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Can I get my students to behave better? The evidence is emphatic, yes you can! And we know how. There are of course very many strategies designed to improve classroom management and discipline, but which ones work? Robert Marzano (2003) summarised the findings of over 100 reports on classroom management, including 134 rigorous experiments designed to find out which classroom management techniques work best. These experiments were carried out with real teachers in real classrooms. This chapter draws heavily on this 'meta-study' of Marzano's, and compares strategies to find out which is best. Such studies of studies are the best source of evidence on what works as they include and integrate all reliable evidence. For a full account see 'Classroom Management that Works' Robert Marzano et al (2003) for the detail, it is well worth reading.
These experiments tell us what teachers have made work, rather than reporting hunches and wishful thinking. No special training is required to use these strategies. If you are a reasonably experienced teacher, just experiment with the following methods, and you should get positive results quite quickly. You will need to give them a fair try for a few lessons before you and your students get the hang of them. The investment will be well worth it as their improved behaviour and motivation will begin to show. Less experienced teachers may need more time to make the strategies work.
Marzano's meta-study describes four basic approaches that have been found to improve behaviour in classrooms. Their effectiveness is compared in the table below.
Comparing the effectiveness of aspects of classroom management
Number of students or pupils
Number of studies
Decrease in number of disruptions
(Average for the studies)
Summary of experimental data from Marzano (2003)
Rules and procedures
Strategies to clearly and simply express rules and other expectations of student behaviour. Also to justify these persuasively from the teacher's and students' point of view. For greatest effect the rules are negotiated with students
Strategies to improve the rapport, and mutual respect between teacher and student
The effective use of 'sticks and carrots' to enforce the rules described above
Strategies to develop your awareness of what is going on in your classroom and why. A conscious control over your thoughts and feelings when you respond to a disruption.
Marzano grouped high quality research studies on classroom management into the four categories above, and then calculated an average effect size for each. "Effect size" is explained in chapter 4, they are a measure of how effective a strategy is. If you don't know about effect sizes look instead at the last column in the tables: 'percentage reduction in the number of disruptions'. For example, in experiments on strategies that involve teachers in devising rules and procedures the number of disruptions in the classroom was reduced by 28% on average. This is in comparison with not devising explicit rules and procedures.
In experiments, only one strategy can be used at a time. (If two were used, we would not know which caused any positive effects.) However, you can obviously use strategies in all these categories at once. This will have a greater effect than using strategies in one category alone. However, it is not statistically valid to add the effect sizes or the percentages in the table to find their combined effect.
If you find this a bit bewildering, just remember that the strategies that teachers made work best are those with a large percentage in the last column in the tables.
However you are unique! You might not get the same results as an average teacher. So the best results will probably come from concentrating on the category that you or your students have most difficulty with, or that you have considered least in your teaching. The final test is what works in your classroom, try the methods for a few weeks and see what happens!
I will now look at the strategies that have been found to work best in each of Marzano's four categories. I will only outline these, and if you want more detail please read the following chapters in my 'Teaching Today', which have more strategies and more detail. I am relieved to say these chapters are very much in line with the Marzano findings. Alternatively follow up one of the
Chapters in 'Teaching Today' that might be helpful:
7 The teacher - learner relationship and equal opportunities page 77
8 Classroom management page 96
9 Discipline and problem solving page 108
references at the end of the chapter.
Some teachers think a well-planned, interesting lesson will by itself prevent disruption. Or that if the teacher is entirely benign and respectful of students, conflict will simply melt away. This isn't the case. We often start our teaching careers with these assumptions, but enlightenment usually doesn't take long. All teachers experience problems with behaviour, it's just that some are better at preventing it, and dealing with it. But how? The strategies that teachers have made work best in experiments are explained below, with the theory outlined. However, if you are only interested in the strategies themselves look for the strategy icon in the margin:
Improving your use of rules and procedures
You might be forgiven for believing that how students should behave in classrooms is blindingly obvious, and explanation is entirely unnecessary. However, experiments show that classrooms become much more orderly when rules are stated, or better still negotiated, discussed and fully justified. It seems the little blighters need persuading of the obvious!
