Teaching children can be incredibly rewarding and joyful, it can also be extremely stressful and frustrating, this largely depending on the behaviour of students. How children behave is the cumulative result of many contributing factors, thus, it can to an extent be controlled. In this blog we illustrate some tested classroom management strategies, that help maximize student attentiveness and keep the teaching environment one conducive to education.
1. Verbalize ideal behaviour
Often, students are unaware of what is and is not acceptable in your classroom, especially when they have no previous dealings with you as a teacher. Hence, it is good practice to clarify what can be expected of them at the beginning of the year. Whilst discussing these rules, you should ask students for their input and make reasonable amendments based on their suggestions. You may feel like certain individuals will try and take advantage of this opportunity, but more often than not you will be pleasantly surprised by the level of cooperation. Furthermore, as you already have a base ruleset, this will act as an anchor from which the final list of rulings will not stray to widely from. Doing this will lead to mutually-understood and respected expectations, as students will have greater buy-in if they feel their voices have been heard.
It is also useful to print out the rules the class have agreed upon. Doing this will formalise the ruleset and emphasize the fact that you intend students to adhere to it. Also, if a rule is broken, it can be easily highlighted, with little ambiguity.
2. Visibly reward students
An incredibly powerful method to reinforce values you wish to see in a classroom is plainly praising students when they display desired behaviour. This will not only encourage students to repeat this behaviour but will improve their self-esteem, as well as motivate other students to display similar behaviour.
I have found a particularly effective way of doing this is by awarding gold stars to students for both academic performance and good behaviour. Then at the end of the week reward the student who has earned the most stars a small prize i.e. a chocolate bar. You can also reward the student with the most gold stars at the end of the year with a bigger prize. If doing this, make sure to articulate to the entire class the reason behind awarding all gold stars, this way all will be clear what is considered exemplary behaviour.
3. Build content-related anticipation
An effective way of starting a lesson is to preview the lesson objective, making sure to highlight topics that will induce student curiosity. The purpose being to immediately interest students in your agenda and thereby discourage misbehaviour. This may come in the form of a real-life application of the subject, a practical exercise the students will partake in during the lesson, literally anything that students can look forward to. For example:
If teaching a physics lesson about force, mass, and acceleration. You may say at the beginning of the lesson ‘today we are going to learn why superman doesn’t actually save your life if you are falling of a building and he catches you just before you hit the ground.’
4. Avoid punishing the entire class
You should address isolated behaviour instead of punishing an entire class for the actions of one or a few. This will go a long way in maintaining a healthy relationship with your students and ensuring other classroom management efforts are not met with resistance.
Linked to this, you should also make a habit of addressing behavioural infractions immediately, this will give the student instant feedback and prevent the behaviour from progressively worsening. It will also go a long way in stopping any negative feelings between the student and yourself building up.
When reacting to poor behaviour make sure to keep a friendly demeanour and forgive disruptive students for any infractions they may commit at the end of each lesson. As if you do not, it will create a hostile environment that the student doesn’t want to work in, which is likely to make them want to repeat such behaviour in spite. Whereas if you showcase to the student you are always willing to help them so long as they are willing to help themselves, you will encourage them to seek reform.
Also, try to assign the smallest possible consequence to effectively deal with an infraction. This because there is an implicit relationship between severity of offence and severity of punishment, thus by going to go too big too fast you will appear unreasonable and elicit further resistance. Also, if you can only realistically impose slight escalations to a punishment for repeated or larger infractions, the punishment starts to lose its magnitude.
5. Value students’ opinions
When you have the chance, take students who are consistently inactive during lessons for a brief chat. Ask them what their favourite types of lessons are, their favourite in class activities, who they enjoy working with. Note their answers and incorporate them in some way in following lessons, this will show that you value their input and you care about their education. Showing that you care will increase the likelihood of them being more attentive in follow up lessons.
You should also give students choice in their learning. This can be as simple as giving an option between alternate tasks or asking a class if they wish for a project to be completed independently or as a group assignment, noting if it is a group project, you expect a higher quality of work. As mentioned previously, student input increases their buy-in, making it more likely for them to put greater effort into the work.
6. Rehearse transitions
Most disruptions occur in between activities. Make sure you have a system in place to deal with this transition period. Certain teachers sit quietly at the front of the class and refuse to move on until there is complete silence. I found this is less effective with younger students, who often don’t realise this is what is happening. For this reason, I developed a system where I would clap my hands loudly 3 times and expect silence within 10 seconds, every time the class managed to do this 25 times, they were given a reward.
Another strategy for smoother transitions is to direct the class to do something which most students are already doing but unaware off. This method has its roots in hypnosis, an example being ‘feel your eyes getting tired’, everybody’s eyes feel tired all the time, but we don’t notice this until it is pointed out to us. In the same way a teacher can ask students to do something most are already doing, wait for 100% compliance before issuing another directive. For example, saying everyone look towards me, wait for everyone to do so, then saying we’re going to be learning from page 130, rather than abruptly instructing everyone to turn to page 130.
7. Peer teaching
Using students who are attentive and pick up on material easily to aid those who are underachieving has shown great promise in progressing the educating of both students. Possible ways of doing this is by pairing students who are top achievers with those who are struggling during in-class activities or making them reading buddies.
Research shows students are more likely to ask qeustions in this one on one setting and by doing so they will be able to get instant clarification on their issues. This also leads into our next point, which is ‘appropriate curriculum is a classroom management strategy’, which refers to the fact that many students who are disruptive are only behaving in such a manner because they do not follow what is going on in class and have lost interest or do not wish to seem of inferior intelligence in front of the peers. Thus, by pairing students of different abilities it makes students who are struggling less likely to be disruptive and concurrently improves top students’ communication and interpersonal skills. Also in explaining a topic the students will have to engage in deeper thought which will strengthen their own grasp of the topic.
8. Send messages home
Surprise well performing students by sending positive letters or phone calls to their parents. Praising academic performance or behavioural effort, will have a trickle-down effect. Parents will generally congratulate their children on their performance, this in turn is likely to make children return to class eager to learn and earn more positive feedback. This is also likely to make parents more engaged with their child’s education and build a better relationship with you.
The opposite must also apply, if a child badly or consistently misbehaves you should not hesitate to contact their parents. This should only be applied in severe cases, but it should also not be an empty threat. If you fail to follow up after issuing intent, children will not appreciate the severity of their actions. One widely used system to manage misconduct is writing a child’s name on the board, this can be thought of as almost the opposite of a gold star, and if a child receives 3 negative marks beside their name in a lesson you contact their parents.
9. Encourage initiative
In a class you will have a mix of attitudes, the majority will lie in the middle, but you will also have a few students at either end of the extremes. As some students will do their best to avoid doing as much work as possible and others will go above and beyond what is required of them. One way of catering to these enthusiastic students is giving the class optional work, this can be an opportunity for students to get ahead of the syllabus or allow students to delve deeper into material they find interesting. This can be combined with a previously mentioned strategy, by awarding the child who produces the highest quality piece of optional work a gold star and allow them to present their findings to the class should they wish. Seeing their peers rewarded for initiative may inspire other students to complete additional work as well, especially if this work seems enjoyable.
Furthermore, make sure your students are not the only ones displaying initiative; actively think of new creative and insightful ways of presenting lesson material. This will keep your students entertained and eager to come to your lessons, as the classroom will not become a dull monotonous setting.
10. Quick fixes
If a student is not paying attention ask them to volunteer, they most likely will not be able to answer your question, but you can use this as an opportunity to teach them. The benefits to this are twofold; firstly, it stops the disruptive behaviour and secondly it teaches the student what they missed.
Ramp up enthusiasm
Children respond to enthusiasm, this can heavily influence the way they approach a task. Even when children initially complain or provide resistance to an activity, make sure not to drop your own enthusiasm as this often overcomes their negativity.
Sometimes you may feel like things are implied, but this isn’t always the case; articulation leads to clarification. If the class has done a good job, let them know and equally if you want the class to strive for better let them know.