I used to have a student, Andrew, who would get STUCK. When presented with an overwhelming task, he would shut down and start repeating some of his favorite phrases before he even heard the directions: "I can't do this" and "I don't get it" and "No, I won't be doing it."
I tried for weeks to reason with him. I explained that the task wasn't that hard, that he hadn't even tried it yet, that he was selling himself short, that he was capable...and over and over those "I can't do it" phrases rang throughout the classroom. I needed a tool to help Andrew understand what his options were when he felt overwhelmed and wanted to quit.
So I created a decision tree.
A decision tree is a simple tool that outlines a few choices (in this case, just two) and allows the student to brainstorm the pros and cons of each choice. Similar to a flow chart, a decision tree helps to create a path out of "stuck" and into action. It simplifies a complex situation ("I am worried that I don't know how to do what you're asking me") and presents an easy choice to build confidence ("I may not know how to do this activity, but I can make a choice between 2 options.")
The decision tree also frees up the teacher (or parent or therapist) from engaging in a hostage negotiation about the issue.
After teaching the student how to use the tool, and working through it with them several times, the next time the student starts down the path, you simply place the decision tree on his desk, point to the options, and let the student know you'll circle back in a few minutes to discuss his choice. In this way, the paper itself becomes a visual prompt for the student to do his own decision making.
And you know what decision making leads to? Self-advocacy.
I love a tool that can kill multiple birds with one stone, and the decision tree fits the bill. It provides support to a student who's overwhelmed, it creates a go-to prompt for the parent or teacher to stop the cycle before it starts, and it helps the student strengthen that self-advocacy muscle by making a choice and articulating it.
Want a blank template so you can create your own decision trees? If you're a subscriber, it's already on its way to your inbox. New here? Subscribe using the button below to get a free resource every Friday. We only send you good stuff!
We'd also love to have you join us on Facebook as we discuss all-things-Special Education.