Create rules: Decide for yourself what rules and procedures will maximise
learning, and would create a good atmosphere in your class. Alternatively adapt the rules in the box on page 4. Express these rules positively rather than as a list of "don'ts". There should be a maximum of about 8 rules at secondary level, some say less at the elementary level.
Justify rules. Work out to your own satisfaction a persuasive case for each of these rules, however obvious this is. I'm afraid 'because I say so' is not a persuasive justification!
Very early on, perhaps in your first meeting with the class, explain that you want an effective, fair and happy classroom, and a set of rules and procedures to achieve this. There are two main ways to do this, set out in 3 and 4 below.
Discuss rules with the class. Discuss why we have laws, rules and procedures in football, families, and in society. Ask for examples. (Avoid the off-side rule even if you understand it!) What would happen if we didn't have rules? Explain that the purpose of class rules is not to pump your megalomania, but to improve learning, and to ensure people enjoy the class.
Negotiate to get commitment. Suggest your set of rules as a start, asking for
deletions, additions and suggestions. Be prepared to justify and compromise. (Alternatively ask the class to devise their own set of rules as described in 5 below.)
Consider asking students to work in small groups to make sticky note responses to your rules. Then display and discuss these as a class.
Consider asking each group to design a poster to illustrate one of the rules, and display these on the notice board. These can then be used as a reminder in subsequent lessons.
Students could literally 'sign up' to the rules as political leaders sign treaties.
Refer to the rules as 'our rules' not as 'mine'.
Get the class to devise their own rules. Especially with older or more responsible
groups you could ask them to come up with their own class rules. It may help to start this process off if you give them issues such as 'how can we make sure everyone gets the help they need?'. Or you could ask them what has worked in other classrooms.
Students can work in groups to devise rules on different aspects of class management, e.g. bringing materials; talking; attendance and punctuality, etc
The class can then discuss and then vote on suggestions
Then you go away and finalise the set of rules. You have every right to the last say of course. If you reject a popular suggestion explain why.
Here is a typical set of rules at secondary or college level. It is of course best to devise your own:
1. Treat others as you want to be treated yourself. Be positive and helpful. Try to help two other people every day.
2. Treat other people's property at least as well as you would treat your own.
3. Hands up if you want to say something when the teacher, or another student is talking.
4. Don't distract others from their work. Only talk to neighbours, and only about work.
5. If you are stuck ask neighbours for help first, then ask Mr Petty.
6. No unpleasantness, snatching or hitting. If you can't resolve a disagreement yourself, or with your group, consult Mr Petty
7. Leave the room better than you found it.
The aim here is to get students to 'buy into' the rules and to see them as their own, and as worth keeping and enforcing.
Other uses of rules
Remind students of any relevant rules before a potentially disruptive activity.
This is more positive than only responding to disruption and has been found to reduce disruption by about 25%. You could even gather students around the poster that illustrates the rule(s) and ask them for the justification for it.
If a rule is broken remind the student that, "we agreedâ€¦.." and remind them that they are part of a team so must keep to team rules. Be a 'team player' could be a heading on the list of rules
Get students to self assess their own behaviour against the rules with a self-assessment form. Then use this to set themselves targets for improvement. See the example below
Isâ€¦((student name here))â€¦â€¦. a team player?
I kept to this rule:
Treat others as you want to be treated yourself
Hands up if you want to say something when the teacher is talking
Don't distract others from their work
Improvement since my last self assessment:
What I need to work on most is:
If you use self-assessment consider the following:
Asking students to remind themselves of their self-assessed targets at the beginning of a class (see the last row in the self assessment form above). Tell them you will ask them to self-assess any improvement at the end of the same class.
Allow students to reward themselves with a sticky blob against their name on your notice board if they have improved, say, twice running in these self-assessments. Yes I know this sounds toe-curlingly naff, but the less mature students often love this.
Strategies to improve teacher-student relationships
If you have read chapter 25 you will recognise the value driven management and leadership approach that was so successful in managing staff.
The strategies below have reduced disruptions in classrooms by 31% on average. Good teacher-student relations ensure that students have a more positive attitude to the teacher and to learning, and make them more likely to accept rules and any disciplining. They turn the classroom into a cooperative team, and reduce antagonism. So even if you detest the little clutch of demons, its worth developing good relations with them, and if you do, you might find that you don't detest them quite as much!
What is the nature of good teacher-student relations? Marzano (2003) quotes internationally renowned research by Theo Wubbels, whose findings remind me of the old staffroom adage 'be strict but fair'. Wubbels has found that the most effective teachers are both dominant (strong leaders) and cooperative (helpful, friendly and fair), but they are neither to extreme. This is shown diagrammatically below.
The Ideal teacher-student relationship
Strong sense of purpose in pursuing clear goals for learning and for class management.
Leadership. Tends to guide and control
Prepared to discipline unapologetically
Lack of concern for students
Teacher student relations damaged
Ideal teacher- student relationship
Treats students as the enemy
Expresses anger and irritation
Need to 'win' if there is a disagreement between teacher and students
Great concern for the needs and opinions of students.
Avoids strife and seeks consensus
Too understanding and accepting of apologies
Waits for students to be ready
Too desirous to be accepted by students
Lack of clarity of purpose
Keeps a low profile
Tendency to submit to the will of the class
Entirely unassertive, rather glum and apologetic
The diagram tries to show that the most effective teachers have found an optimal balance between cooperation and dominance. They are not so dominant that they fail to cooperate, nor so cooperative that they fail to lead. The precise approach will of course depend on the nature of the class; some need more dominance or more cooperation than others.
Research has also shown that students prefer the dominant-cooperative mix about twice as much as the purely cooperative style, or indeed any other style.
Wubbels has found that teachers new to the profession tend to start too cooperatively and with insufficient dominance. However after 6 to 10 years they often become too dominant.
To improve student-teacher relations experiment with some or all of the following strategies which other teachers have made work well. Are you better at dominance or cooperation? Ideally you should strengthen your weakest style, even if you also work on your strongest.
Many students are coping with stress, difficult home circumstances and worry about abuse, depression, eating disorders and so on. If your students experience such social and psychological strains you will need to attend to these as well trying the strategies that follow. This goes beyond the scope of this chapter. The 'FATE' approach in 'Teaching Today' may help, as will Marzano (2003).
Strategies to increase your dominance (leadership)
Don't be put off by the word 'dominance'. It means to become an effective leader, to pursue, vigorously and enthusiastically, a clear path towards both important learning goals, and good behaviour in the classroom. It does not mean to strut about in jackboots barking orders. We are doing this for the students, so we need not be shy about taking charge and accepting responsibility.
If you negotiate ground rules with students, and consequences for not keeping them as described on page ???, then you have already shown this attribute to some considerable extent.
Clarify the purpose and the key points in each topic before it is taught, including a persuasive reason for studying it. If you have read chapter 16 you will remember that these methods had very high effect sizes. (An effect size of 0.5 for a strategy means that if it is done well students learn the topic about a grade better. An effect size of 1.0 gives a two-grade improvement. By 'grade' I mean an improvement equivalent to a GCSE or 'A' level grade, but just for that topic of course.)
Effect size from Marzano
Goal setting before introducing a new topic. E.g. 'your goal is to use the information in this topic to solve this problem in the case studyâ€¦.'
Goals which the students are involved in designing
Advance organisers (summary in advance of what is about to be learned along with a persuasive case for studying it)
0.48 for easy topics
0.78 for more demanding topics
Highly specific behavioural objectives "At the end of this lesson you should be able toâ€¦"
Another way of setting goals is to discuss with students the assessment criteria for the task they will do, as long as they really understand these.
Authoritative body language
Appear absolutely confident and in control, especially when you are not. When interacting with students, especially if dealing with misbehaviour, your dominance is conveyed by 'body language'. This includes proximity, confident posture, and tone of voice (not shrill or angry, but authoritative.) In Teaching Today I describe the 'PEP' approach, which stands for:
Proximity: dominance is increased by walking closer to the student. Walk around the classroom, if you notice students about to misbehave stand by their desk. When you talk to students stand a little 'too close for comfort' but don't invade 'personal space'. This is not an easy judgement.
Eye contact: Holding eye contact expresses dominance, especially if you hold it for some time. What you say will be taken more seriously if you hold eye contact first for a few seconds, then say it maintaining the eye contact, then maintain eye-contact for a few seconds more.
Posing questions. Rather than telling a student off for not working, ask questions such as 'Why have you not started?' Do this with proximity and eye contact.
This has much more effect than getting angry or raising your voice, and will make you appear much more in control. The combined effect of close proximity and sustained eye contact can be very powerful indeed, so don't over do it.
Strategies to increase Cooperation
Being cooperative sounds easy, until you notice it means being cooperative with the worst behaved students in your class. This can try a saint.
As so often in educational problems, we have a vicious cycle to deal with here, but with determination we can turn it into a virtuous cycle:
The student misbehaves more or works less well
You are less positive, friendly and fair towards the student
You dislike the student more and/orâ€¦
The student dislikes you and your classes more
In your direct control
Breaking this cycle is hard, but it can be done. If you succeed it ensures the student behaves better, learns better, but it also makes your life much easier.
You will need to have negotiated clear rules with your students as described earlier, then you can start to break this cycle. This requires a great deal of emotional generosity and/or patience and restraint. If you cannot muster the generosity, try acting!
Probably the only part of the cycle you can break is: 'You are less positive, friendly and fair towards the student' here are some strategies that break the cycle here:
Catch them doing something right. Keep an eye on them, and when you notice
they are doing something right, even by accident, comment on this positively in private. 'Well done, you've made a start'. Many students who misbehave are attention seekers, and if they earn attention for behaving well, they are less likely to steal attention by misbehaving. You can even bribe such students: "That's an interesting start, when you've finished the question let me know and I will have a look at it" A promise of attention like this will often motivate students, but do keep your promise. See Madsen et al (1968)
Put the student into 'intensive care'. There is a violent method to do this,
which in your darkest moments often appeals! Here is a legal way. As well as 'catching them doing something right': Smile, use their name positively, ask for their opinion in class discussion, try to find something positive to say about their response. Make a point of looking at their work, and comment favourably about any genuine effort or achievement. Talk to them about it. 'That's an interesting point, what made you think of that?'. Keep high expectations however: 'I know you can do this'. Be patient and helpful. If you react like this it shows you are not 'rattled' by their misbehaviour.
Warning! The above advice can be overdone. Don't try too hard with 'intensive care' especially, as you will be disliked if you appear desperate to be liked. The trick is to make your behaviour seem very natural, and the way you teach everyone. So you must give this same attention to at least some well-behaved students nearby too.
More general advice about increasing cooperation includes other ways of showing
that you value students as individuals:
Learn and use their names
Communicate informally with students, Don't just talk about learning issues. When they are coming into, or going out of the classroom ask their opinion: "Do you think your haircut would suit me?"â€¦. "What do you think of the new library?"â€¦. Ask about hobbies, attitudes and opinions,
Use eye contact and proximity to spread your influence about the whole room.
Negotiate difficulties with the class. "I am having problems with students not giving in work, what's the problem? What can we do about this?"
The strategies on page 17 and 18 also help with cooperation.
Improving disciplinary interventions
The strategies that follow reduced disruptions in classrooms by 31% on average.
There has been a heated debate for some decades over whether teachers should use mild punishments, or should only give students praise and recognition for appropriate behaviour. You may not be surprised to find that Marzano's meta-study, having statistically compared these approaches, shows that you are best doing both.
However, while nearly all teachers will use mild punishments, few give enough recognition for good behaviour. If you only use punishments, such as telling students off in response to inappropriate behaviour, then you can create a negative, nagging image for yourself. Also, attention-seekers will begin to misbehave in order to get your attention, as it is the most effective way.
Effect sizes are from Marzano (2003)
Number of studies
Decrease in number of disruptions
Reminding students of relevant rules just before they start an activity. E.g. reminding them of the ground-rules for working in groups before starting a group-work activity
Strategies that reward students for appropriate behaviour including recognition, praise, symbols etc.
'Carrots' plus 'sticks'
Using both mild punishments, and strategies that reward students for appropriate behaviour with recognition symbols etc.
