Bill Rodgers’ works are undeniably some of the most inspirational works I have read and used in my teaching career. I was lucky enough to attend one of his workshops and I can still clearly remember today not only his charisma but also his invaluable tips in terms of effective classroom management.
One of the main tips is to avoid any confrontation with students. No matter the issue, try to preserve the relationship you have with your students. Keep calm and breathe! Easier said than done! Here are some ideas that I use and that are directly inspired from Bill Rodgers’ works.
First of all, try to consider the whole group and not just the individuals whose behavior is challenging. Try to refocus your energy on the ones who are willing to work. Praise their work and reward them. This positive approach will have a positive impact by showing more reluctant students that if they are on task and do the work to the best of their abilities they will as well have the opportunity to be praised and rewarded.
Nobody likes to be shouted at. Let’s face it; finding the energy to stay calm in every single situation can be though. However, you should try to stop shouting and arguing with students about what they do wrong. The first reason is that it only makes things worse. The second reason is that you will end up losing your voice. The more you shout, the louder your classroom volume will be. Instead, when some students are not listening, lower your voice for giving instructions; vary the intonation of your voice according to the message you want to convey. Use a more positive language like: “ Eddy, I’d like you facing the board and getting on with the task… thanks.” Don’t underestimate the use of thanking students. Soon you will realize that you thank them all the time!
Stop. Pause. Breathe. This technique is very useful to bring back some calm attitude within the classroom. At some point –it could take a couple of minutes, your students will acknowledge that something unusual is happening and they will stop chatting. Most of the time students and especially teenagers are daydreaming or in their bubbles and just because you stopped talking they will realize that they have been given a task to do. Once the classroom is calm again, you gain their attention, call their names, use eye contact and reformulate your instruction.
There’s no word strong enough to express the deep sadness and shock felt after the horrible attack of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. I heard the terrible news right before delivering a workshop in Lima and I was profoundly hurt by such violence and by the way people defending the freedom of speech were killed. It was the harshest terrorist attack on the French soil over the last 50 years and the world is mourning these journalists and people who worked at Charlie Hebdo. Why writing such an article will you say? Well, simply because some years ago I used in my lessons some of Charlie Hebdo’s publications to work around censorship, freedom of speech and religions. Charlie Hebdo has been known for his series of controversial publications and the debate around these has drawn many threats over the magazine especially by extremists groups. I am not defending the ideological aspects of these publications nor am I criticizing them I just would like to express the urgency of our role as teachers to teach tolerance and respect.
So, where to start? Whatever the age and level of your group there are ways to teach these values. Today tolerance is synonymous with multiculturalism, which means in other words to understand and embrace differences in terms of ethnical background, religions and ideas. Tolerance means getting rid of stereotypes and prejudices. At a young age children are unaware of prejudices. They can spot differences but they are not biased by adults’ stereotypes. They learn and adopt values and beliefs in their close environment through their parents and peers. In some families children may receive a biased vision of the world and they may find it hard to tolerate others that is why they also have to get a different angle through the education they get at school. Teaching tolerance and respect should help children develop their critical and analytical thinking while broadening their awareness of differences and develop their ability to share and accept differences. Teaching tolerance is a vast topic as it can focus on racism, civil rights, religion or disability awareness among others. What matters is to embed these themes in your curriculum. They can be part of lessons or you can choose to dedicate full lessons around these topics.
Here are some ideas of activities to enhance tolerance and respect. You can work with colouring pencils to teach about differences, use cartoons that show religious and ethnical differences, present famous figures that fought for civil rights or men/women equality. Using songs about respect, showing videos where people express their views about differences, name-calling activities and the impact of name-calling are also good ideas. What is important to remember is to start with what students already know and build on it. Creating community projects where parents are involved are also really important to enhance respect and tolerance to build a better world for everybody.
Beaman and Wheldall also insisted on the fact that children receiving positive verbal feedback tended to be more on task and therefore less disruptive than children who received little. (2000)
There are plenty of ways to give positive feedback. Of course the verbal use of praise is one of the most common but your non-verbal intervention can also be very positive for the learning in your class. If you want to praise an achievement you may think about using expressions such as “Well done, you did the task really well!” “Excellent, you have settled down really quickly and you are ready to work with all your material.” “Good job, now you can work on the extension task” or simply clap your hands in an encouraging way.
Keep in mind that using a positive language has to be consistent and used regularly to generate an impact on your class. It also needs to be individualized. Use your students’ names when using praise. If you are dealing with a shy student a positive feedback out loud may just have as a consequence to embarrass him or her. So, try to offer the praise in close physical proximy to avoid embarrassment. On the contrary a whole class feedback for a low self-esteem student can be a great tool if your student is a bit of a show-off. Your comments also need to be genuine and specific. If your praise is exaggerated your students will automatically feel that it is excessive and you may lose the trust they had put in you. Another tip to try when you are praising your class, always stand on the same spot in your classroom and smile or nod to show your approval. When you are not happy though with their work or attitude move from your praise spot to your warning spot and cross your arms using a harsh look to show your disagreement.
Your comments also need to be genuine and specific.
Non-verbal praise can also be used as a complement to positive verbal feedback. Use body language as much as you can. You can clap your hands to gently applause for a group project for example, use “thumbs-up” to celebrate achievements, nod to approve students’ feedback. Don’t forget to use your face as a means to convey feelings. For instance you can smile to encourage continuation or frown to show that you are expecting more.
