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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

This is the second part of a six-part entry. Start with the introduction.

"They come into my room shouting, wandering around, and talking to one another. During class, they put on makeup, text message one another, and talk over me. And they jump up to sharpen pencils when I'm in the middle of teaching."

Is this a familiar scenario?

Start with an easy thing to teach. Assume that the kids just don't know what to do. When you reprimand a student and she whines, "What did I do?" she may be genuinely unclear on expectations.

Have you posted expectations for procedures and behaviors in large, visible print? Have you explained the nuances of class routines, and have students had an opportunity to practice them? Do they know how much time you've allocated for each procedure?

Students often misbehave because they don't know what you expect of them. Especially in secondary school, teachers presume that students know how to behave. Don't assume that they will know or even share any of your expectations for procedures, routines, or behaviors. Spell it out, break it down, break it down some more, write them up, post them, and practice them. Go over these expectations for months.

Students need you to be extremely explicit. For example, don't just say, "Pay attention when I'm talking." You need to say, "When I am talking to you, your eyes need to be on me. Your torso needs to be straight, with both feet on the floor under your desk, head supported only by your neck, not hands. If you want to say something, you wait until I am done, and when I ask for questions or comments, then you raise your hand and you wait for me to call on you." I know this sounds militaristic, but students need this level of instruction. They welcome it (with scowls on their faces).

Or say, "When you walk into this room, you go directly to your desk. Put your backpack under your seat. Take out a pencil and paper and start the Do Now assignment. There is no talking at this point. If you don't have a pencil or paper, then sit silently. You have three minutes to do the Do Now. At the end of this time, I'll collect your work. The Do Now work is worth 15 percent of your grade."

The following are just some of the procedures for which you need to define expectations:

  • What do I do if I need help?
  • What if I finish early?
  • What if I need a pencil or paper?
  • What if I was absent the day before and don't know what to do?
  • What if I forgot my book?
  • What if I need to talk with you about why I didn't do homework?
  • What if I need to blow my nose?
  • What am I supposed to do in a group discussion when another student is talking?
  • What's the procedure for asking a question? Going to the bathroom? Sharpening a pencil?
  • When can I leave the room? What is the dismissal procedure?

During the beginning of the year, you'll probably need to define and go over expectations constantly as you introduce new routines.

If, at the very least, you consider that most student misbehavior is coming not from malice but from confusion, you will be empowered. Your students really want to learn, they really want to be good, and they really want you to like them -- even the big kids. Especially with middle school kids, don't be fooled; inside that almost-adult-size body with the raging hormones is a scared little child.

In the next entry, we'll look at what you do when kids are good. But in the meantime, especially if you teach secondary school, ask students to bring in a photo of themselves from kindergarten. They were most likely very cute at that age. Put it on your wall. It helps for you to remember the cute little kid inside all the defiance and acne.

Please share your thoughts so far, and check back for the next part of this entry.

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notebooksdriver's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

"They come into my room shouting, wandering around, and talking to one another. During class, they put on makeup, text message one another, and talk over me. And they jump up to sharpen pencils when I'm in the middle of teaching."

Peggy Lorge's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

One thing that we did as a school is to develop a classroom expectations plan that all teachers and students follow. There is a lot of research on Positive Behavior Plans especially through the University of Missouri- Columbia. Ours focuses on respect and responsibility.

If students do not behave when they enter the classroom, they need more instruction on the behavior. All students leave the room, line up in the hall, and enter the classroom. If one student is not entering correctly, they do it again until they do. If this is a problem, they all or just the ones that need more training come for lunch detention and practice. It will take the first 2 weeks of school to go over the rules, but they will learn and it will become a positive expected behavior. If one in the class does mess up, then the behavior must be retaught. When there is bad behavior as sharpening the pencil while teacher is talking, then you have to stop and use that bad behavior as an example of what not to do.

The key thing is to keep it up and it will be frustrating at first, but using 10 days at the beginning will give you 170 classes of 90% to 100% learning later. That is better than 180 classes of 25% to 50% teaching and learning. Also after the first year or two, students will be aware of your expected behavior before they enter your classroom and it does get easier. You will not need two weeks, but a portion of the class periods for the two weeks.

As I have a lot of at-risk students, you have to know when students are upset when they enter, and you have to take them outside the class, talk with them and bring them back in. Students have to know that they can come back to the class when they are ready to learn.

Lela Woods's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Active listening and communication is a key to success. Community building series called "Focusing Together" is a fantastic program, easy to use daily guides and activities for the first few weeks of school or after break 'new year'/ 'new ideas' lesson. Research based with dramatization cards and black line masters for designing the classroom expectations WITH the students. Teachers with good management skills do this almost effortlessly. Many of us need help and this is short, direct, explicit instruction for teacher and students alike! Also behavioradvisor.com is a fun and very inspiring site to visit. lela

Tia Odom's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Procedures are very important but more importantly being consistent with your procedures is one thing that will keep your class in order. At the beginning of every year I spend the first two weeks exclusively on procedures with my second grade class. Then I always refer to them and have the studetns make sure that everyone is following them. Although they may never say it, children like and need structure. They may get a little out of control sometimes but with a little redirection they will be back on track.

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