A Positive Approach in the Classroom

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A major problem for student teachers of today is the management of the classroom and the discipline problems that may arise. Often there is a tendency to relate individual behaviour as a problem evolving solely in the classroom and therefore solvable by altering certain conditions that prompt the deviant's actions. However there are a number of issues that stretch far beyond the classroom door. Research suggests there are many influencing factors that contribute to a pupil's behaviour. How a teacher deals with a class and individuals is vital and must be based on each pupils situation in life as well as the teachers own position in the classroom. The aim of this literature review is to seek out previous research, understand the causes of negative behaviour, what effect this has on the pupil and explore the positive approaches a teacher can have to ensure a healthier and more manageable classroom.

Understanding pupil's behaviour

A large problem facing teachers today is the management of the classroom and the pupils that wish to disturb the natural progression of learning. In the past it was believed that the difficulty and problem lies solely in the classroom and therefore solvable by changing certain conditions that may prompt the troublemakers actions. However recent research suggests there are many elements that contribute to the behaviour of a pupil and that to deal with the classrooms successfully one must consider the individuality of the pupils and their position in life. Many teachers in order to create an easier atmosphere in the classroom will respond to a pupils behavioural problems without understanding the underlying problem, although in some cases it can be effective, too often students are then stereotyped as "discipline problems" simply because no care was given to find out why they behave in this manner. When a teacher understands the individual's predicament the problem can be addressed and dealt with more efficiently with fewer repercussions.

Becker (1963) as quoted by McManus (1989) p.3 wrote that:

"...deviance is not a quality of the act a person commits...the deviant is one to whom that label has successfully been applied; deviant behaviour is behaviour that people so label."

Labels can often be placed without the full knowledge or lack of correct judgement on the individual, these labels and classifications often spring from presumptions and may reveal more about the labeller rather than the labelled.

The effects of disruption in the Classroom

Disruptive behaviour always begins somewhere and learning how to deal with minor offences can prevent the major problems from surfacing. Swick (1980) suggests the most frequently viewed by teachers are:

Excessive talking or talking out of turn without raising their hand.

Noise, such as shouting across the room or banging objects.

Not paying attention to the teacher

Being out of their seat and walking around the room without good intention.

Not getting work done

Late for lessons

Hindering other pupils

What I have listed are cases of minor offences and can be minimised by skilful teaching, organisation and classroom management. Untreated however and they may result in more serious offences such as verbal aggression to another pupil, bad language, disobedience and refusal to accept authority. In turn the disruption from certain pupils may have the domino effect in the classroom preventing the pupils that wish to be there from gaining the most from their lesson. If these pupils do not feel they are benefiting from being in the classroom they may begin to act in similar negative manner.

Teacher's actions

Swick J (1980) explains that the technique to handling classroom behavioural problems lie in ones approach, what may work effectively in one situation may have no success in another. There are several key categories developed by numerous teachers and researchers when combined, are believed to influence the pupils' progress immensely and help guide the pupil on the right path. These are modelling, designing, interacting, responding and assessing.


The teachers' behaviour, organisation and expectations in the classroom have such a high impact on the pupils and how they engage, well organised, personable and alert teachers usually have pupils that practice a friendly positive approach. Whereas teachers who use a loud voice every minute of the lesson result in their classrooms and pupils rising to the same noise level, if not louder.

The task of the teacher is to create an interesting, balanced, structured lesson that the pupils will want to learn. We take it for granted that most pupils will be willing to engage in the work and aim to finish the task. Pupils are only likely to misbehave if there are reasons and motives for doing so. According to Kyriacou (1998) some of these motives include;

Boredom, if the lesson is delivered in an unenthusiastic tone which fails to sustain their interest, the pupil is more likely to turn off and not pay attention.

Prolonged mental effort; Most academic work requires sustained mental effort which can be difficult and at times unpleasant.

Social relationships; Pupils make friends, conflicts arise and interests are shared. These elements are such a large part of their lives that they are bond to spill into the classroom.

Low academic self-esteem; some pupil's feel they are not up to standard in certain subjects or perhaps have failed in the past. This can lead to low self esteem and a lack of enthusiasm for the subject. The pupil does not attempt the work and can feel like an outsider to the positive classroom environment.

Emotional difficulties; Some pupils may find it difficult to cope with the school environment, due to underlying problems at home or bullying in the school. This can make it difficult for them to adjust and in some cases such pupils become attention seeking and enjoy the attention from both teacher and fellow pupils for misbehaving.

Poor attitudes; some pupils simply do not value education or doing well in school. They will avoid having to do work by continuously arriving late to class or keeping a low profile while doing little. Some pupils deliberately cause trouble to provoke excitement in the class.

Lack of negative consequences; As stated earlier if a pupil is allowed to carry on creating minor offenses without cost they will move on to more serious problems. If a pupil is not corrected and discouraged by the consequences that follow, it is likely to become more regular.

Kohn (1998) believes the children do as we do. If a teacher is caring and treats the pupils with kindness, respect and makes them feel like they are important, the pupils will learn to respond to others with similar attitude. Teachers who care for their students, who do not judge but respect the pupil for who they are without attachment, can have a positive lifelong influence on their character. By combining a mutual respect for your pupils and an organised lesson plan, pupils' disruptive behaviour will be minimised. Even in the most difficult of schools with renowned reputation for a high number of pupils with marked emotions or academic difficulties, the skilful teacher can ensure that good discipline in lessons will be the norm.

According to Swick (1980) classroom teachers can provide students with an exemplary model how to behave and learn. The teacher that is enthusiastic and motivated about the subject matter is certain to spread the desire to learn the topic to pupils. The teacher who is disorganized unmotivated and cynical is inviting students to misbehave. Teachers who listen to students have a relevant curriculum and involve students in active learning have fewer behaviour problems than do their less counterparts.

Many discipline problems are rooted in inadequate role models outside the school environment and at home. Gootman (2001), states that schools face many challenges today due to high pressures imposed by society. The effects of drugs, poverty, child abuse, parent abuse and media generated violence are brought in to the school halls and classrooms.

"Many children haul the baggage of dysfunction straight into the classroom and unpack their pain masqueraded in the wraps of misbehaviour and underachievement". Gootman (2001, pg. 62)

According to Bowlby (1982) children increase insecure connections because of inconsistent care giving. At times, they may receive adequate or even effusive care and nurturing, although at other times, their caregiver may be totally unavailable and unapproachable. This irregularity and ambivalence develops into an insecurity in children that often makes them fearfully and hungrily attached, anxiously obedient, and apprehensive lest the caregivers (including the teacher) be unavailable when needed.

Pupils threaten academic learning and push teachers to their limits with behavioural problems such as aggression, hyperactivity, spaciousness, provocativeness and the ability to concentrate. These behaviours and problem are often caused by circumstances totally beyond our control. Although there is little we can do about the pupils home environment or community, what teachers can do in the classroom is provide a decent role model the pupils can look up to, learn from and approach if help is needed, teachers can ensure that they do not further exacerbate the problem.


Classroom layout can play a sufficient role in the organisation of the lesson and the control of pupil's behaviour right down to the way they move within a lesson. Swick (1980) indicates that classrooms with physical lines of movement create more order and less disruption than that of a room without limits. A classroom that is well organised down to the availability of materials and the cleanliness of the room can prevent the pupils wasting time and encourage them to immediately begin task and reduce disruption.

Of course the arrangement of desks plays a vital role in the development of a pupil's self esteem and value. If a pupil is placed in position where they are valued they will perform to their best abilities while interacting in a positive manner with both fellow peers and the teacher. This interaction will work to form a bond and positive relationships.

Classrooms that are boring and drab in colour can affect the pupil's motivation and performance; whereas a room filled the pupils own colourful, exciting, vibrant work can increase stimulation. By displaying a pupil's work in the classroom it can have an uplifting and rewarding effect on the pupils, giving the pupil a sense of achievement and need to produce more.


This can relate to the delivery of the lesson and the prevention of boredom. By interacting with the pupils it will allow them in engage further and always be alert, aware and involved. By getting involved in group discussions the pupil is encouraged to share opinions and personal reflection. It is important to remain neutral in the classroom; some teachers are known to only interact with the pupils they favour while ignoring the ones they don't, leading to unnecessary behavioural problems that could be easily avoided. Whereas those that have received the teacher's attention and praise for work they had accomplished had a much more positive outlook, to be ignored, isolated or labelled as the slow learner does not result in positive behaviour.


How the teacher responds to a pupil's behaviour from the beginning holds paths the way the pupil will continue to perform. Achieving academic and social brilliance is not achieved all at once, it is a process which people polish and perfect their skill. This process is dependent on how the teacher responds to their efforts and attempts, to improve their performance in the classroom. Negative responses from a teacher can not only result in ineffective attempt to control the classroom but can end in further behavioural problems.

Cohen and Manion (2004) claim that routine encounters between pupil and teacher must be established from the very beginning and should be reapplied and reassessed throughout the tear. Rules and routine need to be discussed and compromised with the pupil to ensure a rational they will stick to, this will lead to a planned, well organised, open classroom environment.

Teachers have discovered that by responding to the pupil with a positive attitude they can affect the pupil in a positive way. Elias et al, (1997) declare that caring teacher's model caring for their students. When a teacher takes the time to understand and listen to a pupil, they are demonstrating behaviours that are required for a peaceful functioning classroom environment


It is common occurrence that pupils who are assessed as being slow learners are often deemed to have disruptive behaviour tendencies. Likewise a teacher that regularly assesses their own teaching abilities and methods results in fewer discipline issues and a positive classroom. Pupil's interests and style change regularly, in order to keep the pupils engaged and interested, customising the lesson plan to suit their interests is vital.

Although these five behaviours provide a well rounded scheme for developing a basis for student behaviour there are three other elements I have come across declared by Gootman. She believes that Feeling, Doing and Praising are key features to establish a positive atmosphere in classroom.


Swick (1980) writes that guiding pupils to develop a vocabulary of feelings can surface levels of compassion. By relating the pupil to various characters or elements in the work they are studying they can describe how they character is feeling and perhaps relate their own experiences to this. Helping students express their anger constructively is another avenue for arousing empathy. If children are seething with rage, they will not behave with character and are likely to hurtfully lash out at others. If they learn to collect themselves and put their feelings into words before they do something they regret, they will be capable of behaving responsibly.

Ladson - billings, (1997) suggests by performing simple acts of kindness like sending a birthday card or bringing an image or book of interest to the pupil, they show the pupil concrete ways to care for other. In addition, expressing concern for others in distress and taking the initiative to help can set a powerful example and be even more effective than didactic instruction in promoting a sense of caring in students.

Actions, not lectures are the key. Kohn, (1998)

Krovetz, (1999).claims that one facet of being a caring teacher is having high expectations for needy children rather than expecting less because they are needy. Bernard, (1993)writes having high expectations entails more than just conveying a message on our part to provide them with the support necessary for them to live up to those expectations .


Children will learn how to care and thus to behave with character if they are provided with classroom opportunities to care. Delegating responsibilities to students teaches them to care about their classroom. It also gives them the responsibility of completing that task, once finished they are rewarded with the feeling of achievement and the possible realisation of a new skill. If we can help children identify the problem and reflect about why their behaviour is inappropriate and what they can do to replace the inappropriate behaviour with appropriate behaviour, we can guide them to care enough to be willing to change.


Deci & Flaste (1995) declares that praise given to control another person's behaviour is devaluing to the recipient because he or she knows it is not sincere and is designed to manipulate. With the pressures of classroom control, demands to raise test results, overcrowded classrooms and increased pupils with learning disabilities it is very easy to feel out of control and tempting to control a pupils behaviour. Controlling others is often a knee jerk reaction to feeling stress. Gordon (1989) power methods can lead to resistance, rebellion, and lying.

Effective and Ineffective Praise

Brophy, J. E included the following distinctions between effective and ineffective praise.

Effective Praise shows recognition of the pupils work and accomplishment specifying the variety, spontaneity and other credible signs of hard work. It provides information and feedback on the pupil's competence or accomplishments and orients the pupil toward their own task related behaviour and wills the pupils to further brainstorm and problem solve. Compares past accomplishments to present and recognises the improvement involved, pupils feel they can expend on the task because they enjoy it and wish to develop skills.

Ineffective praise is given randomly with no deeper meaning and shows a bland uniformity that suggests a conditioned response made with minimal attention. Lacks in personal information or performance which leaves the pupils at a standstill, they have no path to take and are unsure of their status. The accomplishments of peers are used as comparison; this can lead to unwanted negative competition. Ineffective praise is given without acknowledgement of the pupils accomplishments and is out down to factors such as luck or an easy task.


Every day we are faced with a variety of situations in the classroom, they can be minor classroom disruptions or they can be something much deeper. It is up to the teacher to have the knowledge and skill to recognise these problems and help or lead the pupil in the right direction. The works of Swick, Scherer and agree that by having the knowledge and ability to recognise these problems is half the battle.

Although teachers cannot expect to deal with every problem in the classroom, what they can do is provide the pupil with a positive attitude, a comfortable classroom and recognition of pupil's achievements. By taking the time to work with the pupil in the right manner, the effects can prove to be worthwhile.