Many teachers are reactive, waiting for disruption and then responding to it, yet reminding students of the ground-rules for a forthcoming activity is a very positive and quite effective strategy. If you have agreed class rules, and students have designed posters to illustrate them, gather students round the posters to discuss the rules, and ask questions about why we have them. This need not take long, yet has reduced the number of disruptions in experiments by almost a quarter on average.
Carrots: strategies to reinforce appropriate behaviour.
This works better than just telling students off, and most of us don't do it enough. Try these strategies:
Tokens or symbols
Here is an example. A teacher asks each student to start off the lesson with five behaviour 'points'. Or they might only do this with two or three problematical students. The students write five '1's on a piece of paper on their desk. During the class the teacher places an extra '1' if the student is working well, and crosses one off when they are not. Students often don't need an explanation for the removal of a point if the class rules are clear. Simply praising good behaviour also works remarkably well, Madsen et al (1968).
At the end of the class the student records how many behaviour points they have on a proforma. This might ask them to set targets for improvement. They might also be able to exchange these points for privileges such as sitting where they want, or giving out materials etc. It is important to explain the system you use and why: 'to help you become better and more mature learners'. It should not be seen as a bribe even when privileges are given.
These are often laughed off by teachers, but they really work and
are greatly underused
Tokens and symbols can include:
A 'thumbs up' sign, wink, smile, praise etc to a student working well. It works especially well with problematical students
'Official Pat On The Back', this can be public or private. It is fun to 'say this with capital letters' and administer it with mock ceremony, but not sarcastically
Recognition in class notices, bulletins or notice-boards
Round of applauseâ€¦ or even standing ovation!
'Open microphone'. The student is asked to speak to the class to explain how they succeeded, or, if you are brave, to make any point they like.
Smiley faces, points, or stickers on a privately held record card, that you can ask to see and use as the basis for discussion on behaviour improvement.
Smiley faces, points or stickers on a publicly displayed class list
Badges: e.g. "I'm an improver" "The gal done good"
Letters home saying that behaviour is good or has improved. Most students regard this as very significant and it doesn't cost that much. You could also use e-mail, text message, or phone message, but letters are permanent and you don't even need to put a stamp on as students will be keen to take them home.
They can be used to earn:
Privileges such as sitting where you choose, helping to give out materials, leading groups, being allowed to present to the class, etc
"Class pressure points" which the class can 'spend' to persuade you not to set homework one particular week, or to allow more time to prepare for a test etc.
The opportunity to choose the work they do or the way they work. E.g. be able to write up their work on a classroom computer.
Letters, e-mails or text messages home, after say three weekly improvements
College or school certificates for mature behaviour. These can be given in half-termly 'award ceremonies' presented by the head of department
Being chosen to present to another class, or at parent's evening or open evening
A class trip or visit earned if the class all improve in behaviour
Home privileges such as being allowed to keep your TV or computer games in your bedroom, to rent a video or buy a computer game. This clearly requires parental involvement. See the case study in the box below.
Self-assessment Students can use the self-assessment process described on
page 5 to award themselves points or stickers etc.
These makes use of peer pressure to improve behaviour:
Class carrots if the whole class behaves or improves.
E.g. If the whole class reduces calling out instead of putting their hands up, then the whole class earn pressure points (described in the above box), or are allowed to go and see the Art Department's final show of work. Success needs to be defined carefully, for example no more than three people calling out in each class for at least one week.
Class carrots if a specific individual or group of students behaves well or improves.
This needs to be treated with caution. E.g. "We are all going to help to keep Philip in his seat. If you are next to him remind him if he moves. If he does move, don't talk to him. If Philip doesn't get out of his place inappropriately for a week, the whole class gets five Team Player Points and Philip gets ten."
'Sticks': strategies that involve mild punishment.
This works best in conjunction with the 'carrots' above. Marzano's metastudy stresses that the effect of this strategy comes from consistency rather than severity.
Case studies with the use of rewards and punishments.
TES 16th June 2006 www.tes.co.uk/search/story/?story_id=2250510
Duncan Harper, Head of a Special school says many children are miss-labelled as 'autistic' or having 'Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder' (ADHD). He believes their poor attention span etc is due to being too tired to work after spending four to five hours a night watching TV or playing computer games. 20% of his 58 children are diagnosed autistic, and 50% ADHD. But Harper thinks non are autistic, and only 2 have ADHD!
He develops excellent relationships with the parents, who are contacted by phone every two weeks. He arranges with them to remove TVs and computer games from bedrooms if the student's behaviour/tiredness does not improve. Harper himself made seven such removals that year. A recent inspection graded the school as outstanding in all categories.
Evidence is growing that poor sleep is affecting students' behaviour, thinking and learning. Try Googling 'sleep student attainment'.
Consistency and assertiveness
The punishment itself seems less important than your consistency in expecting a rule to be obeyed, and your assertiveness when talking to students or punishing them when you have to. Assertiveness is not the same as hostility. It is linked with 'dominance' mentioned earlier and means that when you deal with class management you are firm, unemotional, matter of fact, unapologetic, confident and business like. It often includes a reminder to the student that you are implementing agreed class rules, not personal dictats. Being hostile angry or very strict is less effective, and may suggest to students that you are losing control.
Imagine you are dealing with a student who has been persistently talking. You have warned her that if she talks inappropriately again, you will move her. Despite this, she continues to talk. You could get angry, sarcastic and over-strict at this point. But it is more effective to be assertive:
Proximity and eye contact. Walk up to the student (proximity), with a firm upright posture, and fix them with eye contact . There should be little emotion in your voice or face. Just a business like confidence.
Ask for what you want in a decisive manner, act as if you mean it, and expect to be obeyed. The pitch of your voice should not be shrill, only slightly raised.
"I want you to move next to John now."
"But Pete started it"
Listen, but use the broken record. Listen to such legitimate objections.
It sometimes helps to repeat the objection to show you have listened as below. However do not accept denials, blaming or other arguing unless a genuinely strong case is made. It is the student's duty to keep the class rules despite difficulties. Repeat what you want.
"Even if Pete did start it, you should not have talked again. Please move now."
"But that's not fair"
(This process of listening, perhaps acknowledging what was said, but then repeating what you want continues as long as necessary. This is sometimes called the 'broken record'.) You remain firm unruffled and business like.
"We all agreed our class rules are fair. Please move."
Defer discussion but require obedience. If the student persists tell them
that they are wasting valuable class time, and must continue this conversation after the class. In the meantime they must move. Repeat this once if necessary very firmly.
Withdraw. If they still don't move remind them that defiance is a very serious
There is a list of responses to inappropriate behaviour in Teaching Today 3rd edition, pages 117-8
offence and that they must see you after the class. Walk away to signal the dialogue is now over. The student might now move. If not, seek guidance from tutors and class managers; defiance is a health and safety issue as they might not even stop doing something dangerous when you tell them to.
Use Discipline Plans. If a student does not respond to assertive behaviour like
this and problems persist, consult tutors and managers. Sit down with the student in a private one to one situation, and draw up a 'Discipline Plan' Allen. T (1996)
State the relevant class rules and explain why they help everybody learn and help create a happy classroom
Ask the student why they have a problem keeping the rule(s) and what would help them keep it better. Stress that the rule must be kept despite the stated difficulties. Ask them to become a team player so they are accepted by the team. Stress that they have choices and set these out:
"If someone talks to you at an inappropriate time, you can either respond or you can ignore them. Which is best?.... What is hard about ignoring them? What could we do to ensure you do ignore them?.... "
If it helps you or them, state how their behaviour makes you feel, and how it affects others students.
Ask for a detailed solution, and listen.
If a solution is not forthcoming suggest your own. "I think it would be better if you sat up at the front with Jackie and Peter."
Set a target in concrete terms with consequences if it is not met, but also with an incentive if it is met. "Okay so you sit with Jackie and Peter and if you can't stop talking out of turn, I will sit you by yourself. If you do stop talking for two weeks, I will let you choose where you sit."
Put the plan in writing, consider asking the student to sign it and signing it yourself. Let the student have a carbon copy.
