Engaging Troubling Students: A Constructivist Approach

In the book Engaging Troubling Students: A constructivist approach (2005), the authors Danforth and Smith give us an honest and insightful perspective about students with emotional or behavioral disorders and their interactions with the school system. The main purpose of the book was to encourage educators, communities and school personnel to analyze children’s behavior and the different events in their life that may be correlated to their conduct and performance in school.

The authors intended to be open and clear about their ideas and opinions on students that present challenging behavior in the school setting; moreover, they wanted to demonstrate that objective research may not be enough to comprehend students’ attitude because it lacks the affective factor and personal input that it could only be obtained through communication and interaction.

The authors use a critical constructivist approach, which is a combination of critical theory and constructivism, and that seeks to share ideas and opinions on how troubled students are educated in American schools. Since critical theory analyzes the social and economic injustices in society, it serves the purpose of providing an objective and analyzable perspective on students’ way of living and how this affects their behavior and performance; whereas, constructivism adds the individual factor to the approach by focusing on the students intellectual and emotional experiences which are undoubtedly brought into the classroom setting.

Both sides provide the authors with the opportunity to use socio-economic data and school policies, as well as examples of communication and interaction between students and educators, which could be helpful when looking for resources that would provide solutions to improve relationships among EBD children and the school system.

The book uses stories either from the authors or other teachers, which demonstrates that their main objective is to share real life experiences and use narratives to engage the reader, as well as provide a more personal perspective on the topic. The book begins with an amazing story of a child, who struggles with difficult family situations that include alcoholism, financial problems and abandonment (p. 4). This example serves as the foundation for the book as it shows the personal experiences the authors have gone through, which will indicate their point of view on the reasons for misbehavior in EBD children, as well as their commitment to provide and propagate awareness about the challenging lives of these children.

The book its divided into three parts which are subsequently divided, adding up to eleven small sections that cover from historical background of education, conflict resolution as instruction, working with the families of EBD students and the Inclusive education.

In the book we are provided with a historical background on the different methods American schools have used to educate troubled youth, the theories of critical constructivism and participatory classroom communities. In addition, the first part covers the changes that educational policies have experienced throughout the course of 100 years and the effects social and political events have had on education. It is important for the authors to explain the process of improving and adapting educational policies according to the community as well as to the significant situations surrounding the students (p. 15).

As a reader, I was able to understand in a deeper level the many socio-economic and political changes that occurred in order for our current school system to be establish. I thought their honest approach towards special education and the lack of insight from the teachers of students with emotional or behavioral disorders was very accurate. There are many schools and educators who do not take into the account the specific setting and environment of the students which could ultimately be a reflection of the inequality and social injustice their communities experience daily. All of the above could represent a challenge and burden over children who seek understanding in the school setting but struggle to emotionally break away from the community that may not represent a positive thing in their life.

The authors strove to provide an outlook on the positive and negative things that embody the classroom setting. I think that it is very important to create some kind of awareness about the need for teachers to understand the diversity and complexity of their students. No child is alike; however, communities that share some characteristics may provide a space for children to either positively grow or improve, or in another case, resist to integrate and communicate with others. It is primordial for educators to have an understanding of the children’s emotional situation and find ways to approach them and guide them towards a path of self-respect and communication that would enable them to dialogue and have an integral learning.

Management of a classroom is more than obedience and discipline. In an interactive and productive environment, students are able to share their ideas and points of view, as well as listen to other perspectives and open their hearts and mind to positive solutions. I think the authors’ explanations of different pedagogies and educational viewpoints are useful and insightful. It is very possible for educators to engage their students in positive conversations and encourage them to respect mutually. I thought the idea of teachers learning how to deal with students who are going through emotional issues and comprehending that they could be the source of behavior problems, it is crucial in finding solutions to improve a classroom environment and ultimately help students to become better people.

In the book, the authors explained how important it is for teachers to foster interaction among students. I thought they had few points that are very practical and feasible. If a teacher provides students with opportunities of cooperative learning and stories that could relate to their personal lives, then that educator it’s allowing students to learn from each others’ experiences, improve their social skills and think critically about their life. I can personally say that I have seen the positive change in “misbehaving” students when they are given the chance to participate and contribute as much as their classmates; also, these students became more interested and eager to belong to the class. Although it is not every case, I have found that children who are put aside for their behavior, labeled under EBD or any other special education category, or have been removed from their regular setting to a more contained environment, develop more self-esteem issues and have a harder time adjusting to their classmates, which turns into disciple problems and low achievement.

I consider it is imperative that teachers and students bond, mainly because the climate of a class is significantly better when the teacher-student relationship it’s based on respect, reciprocity, communication and empathy. Teachers, who analyze their students’ behavior and try to find solutions before the situation crosses a point of disrespect, tend to have better outcomes with classroom management and student’s achievement. I found that some research has shown that teachers who listen to their students’ needs and value their opinions, tend to have conflict resolution skills that are based more in a positive negotiation and constructive input rather than a punishment-consequence system.

I ultimately firmly believe that teacher-student relationship it’s the foundation for a positive climate and that comprehending and getting to know our students’ environment and communities, we could find ways to help them improve their lives and become successful people.


Danforth, S., & Smith, T. J. (2005). Engaging Troubling Students: A constructivist approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s