Posted by: darcymullin | January 23, 2013

Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems

As mentioned in my last post, we have a group on our staff who are learning about Ross Greene’s collaborative approach to deal with difficult behaviours.

If we believe KIDS DO WELL IF THEY CAN then we can rule out the age-old excuses for misbehaviour:patching problems

  • passive, permissive, inconsistent parenting
  • if the student tried harder he could do it
  • the student just wants attention
  • the student is being manipulative

We need to take rewards and consequences off the table.  They don’t (can’t ) work, because the behaviour is not a choice.  We believe that the preferable choice is to do well, so kids who are challenging are missing the required skills to well.  We wouldn’t use a pizza to reward a student who can’t read.

Would anyone ever consider the following?

Hey _______, I realize that you are decoding at a Grade 2 level, but our class is starting to read Harry Potter.  I think if you just tried a little harder you can read along with us.  I’ll tell you what, if you do it I will buy a you a ________(insert reward here).  If you can’t, then I will have to send you down to the office and you can talk to the principal about your non-compliance.

It’s silly, but I am trying to make a point.

If we believe their behaviour is not a choice, but rather a lagging skill, then we initiate the process with an ALSUP (Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems).  It is a treasure hunt to find out what is getting in the way of a student’s learning and causing them to act in a maladaptive way.

The ALSUP helps us answer two key questions:

 1) Why are challenging kids challenging?

    • Difficulty handling transitions, shifting from one mindset or task to another
    • Difficulty doing things in a logical sequence or prescribed order
    • Difficulty persisting on challenging or tedious tasks
    • Difficulty seeing the “grays”/concrete, literal, black-and-white, thinking
    • …and many more please see Dr. Greene’s ALSUP for a complete list

2) When are they challenging?

    • Dr. Greene argues kids are challenging when the cognitive demands exceed their ability to make to make adaptive decisions, and makes maladaptive instead. He refers to these as incompatibility episodes.
    • Behaviour issues is a matter of development…they have not developed the skills.
    • Theses are called unsolved problems – what ever causes the kid to behave maladaptively.
    • The ALSUP helps us find and pinpoint these problems.

It is important to look at the ALSUP as a discussion guide.  Rather than working in isolation, it is preferable to bring a team of people who know the student together to work on it.  The team needs to focus on what can be controlled and avoid hypothesis and theories.  It is not a focus on WHAT the behaviour looks like – that’s not really important, but rather, what is causing the behaviour.  What is causing the incompatibility?  What skills is this student lacking and how can we pinpoint them?  Are the unsolved problems identified specific enough?

Hands on outside?  Too general.

Hands on outside when playing chase games?  Getting there.

Hands on when playing chasing games with ______, _______ and ________ . Yes – now we can get somewhere.

Students who struggle with behaviour often are very inflexible and rigid in their thinking.  As adults when we are dealing with rigidity, the natural reaction is to become more rigid yourself.  Our trainer Kim, referred to this as “reciprocal inflexibility”.  When both parties are digging their heels in the discussion is bound to go nowhere.  A detailed and specific ALSUP helps you reframe our thinking about the student.  It brings clarity to issue and the lagging skills.  It also makes us realize that students don’t misbehave all the time (it just feels that way sometimes).  It also creates predictability about what is going to happen and when the student is likely to struggle.  This predictability and understanding will help mitigate reciprocal inflexibility and focus on the unsolved problem(s) and lagging skills.  Ultimately, it prepares you for the collaborative discussion with the student…otherwise known as Plan B.


  1. So cool to see this continuing! It just makes so much sense . . . teach the skills the kids are missing.

  2. I hope a lot of people read your posts – you’ve included clear examples that make this model easy to understand ! I put the previous link on my FB page and will do with this one too. 🙂

  3. Thank you for the insight on my child… When I read your posts it helps me understand and has helped make me a better parent!!!

    • Kate, I’m glad you are enjoying the posts. This process has been great for me as a parent and educator. I strongly suggest you read The Explosive Child by Dr. Greene. It’s a fantastic read – I’m sure you will get a lot out of it. I hope the boys are doing well.

  4. […] Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems ( […]

  5. […] Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems ( […]

  6. […] 1) Every school-wide discipline plan is designed to be an instrument of support and inclusion, not removal and isolation. To be clear, a proactive, systemic approach to student discipline has nothing to do with inventing new and creative ways to suspend and/or expel students. Be clear that discipline and punishment are two very different constructs. A systemic approach to discipline is about teaching, guiding, and supporting; it’s about recognizing which social skills students are lacking and being able to address them through an instructional approach, not a punitive one. It’s what Ross Greene refers to as lagging skills. (My friend and colleague Darcy Mullin (@darcymullin) blogged about lagging skills here. […]

  7. […] have written before about our involvement in Ross Greene’s Collaborative Problem Solving Model.  Recently the […]

  8. […]  As I was reading this chapter I was struck by the connection to Ross Greene and his work on Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS).  I can see how it would be an excellent structure to help students learn to regulate in this […]

  9. Reblogged this on One Good Old Girl and commented:
    This is an amazing blog and even if you don’t have children in school – there are lessons we can all use in day to day life.
    We all could use a refresher on these skills. Great article.

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