Monitor the plan every lesson however briefly. Give the student credit for any improvement, even if they don't meet goals, however reluctant you might be to do this.
See the 'FATE' approach in 'Teaching Today' p 523-4 which might help.
Some writers have suggested that difficulties with classroom management should be raised democratically at class meetings. See Marzano (2004) page 81.
Teachers can call meetings, but students can also ask for them
Everyone sits in a circle
Names are not used, the purpose is to discuss issues not people
The teacher or a student acts as chair to ensures the meeting keeps to the topic under discussion
Minutes are written and posted on the board
Class meetings are sometimes held in conjunction with students keeping a journal. Here they record the behaviour of the class in general, and their own behaviour in particular.
On page 2 of this chapter we saw that your 'mental set' has more effect on reducing disruptions than agreeing class rules; dealing with disturbances directly; or using 'carrots' and 'sticks'. There is only a small number of studies to guide us, but these reduced classroom disruptions by 40% on average.
Mental set is closely related to the common sense notions of 'having eyes in the back of your head' and 'keeping your cool'. There are specific strategies below, which are fairly easy to implement. 'Mental set' describes an attitude or approach to classroom management that falls into two parts: 'withitness' and 'emotional objectivity'.
Effect sizes are from Marzano (2003)
Number of studies
Average Decrease in number of disruptions
Mental set consists of:
Having a heightened awareness of what is going on in your classroom and responding very quickly to actual and possible disruptions.
Keeping an emotional distance between you and classroom events, and thinking about your emotional response to them.
This is a term coined by Kounin (1970) meaning awareness of what is going on in every part of your classroom, and a quick response to disruption. This is important as it deals with another vicious cycle.
A student misbehaves
e.g. talks or hits
The class notices this behaviour is not dealt with. So they realise they could get away with it too.
The teacher does not notice, or fails to react
In your direct control
Misbehaviour in the class increases
Other students respond e.g. talk back, or hit back
Withitness strategies nip this cycle in the bud. This stops misbehaviour spreading, and makes it more likely you correctly determine and deal with 'who started it'. It also prevents students gaining any prolonged satisfaction from misbehaviour. For example when students talk out of turn, if you usually step in before they have even completed their first sentence, then they get little out of their misdemeanour, so it is less likely to be repeated. If however students can often enjoy talk for a minute or so before you do anything about it, then talking becomes worth the telling off.
When working with small groups or even individuals, orientate yourself so you face the rest of the class. Periodically scan the class. Try to get eye contact with as many students as you can. This is easier to do from the edges of the classroom than from the middle.
To begin with you might need briefly to stop what you are doing with the group or individual to scan. But very soon you will be able to scan and help students at the same time.
The moment you notice a disruption , or better something that might escalate into one, make your attention known. Fix the offending students with eye contact, and if necessary walk over to them. Stay near them a bit (but keep scanning the rest of the class from time to time). Proximity and eye contact are often enough to stop disruptive behaviour in its tracks. Sitting on, or at a student's desk and looking at them stops almost any disruption!
If you can't get eye-contact use their name: 'Paul?'. When Paul turns round sustain eye contact for a few seconds. If he knows what his is doing wrong, then an explanation is unnecessary, even if he says 'what?' in that innocent tone. Very early in the year you may not know all their names, if so say 'Oi!' sharply. However it really helps with this strategy to know names.
Suppose you are talking to the class and one student starts talking. You could use their name as described above. However, another strategy is to wait for complete silence before starting teacher talk. The moment a student starts talking, stop talking yourself and look at the student. This is pretty startling for the student and they usually stop right away. Wait for complete silence again, and then continue from the beginning of the sentence in which you were interrupted.
If you do this for a few lessons students usually tire of trying to talk when you are.
Use non-verbal reminders and commands
Once you have attention and eye contact with an offending student you can:
Stand to attention with your hands on your hips to signal displeasure
Put your finger to your lips to ask for quiet
Shake your head slowly to signal disapproval
Wave your hand in a hello-like gesture but with a frown to signal 'stop it'.
Point while clicking your fingers or with a stage cough to signal 'stop it'.
