Creating an orderly classroom
An important part of managing the classroom learning environment is establishing and maintaining order, and proactive teachers ensure that off-task behaviour is re-directed before it leads to misbehaviour. Students are focused on instructional tasks and are not misbehaving in an orderly classroom.
Vital to the establishment of an orderly classroom is the explicit teaching, modelling, demonstrating, practising, reviewing and implementing of classroom rules, consequences, procedures and routines.
Teachers need to be consistent, insistent and persistent when it comes to the application of classroom rules and consequences.
Each school will have in place school procedures related to rules, consequences and routines, as well as key personnel whose role it is to support students with specific learning and behavioural needs.
Beginning teachers, in collaboration with their supervisor and/or mentor or coach, can consider the following strategies to prompt discussion regarding procedures and behavioural expectations for students within the classroom and across the school:
- negotiate class rules
- identify consequences for positive behaviour
- identify consequences for non-compliance
- explicitly teach, model, demonstrate, practice and review the rules
- consistently uphold agreed classroom rules
- develop a set of standards for quality and quantity of work
- develop procedures and routines for reoccurring events.
When negotiating class rules consider these options:
- make class rules consistent with school rules
- involve students where possible - the student's age level will impact the level of their involvement
- identify appropriate behaviours and translate them into positively phrased rules
- focus on important behaviour
- keep the number of rules to a minimum, for example, 4 to 6
- keep the wording simple and short
- address behaviours that can be observed - this avoids misinterpretation and there is no grey area as to whether the behaviour did or did not occur
- display the rules and consequences prominently - once the class has developed its list of rules, they should be displayed as a reminder to those of what has been agreed to.
Recognise and quickly respond to appropriate behaviour. This quick action encourages students to display the desired behaviour more often. Be aware that some students may need to be reinforced quietly or non-verbally to prevent embarrassment in front of peers.
A range of rewards can be used, and this is often determined by the age of the students and what the students value. Rewards can be intrinsic or extrinsic and teachers can encourage students to acknowledge, reflect on and value their own achievements. Rewards can include:
- social rewards such as written expressions, verbal or nonverbal facial expressions
- activities and privileges such as permission to participate in the desired activity
- tangible rewards such as certificates, awards and so on.
The consequences for inappropriate behaviour need to be directly and logically related to the misbehaviour, as logical consequences usually require students to make right of what they have done wrong.
Examples of consequences include loss of privileges, time-out, detention, contacting parents and so on. Ideally, there are a small number of negative consequences that are sequentially administered.
Teachers should take care to ensure that the consequences are not psychologically or physically harmful to the students.
Follow these guidelines when teaching and reviewing class rules:
- Explicitly teach the rules: explain, model, demonstrate as you would for any subject matter content.
- Discuss reasons for the rule: students are more likely to follow a rule if they understand the rationale behind it.
- Clarify acceptable and unacceptable behaviour: provide examples of behaviours that make or break each rule as this will help to clarify expectations.
- Review positive and negative consequences: appropriate decisions are rewarded and inappropriate decisions are not. Discuss the specific consequences that will be used.
- Display rules where appropriate: if the rules are to be displayed in the classroom, they need to be in a prominent place.
Consider the following information about upholding classroom rules:
- Provide a warning: this gives the students time and space to correct the misbehaviour without suffering a consequence. If the warning is not heeded, immediately invoke the consequence.
- Be consistent, insistent and persistent: Linson (2012) believes inconsistency is one of the most common teacher mistakes. It's also among the most detrimental as every time a rule is broken, and not addressed, it sends the message that you don't really mean what you say.
- Avoid arguing with students about consequences: Linson (2014) gives the following advice about arguing with students. Calmly, almost robotically, deliver your consequence and then immediately turn back to what you were doing before. You know they broke a rule, so there is no reason for you to argue. They know they broke a rule, so there is no (honest) reason for them to argue. Thus, no other communication needs to be exchanged. Now, if in the rare case a student follows you and attempts to argue, it's okay to repeat yourself one time.
- Stick to the negotiated consequences: rules, consequences and procedures should be taught, modelled, and practised, fair to all students and not create resentment, friction, and hard feelings between the teacher and students. A student in need of specific behavioural accommodations detailed in an Individual Education Plan (IEP), might be the exception.
- Apply the consequences fairly to all students: Every student who disrupts the classroom and stops the teacher from teaching suffers the same consequence, as do students who fail to achieve quality and quantity expectations. By telling the students at the beginning of the school year what the consequences will be, teachers ensure that all students know what to expect in the classroom.
Students should have a clear understanding of what is expected of them in terms of the quantity and quality of work produced. Involve students in setting personal long and short term academic goals based on syllabus expectations. Setting clear expectations at the beginning of the year and steadfastly sticking to them has been shown to improve task engagement and learning.
When developing standards for quality and quantity of work, consider implementing:
- show examples that demonstrate your expectations
- at the beginning of each lesson indicate what needs to be completed by the end of the lesson
- make it clear to students how they are responsible for the academic work that they do
- ask older students to set a goal for themselves each week/fortnight/month to improve the quality and quantity of their work
- establish rewards for quality and quantity of work produced
- explicitly state the criteria required for tasks to be completed
- show students how their work is worthwhile and how it is connected to things that are important to them, including other learning and interests
- offer encouragement that tells students specifically what it is that they are doing that is worthwhile and good encourages effort.
Develop procedures and routines for reoccurring events
Timesaving value can get lost in reminding, reteaching, and repeating routines and procedures over and over again. Establishing routines can help to consolidate the information.
Linsin's model shows 'how to', 'how not to' and 'start routine immediately'.
Firstly, model 'how to':
- show the students what you want them to do
- make it simple and straightforward, but highly detailed
- as appropriate to the age of the students, play the part of a student and act out each step.
Secondly, model 'how not to':
- model how not to perform the routine
- have fun with it
- exaggerating poor behaviour makes the strategy more effective because it underscores the absurdity of misbehaving in the classroom.
Thirdly, start the routine immediately:
- go live as soon as possible
- have the students perform the routine as a regular part of the school day/lesson
- you want them to get used to the feeling of success, of doing things the right way.
Canter recommends a 3 step cycle for teaching routines:
Teach routines whenever students need to follow a certain direction. Don't assume that students know how they are expected to behave. Establish specific directions for each activity during the day - whole class seat work, small-group work, transitions between activities, and so on.
For each situation determine the exact behaviours expected of students. Once the specific behaviours for each situation have been determined, students must be taught how to follow the directions. To do this:
- state the directions and, with younger students, write the behaviours on the board or on a flip chart
- model the behaviours
- ask the students to restate the directions
- question the students to make sure they understand the directions
- immediately engage the students in the activity to make sure that they understand the directions.
After teaching the specific directions, use positive repetition to reinforce the students when they follow the directions. This is especially important at the primary level.
Typically, teachers give directions to the students and then focus attention only on those students who do not obey. For example, 'Justin, you didn't go back to your seat' Instead, teachers should focus on those students who do follow the directions, rephrasing the original directions as a positive comment. For example, 'Jason went back to his seat and got right to work.'
If a student is still misbehaving after a teacher has taught specific directions and has used positive repetition, only then should the teacher use negative consequences. As a general rule, the teacher should not administer a negative consequence to a student until they have reinforced the appropriate behaviour with at least 2 students.
Effective teachers are always positive first. Focusing on negative behaviour teaches students that negative behaviour gets attention, that a teacher is a negative person, and that a classroom is a negative place.
- Canter, L. (1996). Assertive Discipline. Seal Beach, CA: Canter and Associates.
- Linsin, M. (2012, July 28). How to Teach Routines. Retrieved May 1, 2014, from Smart Classroom Management.
- Linsin, M. (2014, May 3). How to avoid arguing with students. Retrieved May 5, 2014, from Smart Classroom Management.