from free time to structured, and receiving help for his academic challenges.
*Elena: 13 year old 7th grader several years below grade level academically. Behaviors include not starting on assignments, verbal abuse toward teacher and assignment if pushed. If she does not understand an assignment she will not ask for help or attempt to start the assignment. Examples of her ALSUP revealed Difficulty adapting to routine changes; shifting from original idea; difficulty considering consequences to actions; and difficulty appreciating how her behavior is affecting other people.
*Rodney: Sixteen year old tenth grader is popular and charismatic and capable with a darker side as well. He can be mean to teachers that call him out on his main behavior issue of cursing frequently. He doesn’t thing it to be a big deal and blows off or challenges the redirection. Some of the ALSUP observations are: Difficulty expressing needs or thoughts into words; difficulty empathizing with others; and difficulty maintaining focus for goal directed problem solving.
After supplying the technical details and answering all concerns about the ALSUP’s use in the classroom, Greene uses the second half of the book to finish the story of Joey and everyone else involved in Joey’s scenario.
As established earlier, the school psychologist Dr. Bridgman is concerned how discipline of consistently misbehaving students is occurring. ISS placements, suspensions, detentions and other reactionary methods are not working and as a consequence the problem student’s problem increase and are going from bad to worse. The character Joey has problems not only at school but at home as well. Joey’s mom is at her wits end with the havoc and trouble that plague Joey and their lives. On one hand, she is sorry for the trouble her son caused, and on the other she is frustrated that Joey is not being helped with the issues and she feels she is fighting the battle alone.
In Greene’s story there are many characters. He looks at the points of view of all involved, bringing a certain reality to the story. The incident that set everything else in motion was a product of Joey’s lagging skills, the teacher’s un-knowing trigger, and a hapless assistant principal caught in the middle. Joey started with refusing to get started on his assignment, which was a regular occurrence for Joey, then began distracting other students. When Mrs. Woods spoke to Joey about his distracting behavior he stated “I don’t know what to do” When Ms. Woods then compared his understanding to that of the rest of the class, the situation began to escalate rapidly. Joey refused to comply with every directive given, and refused to go to the office, finally resulting in Mr. Middleton having to come to the classroom. This further escalated the situation and ended with Joey jumping out of his seat, hitting Mr. Middleton in the jaw with his head (by accident) and pushing Ms. Woods out of his way and running out the door.
I know from personal experience as a special needs teacher that this rapid escalation is accurately depicted. Things can quickly go wrong if certain situations are improperly handled. Greene has given this scenario to show the importance of what he calls “Plan B” Plan B is exactly that: A plan. What happened in this fictional classroom can happen to any educator in any capacity. The solution, according to Greene, is a plan of action that helps stop things before they start and find out what caused the problem in the first place.
As the story continues Greene takes us through the early stages of the process by showing us the difficulties teachers, administrators, parents, and students can face when presented with a completely new way of thinking about and solving problems. The character of school psychologist Dr. Bridgman has the task of winning over all the other characters involved in the story to his ALSUP and Plan B type strategizing, and none of them make it easy.
The first people Bridgman has to convince are Joey’s teacher and his mother. In a strange way, the Dr. is fortunate that both of these characters are at their wit’s end and as a result are more open to this new way of looking at things. That is not to say there is no resistance. Ms. Woods is still frustrated with not being able to get through to Joey no matter what she tries, and here comes this psychologist telling her she is looking at things all wrong. Joey’s mother has also been through many pop-psychology and “new theory on the block” plans tried on her son and is understandably skeptical of the newest one. It’s not easy, but Bridgman gets them together with Joey, who himself did not buy into it at first, and finally some progress is made. Through many struggles and obstacles, they finally find out what Joey’s real needs are and together come up with a plan, though not perfect, starts the process in motion toward a permanent solution.
The next cogs in the wheel are the administrators. A principal carries a heavy load keeping an entire school functioning, and AP’s and VP’s share in this tremendous burden generally by taking care of discipline. In Joey’s story, the administrators play a very large role in his case, but even more importantly, in all that comes after this “test case” they must deal with first. At the beginning we can see Principal Galvin is not really big on different discipline strategies. Her philosophy is harsh consequences and zero tolerance and she maintained that all students had to adhere to regardless of their situation. On the other hand is Mr. Middleton. He is aptly named because that seems to be where his philosophy lies; right in the middle. In the early goings Dr. Bridgman is fighting an uphill battle. It is a difficult task to get everybody on board with a new idea. We get used to things in certain way, and even if those ways are not working, they are still within our comfort zone. Dr. Bridgman had to get everyone out of that zone and into the new or it would never work.
The middle part of the book shows how difficult that is to accomplish. Dr. Bridgman first convinced Joey, Joey’s mother, and Mrs. Woods to sit down and try to develop a “Plan B” for Joey. They all three struggled, but little by little they identified Joey’s lagging skills and came up with a plan to help Joey overcome the problem. Once Joey started to benefit from his plan, Ms. Woods worked with her closest colleague, Ms. Franco on how to use the formula for Plan B: Empathy, Defining the problem, and Invitation to the student to help in their own plan to improve.
When Ms. Franco used the Plan B, she had some difficulties, but she continued working with her student and his lagging skills until she had a breakthrough. The next one to be convinced of the programs validity was Mr. Middleton, the AP. Mr. Middleton believes he is overused by the faculty in discipline situations and wants more in-class handling of discipline issues. He is soon on board with the two teachers who have successfully used the program and then tries to convince another teacher who has a difficult student to try something new. This new character, Mr. Armstrong, is very set in his ways about discipline and resists all efforts by Mr. Middleton to convince him to try the Plan B model. As with everyone else, it was an uphill battle getting Mr. Armstrong on his side, but events finally convinced Mr. Armstrong to at least consider his options.
The rest of the story falls into place when the teachers who had used Plan B with the most difficult of kids and succeeded, Mr. Middleton convinces them to present their triumphs at the next faculty meeting. During this meeting some very important things occurred: 1) Managing to convince the Principal, Ms. Galvin, that the Plan is a viable and successful problem solving tool in the classroom and get her on board with those already convinced of its possibilities. 2) Opening the Plan B approach to all the teachers and faculty and staff so as to make it a school wide endeavor with everybody doing the same thing. 3) Most importantly, it helped students that had been or almost been written off as lost causes to have a much better chance of succeeding in school and in life.
In conclusion, I like the books premise and its style. It tells a story that is both engaging, realistic, and informative. There are many books on the market that promise their techniques and programs are a sure way to success for working with difficult students. As a teacher with over a decade of in-class experience, I know there are no guarantees for succeeding with every difficult and behavior challenged student we have and there most likely will never be. The students in our education system are not cookie cutter mold students. Each comes with different and multiple issues that are difficult to pin down to one formula. Dr. Greene’s Plan B method and the ALSUP diagnostic tool make no promises for anything. As with his cast of characters, there are so many variables to consider in each situation and lots of good old fashioned hard work is what it takes to make the difference. None of his hypothetical situations had easy solutions. His Plan B works only if used consistently and in most cases everyone involved has to be on board to make any effective changes. Plan B is about its key word: planning. To make the plan work you must use the tool, the ASLUP form, to find the lagging skills of each student before you begin going through the stages of Plan B: The Empathy; Defining the Problem; and Invitation to student to help formulate the plan to gain the skills they are lagging and lacking. There are many different “Joeys” out there being lost in the system, and being lost at school, as Dr. Greene aptly named his book, and his method, combined with lots of work by everyone involved, can help us find them.