After building positive relationships with your students and clearly establishing rules and procedures, teachers need to ensure effective classroom management through using a series of consequences. These consequences include positive reinforcement when students meet behavioral expectations and punishments when students fall short of your expectations. In this post, I would like to consider a range of classroom strategies to promote a positive learning environment with minimal disruptive behavior.
In order to maintain a positive and safe environment for English Language Learners, I try to make positive reinforcement the centerpiece of my approach to classroom management. Positive reinforcement provides recognition that the student followed the rules or procedures. The first reinforcement strategy is to verbally praise the students such as by saying “thank you Mike for your contribution”, “that’s a fantastic question Michelle” or “thanks for sharing Jason”. This form of recognition is overt, public and efficient and is a powerful motivator for students. It also has the advantage of reviewing the rule or procedure for other students who might not be following the rule or procedure so well (Marzano, 2007). While some have argued that overly praising can turn students into praise junkies who lack intrinsic motivation, giving too much praise is not a problem if the praise is specific and genuine. An alternative option is to make the praise private by talking to the student outside the classroom or as a quick aside during class. I often ask students to step outside of the classroom for a minute and then give them some positive feedback about the way they are participating or for outstanding homework. At first students are apprehensive about meeting me outside, but I often see them smiling at their friends as they return to the classroom. Praise can also be provided non-verbally through a simple gesture such as a thumbs up. Making the positive reinforcement private might avoid embarrassing a student by drawing everyone’s attention to their behavior.
Another powerful strategy that is often overlooked by busy teachers is a positive phone call home. Praising a student’s effort or improved study habits to parents will mean that the student gets positive reinforcement from both the teacher and their parents and this will motivate them to continue the positive behavior. As a high school teacher, I generally prefer providing reinforcement by praising students or discussing positive behavior with the parents rather than using a more tangible form of recognition such as a whole class reward system. I think that the former are more powerful forms of recognition and foster students’ intrinsic motivation.
Responding to Misbehavior
Unfortunately, students do not always meet your expectations and sometimes they might slip into the habit of breaking classroom rules and procedures. However, I believe the best way to reduce disruptive behavior in the classroom is trying to prevent potential behavioral problems before they become disruptive. This strategy is often referred to as ‘withitness’ (Marzano, 2007). One of the key parts of this strategy is for teachers to be aware of what is happening outside of the classroom as this will probably have an impact on student behavior. For example, if a student got in trouble from another teacher, did badly on a test, or is fighting with their closest friends, the student’s behavior will probably be affected. Teachers can address this directly by having a quick conversation with the students to show understanding and also be mindful of the student’s emotional needs while teaching the class. During class teachers should also pay close attention to unusual student behavior such as students with aggressive body language or a dejected facial expressions. Being aware of these potential problems can help prevent poor behavior before it actually occurs. Another way a teacher can demonstrate withitness is by frequently and systematically moving around the class even when the teacher is lecturing. Standing close to students who you think might misbehave is a simple, but effective way for preventing poor behavior.
However, before punishing students for not following classroom rules and procedures, teachers should try to work out the underlying causes of the misbehavior (Degeling, 2012). It could be that the class is too difficult or easy, that the students are bored, or that the student is having some personal or family problems that make it hard for the student to focus. Rarely is it that students want to disrupt class. Trying to be empathetic and making an effort to understand the misbehaving student rather than just immediately punishing them will show that you really care.
Another key piece of advice for classroom management is to always have a plan about how to handle students who break the rules. This will stop teachers being reactive when dealing with problems and potentially being inconsistent (Wong & Wong, 2009). This plan should have a number of graduated steps where the punishment increases as the offending behavior continues or becomes more severe (Marzano, 2007). Below is a flowchart I developed to show how I will respond to misbehavior.
The first step is a stare and this can be followed by a gesture such as a ‘put it away’ gesture or a ‘be quiet’ gesture. These steps can be done while continuing to teach, so valuable class instructional time isn’t wasted on discipline. If the misbehavior continues the teacher can move closer to the student again while continuing to teach. The teacher might also privately reprimand the student if appropriate or possible. Degeling (2012) suggests that this can be done in a non-confrontational way by approaching the student from the side rather than the front, crouching down and using a soft, but firm voice when reprimanding the student. If the student continues to misbehave then the reprimand should be public and direct including which specific rule or procedure the student is continuing to break.
If the negative behavior persists, teachers can start using direct-cost consequences which are explicit and concrete punishments for breaking classroom rules and procedures (Marzano, 2007). My preferred option here is to move the student to a quiet place in the classroom to continue their work. The aim is to separate the disruptive student until they have demonstrated a willingness to rejoin the classroom activity. Separating students is preferable to sending students outside as the student can continue to learn. Another step here is to involve the parents. This could involve a meeting with parents and the student to identify and agree about the negative behavior and then make a plan to try to reduce the negative behavior. Having parents and the student involved in developing a plan that includes rewards for improved behavior and punishments could help to reduce the inappropriate behavior.
Ultimately, effective classroom management is one of the most important traits of a successful teacher. A successful strategy is dependent on firstly building the foundation of a positive classroom learning environment where students feel individually respected. Additionally having clear learning objectives and engaging activities are also crucial in reducing disruptive behavior. However, the nature of teaching teenagers means that there will be times when the teacher needs to use a range of classroom management strategies to reinforce positive behavior and address negative behavior. When using these strategies, teacher should be aware that every student is unique, so it might be necessary to try a range of strategies to see which one works for the particular student.
Degeling, J. (2012). Positive Reinforcement in the Classroom. Retrieved on May 2, 2018 from https://www.josephdegeling.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Positive-Reinforcement-in-the-classroom.pdf \
Marzano, R. J. (2007). The Art and Science of Teaching: a Comprehensive Framework for Effective Instruction. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Wong, H. K., & Wong, R. T. (2009). The first days of school: How to be an effective teacher. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications.