The basics of good classroom management part 2: Dealing with misbehaviour

Ed Whittaker

Ed started his career in chemistry, working for ICI Organics Division in Blackley. Having decided that 21 days holiday a year was simply not enough, he left industry to take up teaching at the age of 30. He spent the next twenty odd years teaching chemistry to GCSE and A level - and learning about behaviour management the hard way. Early in his teaching career he became interested in classroom management techniques following some Keystone Kops style episodes in his Y9 lessons. For the last few years of his teaching career Ed was the behaviour lead in a large Manchester comprehensive and was responsible for the successful introduction of BFL into the school. In July 2008 Ed left teaching to form Schools Data Services Ltd, specifically to promote IRIS, an on-line behaviour and rewards management facility devised by Ed and ex school MIS manager Andrew Rose.

Ed lives in Rochdale with wife Helen, two boys and a dog of very small brain called Archie. His main ambition is to make a difference in education by providing an alternative low cost, high value MIS to schools.

Follow @IRIS_behaviour

Website: Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

In my previous article I discussed ways of minimising misbehaviour and creating a positive classroom climate. But, like an English summer, even the most temperate lesson is prone to showers. The following tips are designed to help you prevent a drizzle of mischief becoming a deluge of disobedience.

Keep the lesson flowing. When dealing with misbehaviour, always start off with the least intrusive intervention possible. For example, a pupil is tapping a pencil whilst you are talking. He might be doing it absent- mindedly, or he might be trying to provoke a reaction. In either case, try ignoring it. (This is called “tactical ignoring”: you are making a positive choice to ignore the behaviour, not failing to act because you are unsure of what to do.) If the tapping doesn’t stop, point your gaze at the source of the noise or move towards it. That will usually be enough to get it to stop. Other low-level intervention techniques include asking a relevant question (which is often all that is needed to bring the pupil back on task), and using non-verbal signals - such as a finger to the lips or even just a raised eyebrow. These enable you to maintain the flow of your lesson and not distract other pupils while ensuring that the class knows you’re monitoring its behaviour. Responding too quickly or too aggressively to minor misdemeanours can leave pupils feeling aggrieved or humiliated – and faced with a choice between defying the teacher and losing face in front of peers, many will defy the teacher. The issue then escalates, the disruption is drawn out, and the lesson flow is interrupted.

Offer choices. You notice that Adele, on the back row, has her make-up out during the lesson. Rather than insist that it be handed over to you - risking an argument and extending the time it takes to deal with the situation - say to her : “Back in your bag or on my desk, Adele - your choice”. This is a win-win solution: Adele doesn’t lose face (she feels she has made a choice rather than obeyed a command), and the distraction is gone, allowing you to get on with teaching. It is also worth adding the warning, “If I see it again, it’s going on my desk until the end of the lesson”: most pupils will readily accept such a deal - and in the event that make-up does reappear, it’s much easier to confiscate it if you’ve warned that this will happen.

Use partial agreement. This is a useful way to beat the “It wasn’t only me” argument. For example, you see Anthony chatting instead of working. You ask him to get back on task. “But so-and-so was talking as well,” he replies. Rather than argue with him, just say “that may be true, but you are the one I saw”. By partially agreeing with Anthony, you make him less likely to argue back.This approach is also useful in quelling minor classroom squabbles: Pupil: “Sir, Darren keeps looking at me funny.” Teacher: “That may be true, but I need you to get on with your work now.”

Use positive correction. It is very easy to slip into “moaning” mode: to constantly pick up on bad behaviour. A more effective strategy is to promote the behaviour you do want. All this requires, in many instances, is replacing “Don’t do that” with “Do this”. For example, you see Melville staring out of the window instead of listening. Rather than saying “Mel, stop looking out of the window”, say “Mel, look at me, thank you”. The two statements amount to the same thing, but by being more positive you make confrontation less likely. (Also note the use of “thank you” rather than “please”; the latter implies that you would like compliance with the instruction, the former that you expect it.)

The “what-what” technique: This is useful for getting pupils who have been distracted to resume working. For example, you see Amy staring into space when she should be writing: Teacher: “Amy, what are you doing?” Amy: “Um, nothing.” Teacher: “What should you be doing?” Amy: “Um, writing.” Teacher: “Thank you.” This technique can also be used to provide positive rule reminders – eg, “Susan, what are our rules on talking?”

The “when-then” technique: For example, “Aleem, when you stop shouting out the answers and put your hand up, then I will listen to you”. This tip is useful because it reinforces the desired behaviour - rather than just focusing on what the pupil has done wrong.

Allow “take-up” time. Pupils are far more likely to obey rules when they feel they have chosen to comply than when they have been forced to. A typical face-saving strategy for pupils is to delay compliance with an instruction for a short while. Allow them that. It allows them to comply without losing face. Issuing ultimatums and demanding immediate compliance is more likely to prolong the disruption and provoke confrontation.

Following these simple techniques should help you to maintain a positive, constructive and collaborative atmosphere in the classroom, and to manage behaviour effectively without shouting or resorting to unduly coercive methods.


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