Managing children’s behaviour has increasingly become a topic of interest and debate over the past decade. Nonetheless, the notion of how to manage students’ behaviour in schools has been around as long as there have been schools. Indeed, behaviour management has been and still is the chief concern of educators across countries. When students do not behave, they learn less individually, and at the same time prevent their peers from learning. In fact, the difficulty faced by teachers in managing student behaviour is cited as a crucial factor in relation to teacher burnout and dissatisfaction (McKinney 2005).
What is behaviour management?
According to Porter (2000) behaviour management has two meanings. The first is to prevent disruptions proactively; the teacher meeting the children’s needs, these being educational, social and emotional. The second definition states that behaviour management is proactive intervention that the teacher does in order to get his or her pupils to display acceptable behaviour. Behaviour management is crucial in ensuring an adequate climate for learning as well as illustrating how effective school systems can be in managing classroom behaviour.
Upon taking a closer look at the approaches to behaviour management it becomes clear that teachers have adopted different techniques. Despite many different theories existing on behaviour management, one common theme is positive management that emphasises the need to teach children how to behave appropriately. In other words, making them aware of their rights and their responsibilities. Each teacher has their own behaviour management strategy suited to their personal teaching style, however, it is important that all teachers have some sort of behaviour management programme in place. A programme that is structured in a manner that allows them to have control over their class whilst also providing a stimulating and productive learning environment. The work of Lee and Marlene Canter (2001) is very much focused on using positive response to encourage and teach children how to respond and behave in different situations. Discipline rests on how the teacher responds to misbehaviour and it is up to the teacher to keep students in order during class. The principles are basic; teachers are to promote positive behaviours by continuously demonstrating what is expected behaviour, implementing classroom rules, and using rewards and sanctions consistently.
In view of these principles, it must be noted that consistency is key. Consistency will not only pave the foundation for the teacher but also allows pupils know where they stand, which as a result leads to a positive learning environment. In order to achieve a positive learning environment, it is crucial to set classroom rules for the children to be able to incorporate aspects such as differentiation. From my personal experience, I feel it is essential to create an atmosphere of high expectations from the pupils from the first lesson and to uphold those expectations. This is because even if a lesson consists of creative activities, successful learning does not take place if pupils are not listening to the teachers’ instructions. Thus while giving instructions for activities during my teaching I insist on silence. Nevertheless, one must consider that silence does not necessarily mean that the students are listening actively; so asking students to repeat the instructions using the no hands up questioning technique is an effective way of checking.
Moreover, it is also essential to be fair to students through the use of rewards and praise. Teachers must remember that behaviour management does not only consist of sanctions but also rewards and praise. One of the key aspects of the assertive discipline model is that teachers should provide positive consequences to show students that it is to their benefit to behave appropriately. Throughout my initial teaching practice, with challenging classes, praise was sometimes forgotten. This is because it is easy to focus on children with poor behaviour and marginalise pupils who are working to the best of their capability and deserve praise.
On the other hand, it is not only strategies of rewards and sanctions that are important within behaviour management. It is often the case that even with strategies in place, behaviour can still be an issue and it is essential for teaches to consider and reflect upon other reasons why students may misbehave. Kounin (1970) argued that to achieve meaningful behaviour change ten concepts needed to be considered. One important concept within his theory is group alerting, which involves making sure students are paying attention and then providing them with specific instructions on what they are supposed to do (Martella et. al, 2011, p. 16). For example, I always insist on silence when giving instructions to the class to make sure all the students know what they have to do. Nevertheless, one must consider that silence does not necessarily mean that the students are listening, so to confirm that everyone was actively listening, I ask individual students to repeat the instructions using the no hands up questioning technique, meaning that all students need to be alert.
Another key concept of Kounin’s (1970) model is student accountability, which entails keeping students involved in the lesson (Martella et. al, 2011. p. 16). Student accountability is important in behaviour management because when the students are involved in lessons there will be less opportunity for them to misbehave. Many teachers may believe that this is a challenge when teaching grammar, for example. Nonetheless, one effective way is to ask the students to devise a grammar rule and explain that rule to their partner (Appendix H). The pupils can then receive feedback and explain the rule to the teacher who can confirm and consolidate their learning. Likewise, challenge arousal refers to teachers showing enthusiasm and using a variety of activities when teaching students so learners have a positive recollection of the lesson (Martella et. al, 2011, p. 16).
Furthermore, it is often easy to forget to provide a variety of activities as teachers worry that with challenging classes this may result in students misbehaving. However, if a teacher uses the Canter (2001) model of assertive discipline by providing rules and consistently following through with these rule students can generally be trusted to take in the information despite its greater substance. During my teaching, I initially feared that implementing kinaesthetic activities might result in chaos with lower sets or challenging classes. However, it is interesting to witness that in fact behaviour is less of an issue when kinaesthetic activities are involved such as looking for vocabulary for an exercise around the classroom.
It is evident that in order for teachers to achieve positive learning environments, they must determine the fundamentals such as rules and expectations for successful behaviour management. Once high expectations have been set, it is important for teachers to continue with those and remember that behaviour management is not merely based on sanctions and punishments but also praise and reward consistently. Lastly, it is essential that teachers are enthusiastic and use a variety of activities to motivate and engage their students to establish positive behaviour. Invariably, once students have a positive outlook on lessons they will be more encouraged to learn and less inclined to misbehave.
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Canter L and Canter M (2001) Assertive discipline: Positive behavior management for today’s classroom. (3rd ed) Seal Beach, CA: Canter
McKinney S E, Campbell-Whately G D and Kea C D (2005) Managing Student Behavior in Urban Classrooms: The Role of Teacher ABC Assessments, The Clearing House, 79, 1, 16-20
Porter, L (2000) Student Behaviour: Theory and Practice for Teachers. St Leonards, NSW: Allen and Unwin
This article was originally published in the International School Magazine May 2017.