When starting a teaching career classroom management and disruptive behavior from students is always disheartening. It seems as no matter how hard you try, no matter how well planned your lessons are, no matter how fun and engaging your activities are some of your classes are an absolute chaos. Well, take a deep breath. We all have been there at some point in our careers. First thing, if you are truly dedicated to your job, please stop blaming yourself. Some pupils’ behavior will present significant challenges maybe because of their background, maybe because they truly disregard your subject and any teachers who have taught it before. Well, things are how they are. You are not going to operate miracles. Surveys tend to show that many new teachers are quitting the classroom because they are inadequately prepared for dealing with unruly pupils. Believing that you are the only one responsible in your classroom about disruptive behavior is completely untrue but believing that students’ behavior is solely linked to their background is not true either.
Numbers of studies show that behavioral problems have almost doubled over the past thirty years. The society we live in has also changed a lot over the past three decades and there is a wide discrepancy between the life we experienced and the life our students’ experience. This abyssal gap between teachers and students is reflected in the classroom not only through the knowledge we teach but also through behavioral attitudes.
According to Sue Palmer literacy consultant in her book “Toxic Childhood: How The Modern World Is Damaging Our Children And What We Can Do About It” children have suffered the influence of the modern world and this had an impact on their learning and behavior. Consumerism, broken family structures, lack of sleep, working parents, constant use of technology and lack of real face-to-face communication, eroded good manners, poor diet etc. are some of the causes she mentions to explain the shift in our students behaviors patterns. This is by no means an excuse to tolerate any disruptive attitude in our classroom but this can help us understand the importance of building emotional links and good rapports with our students to help them understand and accept commonly agreed rules in society.
Allowing talking time with students who have a constant disruptive attitude can lead you to understand a lot about your students. You need to make clear to them that every action has a consequence and that negative actions will necessarily have a negative impact such as receiving a detention. However you also need to explain to your students that they have a choice to improve their attitude, that despite issues they may have at home they are the ones who have their lives in their hands. At the end of the day they will have to take decisions for their life there will be not one else to blame for their mistakes.
To conclude with some researches, the one led by Croll and Moses (2000) and Miller (1996) arguing that teachers felt that most of children challenging behavior was due to “within child” or “home factors” has to be counterbalanced by the research by Beaman and Wheldall (2000) who found out that the behavior of the same disruptive children was uneven depending on teachers and subjects. Considering this, try thinking out of the box and out of the classroom and go and meet colleagues who share your classes, they may give you invaluable tips to deal with some pupils whose behavior is challenging.
Few, if any, classroom issues occur when your students are properly engaged and actively on task. Here is what researches on the fields tend to prove. However if this statement is true, that doesn’t mean necessarily that we always know how to involve and engage our learning community. Let’s see a reminder about tips that really work and that we should all try to give a go at.
a. Clear and efficient planning
No doubt that a well-planned lesson with clear lesson objectives shared with our students and differentiated learning objectives will make a difference. Once you know where to start with your teaching-learning objectives you need to plan for progressive tasks that will engage your students on both an individual and group basis. In our fast zapping society we all have experienced that our students tend to have a low attention span. As a consequence, instead of having long activities it is worthwhile to plan for engaging tasks. Using a range of short activities where students have to be physically active can make a point. For this reason don’t underestimate the importance of warm up activities. The 3-5 minutes spent at the beginning of the lesson through lexical brainstorming activities will give the dynamic of your lesson. For classes where behavior seems to be a constant issue you may also want to investigate about lessons your students have before. It’s crystal clear that if they have a gym class before, opting for a settling activity like a word search ready to use on paper or a puzzle activity will be more efficient than a brainstorming activity in pairs. Not only will starters help your students remember about topics studied previously but they will also help you settle your group down in a productive mood.
b. Differentiation in tasks
In a classroom of 30 students we need to remember that we have 30 individuals with different learning backgrounds, different motivations, different learning styles and varied abilities. Our lessons should mirror these differences. Of course planning for every single individual is not realistic but there are plenty of ways to differentiate for the benefit of all. The least able students will need activities to be broken down into small enough steps – the most able should be offered opportunities to take the work beyond the limitations of the curriculum. The tasks should challenge their mind in a supportive environment. Changing the seating plan, having pair work then group work, varying the types of activities (matching-up activities, games, dictionary challenges, group projects, presentations), challenging your students’ skills by creating some competitions or just some ideas of differentiation that should improve the teaching-learning atmosphere in your classroom
The tasks should challenge their mind in a supportive environment.
c. Mutual esteem, respect and core values
It goes without saying that without respect no collaboration is possible. Don’t underestimate your students; give them a sense of responsibility and ownership of their learning. No matter how difficult they may find your subject you need to find out what they are good at and praise their achievements.
As part of our first teaching weeks establishing clear boundaries and rules are very important to create the learning atmosphere you want in your class. Respect is key to avoid disruptive behavior but this can only be obtained through confidence, time and by reinforcing the rules for our students. Acting as a tireless tyrant is by no means a solution as students will engage because of fear of the consequences and little achievement will occur on the long run. This doesn’t mean however that you need to be your students’ best friend. You need to find a balance between these two extremes. And keep in mind that even experienced teachers will be challenged with some of their classes.