Seven Methods To Improve Student Behavior
by Jill Jenkins
Recently I have been inundated with questions from a struggling teacher about discipline:
- Should he use after or before school detention?
- Is it appropriate to ask students to fold their arms or put their heads down?
- When should he contact parents about a student's behavior?
- When should he contact administration about a student's behavior?
- Use short engaging learning activities
- Vary learning activities and assessments
- Weave rewards into learning activities
- Make the class fun
- Classroom Procedures: Clearly Communicated and Consistently Practiced
- Arrange your classroom to allow the greatest proximity to students
- Develop a positive relationship with each of your students
#1 Use Short Engaging Learning Activities
Children have short attention spans; therefore, structuring activities into ten minute learning activities increases students' retention. When students are distracted or bored, they often entertain themselves with inappropriate and destructive behavior. The teacher should provide:
- five to ten minute explanation with a short demonstration
- followed by a five or ten minutes of guided practice
- then five to ten minutes small group or pair-share activity
- next a five to ten minute independent practice
- finally, a short assessment of learning.
#2 Vary Learning Activity and Assessments
Since the advent of the television, computers, electronic games and the internet, lecturing and reading to students have become highly ineffective methods of teaching. When teachers resort to traditional methods, students become bored, and often disruptive. Teachers not only need short lessons, but a variety of different activities and assessments. Synthesizing technology into every lesson, developing cooperative learning and project-based assignments will increase students' engagement and decrease inappropriate behavior. Granted the learning will be louder, but it will be productive noise, not disruptive noise. To determine mastery of a skill use a variety of assessments including authentic assessments. For example, a biology teacher divided her classes into groups of three and four students. Each group was given several large pieces of butcher paper and the students took turn lying on the butcher paper as the others outlined each member of the group on a piece of paper. On these outlines, each group drew the skin labeling each skin layer; on another figure, they drew and labeled the digestive system; on another, they drew and labeled the respiratory system; and finally on another they drew and labeled the skeleton. The students' creation were hung one on top of the other in the hallway outside of her room. The students were so proud of their creations that they would stand in the hall, lifting the layers of human anatomy while explaining each to each passing teachers or students. Students were teaching one another while rewarding themselves for their accomplishments. The movement and the social interaction to create their models made the learning memorable so they were more likely to retain this knowledge and their behavior was productive, not destructive. Not only did the students have a visual image of each anatomical system, but they mastered its vocabulary.
#3 Weave Rewards into Learning
One year, my team was suffering through teaching of the elements of a novel with Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. Our ninth grade students often forgot their books and seemed disinterested. Our team of teachers devised a method that worked well. We arranged our classrooms into groups of four students. Each group was given a picture of a pirate ship, asked to name their ship and color it. The ships were displayed on the bulletin board. Each group selected a captain. The captain's task were to validate that each member of his ship's company brought their book each day and was rewarded with a small plastic gem that he adhered to his ship's picture. At the end of each chapter, the class was given a short quiz. The captains collected the quizzes that had been corrected in class and if every member of his ship had a perfect score, he/she was given a second gem to adhere to his ship. Peer pressure began to make the students more responsible and more attentive. At the completion of the book, we collected all of the students together by class period in the library for a celebration. Students and teachers dressed like pirates and the groups with the most "bootie" were each allowed to select a piece of treasure from the teacher's treasure box. Providing students with frequent rewards give them greater incentive which means more motivation, greater involvement and less disruptions.
#4 Joy: Make the Class Fun
Joy is a natural state of learning, and discovery. Learning is fun, but many students don't realize it because they have had few successes in school. Failing is not fun, so they compensate by controlling what they can: disrupting the orderly process of education. As a result, teachers must make learning fun and successful for all students. Create learning activities that create joy because joy is a great reward. Write the students vocabulary words on the board and allow two students to race toward the boards armed with fly swatters to slap the appropriate term when given a definition or an incomplete sentence. Put students in writing groups to share their creations and allow each group to reward the best submission by sitting on "the teacher's magic stool" and reading that student's creation to the class. Allow students to work in groups to create film versions of their own myths and share these with the class. Allow students to dress in old clothing and throw colored chalk to celebrate India's Festival of Color. Have students create a Medieval Festival with costumes and games to understand Shakespeare more fully. Make learning a celebration of each student's accomplishments.
#5 Classroom Procedures: Clearly Communicated and Consistently Practiced
Classroom procedures can become more of a game than a drudgery. Rick Smith's book Conscious Classroom Management and his workshops have wonderful ideas to make your classroom run smoothly. He discusses using sounds to warn students of learning transitions. He suggests playing music and have students dance forward to pass materials in or out. More importantly he suggests that the teacher teach the appropriate behavior for each procedure, consistently practice the behavior and display the behavior on charts containing both words and illustrations of the behavior. For example, one area that used to drive me insane was the middle school students would try to line up at the door for excusal before the class period was over. I didn't want to lose the last five minutes of instruction time, so I was increasingly dismayed at their insistence. Rick Smith suggested I identify the behavior I wanted, have students practice it and display a rubric of proper exit behavior. In my class, the student's behavior looked like this:
- Butt in seat
- Hands on desk
- Feet under desk
- Eyes forward
At the beginning of the year, I introduced the procedure to them and had them practice while I shot pictures with my camera. I asked them what was not appropriate and took pictures of them acting badly. They loved it. Using those pictures, I created a poster with pictures and a rubric containing the directions and:
- Not Even Close
- A Few Students Ready
- Half of the Students Ready
- Most of the Students Ready
- Everyone Ready for Dismissal.
The last minute of class, I held up fingers to show the students how ready they were. Everyone knew that know was dismissed until I held up five fingers. Peer pressure works well!
#6 Get Down With Your Students: Proximity
A rich environment can enhance students' learning and desk arrangement can reduce students' discipline problems. Putting desks into pairs or triplets can allow the teacher to wander the room giving individual instruction privately to students. When a teacher kneels down next to a student close enough to make eye contact on the same level with the student, the students feel closer. This connection is important to students. Talking to the student in a whisper allows the teacher to correct the student's learning or behavior without the student loosing face. Proximity is a powerful force. Most students' misbehavior can be stopped with direct eye contact with the teacher. Others can be curtailed by the teacher moving next to the student or the teacher leaning on the student's desk. Sometimes moving a student's desk next to the teacher giving the teacher an opportunity to give that student a longer period of one-on-one interaction or what I call positive time provides that child with the positive attention he/she needs on the teacher's terms, not theirs.
#7 Build a Positive Relationship with Each Child
Developing a positive relationship with each student is another method of reducing discipline problems. Stand in the hall and greet each of your students, chat with them and call them by name. Greet each student when you see them on the playground, in the hall or in the office. It is nice to be recognized. Listen to your students to learn what difficulties they are facing, what successes they are celebrating and what is important to them. Become a link between your students and counselors, social workers or whatever resources they might need. Students are more likely to share problems with you if they feel you care about them. Be available before and after school to tutor your students. Remember the teacher is there to serve the students; the students are not there to serve the teacher. Serve them; be their advocates.
Avoiding misbehavior is more effective than punitive methods. Try these seven steps, but if a problem student arises, help that student develop behavioral goals for each hour, day of the week or week. Use positive rewards to achieve those goals. I've used candy bars, but one principal identified students with issues and offered them lunch with the principal if they could attend school one week without a referral. My grandmother use to say, "you catch more flies with honey than vinegar." That old clique is still true.