Point with a straight arm and a stare to show greater displeasure
Try combinations of the above! My favourite is the straight-armed point and the slowly shaking head. That nearly always got a satisfactory response!
If all this seems strange behaviour, arrange a visit to the classroom of someone who is good at classroom management, perhaps someone with a coaching role in your institution. They will almost certainly use such strategies. Remember the aim is to stop misbehaviour almost before it has started, so long-distance communication like this is vital, or you end up sprinting round the classroom like Linford Christie.
Consider the activities that can potentially lead to disruptions in your classes, for example:
Students collecting materials from the back of the room
A transition from group discussion to teacher talk (students tend to continue talking)
The former may be avoided by arranging to have the materials given out. Alternatively the disruptions may be reduced if you stand by the equipment, or if you let only one student per group collect them etc.
It may not be possible to avoid the transition from group discussion to teacher talk, however a little thought might lead to a better way of managing it.
Reminders and warnings
Before a potentially disruptive activity remind students of the relevant rules. "Remember, while I'm explaining listen, no talking, and hands up for questions."
Setting goals before teacher talk really encourages students to listen as explained in chapter 16 and on page 7.
Walk round the whole classroom, using plenty of eye contact, and verbal interaction with students. Keep to the edges rather than the middle of the room as explained under scanning above.
See 'Teaching Today' for more detail on withitness.
This approaches attends to the following possible vicious cycle.
In your direct control
You express anger, and may overreact, and so appear less in control
Students feel angry, and resentful. They are less respectful of you. They may even enjoy your anger
Students are more likely to behave badly
Many teachers take misbehaviour as a personal attack upon them and so get angry or depressed. But the students who misbehave in your classroom probably misbehave in everyone else's. What has worked better than anger in experiments is for the teacher to remain unemotional and matter of fact, especially when dealing with disruptions. This does not mean aloof or distant. You should be alert, businesslike, firm and unapologetic. But you must avoid showing anger or frustration even when you feel it. This makes you appear more in control, and makes you impossible to 'wind up'.
Monitoring your thoughts about students
Remember that students may well be dealing with difficulties at home, and be tussling with negative attitudes towards education due to a poor experience in the past.
It is important to recognise your own anger and frustration, so seek solace in talking things over with colleagues, friends or family, and get plenty of exercise. This helps rid the blood of "stress hormones" which makes you feel much better. So does laughing, so take a break to watch 'The Simpsons'. If a day has been particularly difficult, seek out someone to talk to about it, and give yourself a reward in some way. See Chapter 50 of 'Teaching Today' 'How to teach and remain sane'.
Discipline is not your sole responsibility, if there are persistent problems get the matter raised in meetings. If course teams or institutions can agree a consistent approach to these issues, this can help greatly. It is certainly not reasonable to expect you to suffer alone.
Don't take the behaviour personally. The students probably misbehave
in other people's classes too. Poor behaviour is often due to influences such as poor parenting, alienation from education due to a curriculum that does not allow the student to shine etc. unfair treatment by other teachers etc. None of these are the student's fault.
Don't hold grudges. When misbehaviour of any kind occurs, deal with it in
a calm, straightforward firm but fair manner. Remind the student that you are just sticking to the agreed class rules. Then wipe the slate clean. Refuse to bear grudges. Treat the student exactly like everyone else, or even better by using strategies 2 and 3.
The effect of good behaviour on student achievement
It is no surprise that students learn more in orderly classrooms. Professor John Hattie has statistically combined and summarised research to find the effect of appropriate behaviour in the classroom, with the attainment of the students. He finds an average 'effect-size' of 0.71. This means that on average, improving student behaviour can improve their learning by a grade and a half. (This is a GCSE or an 'A' Level grade).
We have seen that classroom management techniques can improve student behaviour, but can they improve student achievement? Marzano's meta-study, the main source for this chapter, shows that attempts to improve classroom management have an effect size of 0.52 on student achievement. This means that on average students did a grade better in assessments due to the improved classroom management techniques.
Hattie and Marzano's Effect sizes
Number of studies
The influence of appropriate student behaviour on achievement
Marzano: Effect of experimenting with improved classroom management techniques on student achievement