It's normal for children to test boundaries, both in and out of the classroom. "Children invariably talk out of turn, run rather than walk, daydream rather than listen, test your authority, rather than acquiesce meekly...and generally question your every utterance," explains Gerard Gordon, author of "Managing Challenging Children." However, dealing with constantly disruptive pupil behaviour is stressful for the teacher and for those pupils who are keen to learn and get on with their tasks. Effective classroom management strategies will help you create a calm and productive learning environment for all pupils.
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Agree upon a list of classroom rules with your students at the start of a new term or at the beginning of a new academic year. Have children tell you how they would like others to treat them in the classroom and how they should look after resources and keep themselves safe. Simplify their statements into one-word affirmations, such as "I use a quiet voice in the classroom" and "I handle books with care," and add further statements, if needed. Prepare a poster that lists about ten behaviour affirmations in an easy-to-read font alongside pictorial cues, and then place the poster within clear view of pupils. Refer briefly to the poster each day to remind children of their agreed classroom rules.
Expecting the best
Teacher expectations set the tone and atmosphere in every classroom environment. "Whatever you pay attention to will increase in both quantity and quality," says Gordon. Each day, tune your awareness towards noticing even the smallest appropriate behaviours and pay minimum attention to inappropriate behaviours. Gordon recommends taking a moment to decide the level of a child's behaviour before taking any action. At level one, a child is on task. At level two, a child's behaviour is off-task, but undisruptive to other pupils. Ask yourself, "Is this behaviour stopping me from teaching, or any child from learning?" If the answer is "Yes," the child's behaviour has reached level three, or a level of disruption that warrants appropriate and immediate attention.
An environment for learning
Label classroom resources and place them within easy reach of pupils. Explain tasks clearly and write key instructions and key words onto a white board. Provide trays for finished work and unfinished work and workcards that describe additional tasks for children who finish their set tasks before the end of the learning session. Organise seats and desks according to the nature of your lesson. For example, if you would like the whole class to listen to your instruction or to work independently, arrange seats so that everyone faces the same way. For group work, organise seats and tables to accommodate an ideal group size, such as four or five. For a circle time discussion, arrange seats in a circle or half circle and discreetly seat the most distractable pupils nearest to you.
Rewards and consequences
Linking children's positive behaviour to an external "pay-off" or reward system "increases the likelihood that behaving appropriately will be linked internally with feeling good," explains Gordon. Issue rewards to children immediately, rather than waiting until the end of the lesson when the moment has passed. Gordon recommends making rewards cumulative and co-operative. For example, issue group points for co-operative team work and the promise of a further reward, such as a free choice session, once the group has obtained 10 group points.
Operate a system of consequences for disruptive behaviour that uses the language of self-responsibility, rather than the language of control. Ensure that children understand the system of consequences, such as completion of extra written work during class break time, and if a misbehaving child ignores your warning, tell him that he has chosen to receive those consequences for his disruptive behaviour.
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