Monday, 28 May 2012

Classroom Control and the Persistent Pathway to it

One of the key learnings from my current (and final) teaching placement has centred around classroom control. You don't have to be a long-term teacher to know that without control of your class, it is infinitely more difficult to teach. If you have control of your class then it is not only easier to teach, but you can engage in infinitely more teaching opportunities and activities which under less civil conditions would not be feasible or safe. However, the extent of control that each teacher deems necessary varies significantly. A very accurate post on the signs that you are losing control of your class can be found here. In short, it outlines the main warning signs as:
  • Lateness and slowness in settling down for the start of lessons  
  • Rudeness
  • Lowering achievement
  • Taking things to far
I would add a few more indicators to that list:
  • Calling out
  • Continuing to talk when you are clearly waiting for silence
Obviously, all of these things can happen on any one day from any few students and it does not necessarily mean that you have lost all control. However, if these were regular occurrences from a fair number of my students, I would begin to increase my focus on behaviour, either class-wide or in relation to particular students, until they improved.

Two teachers who I have witnessed on placement and volunteer rounds (one in a particularly rough area) had established brilliant classroom environments. There were clear classroom procedures, eg hands up, and in the morning there was 5-10 minutes of quiet reading prior to the first lesson's commencement. I find in particular that classrooms with this strict morning routine operate more calmly throughout the day than ones where the teacher needs to wait for children of various unpacking speeds to settle to then commence their first lesson. After all, the children who take longer while they are getting ready for the start of the day are missing out on their own free choice quiet reading time, which is something many students really enjoy, especially when they are allowed to read in pairs.

When questioned on how they implemented such perfectly obeyed routines and rules, the common thread of both teachers was that they are very strict on behaviour throughout the first term of the school year. To put it bluntly, they hammered their classes until the behaviour was to the required standard. That meant picking on almost everything that was out of line, using their tone and stares to great effect, requiring pinpoint accurate margins, etc. Gradually, as the class met their standards, they could then loosen their grip and permit some more lightheartedness into their class.

In my experience, this method of initial strictness works much better than when teachers allow their expectations of the class to ebb and flow such that students become confused when their teacher expresses disappointment at behaviour that was for the whole of the previous week allowed to occur without any disapproving comment. Persistence and constancy, I think, are the keys to the control that you must have to be able to engage in a productive and enjoyable year of teaching.

Even if you are entering a class with this near perfect behaviour halfway through the year or as a student-teacher, you too need to enforce those standards to ensure students see you as someone with equally high expectations. Students will always adapt their behaviour and standards to the teacher and they can sense very innately those teachers who will allow certain things to slide and those who will not have a bar of it.

Positive reinforcement is also a major aspect of the well-functioning classrooms that I have witnessed. Even something as simple as stars and class claps works much, much better than negative deterrents like keeping kids in at recess. By the same token, saying "Well done! Very impressed by how quickly that table packed up!" instead of saying "Hurry up!" to the stragglers generally proves to be far more productive.

How do you establish and maintain control in your classroom?

No comments: