New Teachers

More Positive, Not Punitive, Classroom-Management Tips

April 29, 2013
Photo credit: iStockPhoto

This article is adapted from Larry's new book, Self-Driven Learning: Teaching Strategies for Student Motivation.

In the previous excerpt from this book, I shared some specific strategies for positive classroom management. Here are a few more.

Reminder of Moral Values

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely found in one experiment that if people are reminded of their moral values, they are far less likely to cheat. In his study, they were reminded of the Ten Commandments.

A variation of this study can be applied if a teacher knows that a substitute will be coming the next day. In less than a minute, a teacher can remind students of the expected behavior, say that he or she would like to be able to trust them, and ask students to raise their hands if they'll commit to the expected behavior. Similar exercises could be used before going to a school assembly or a computer lab.

In my experience, I have always found a clear difference in student behavior between when I do this kind of reminder and when I do not.

Light Touches

Studies have shown that a supportive touch on the shoulder can result in a student being twice as likely to volunteer in class than if he or she did not receive that touch. Library users who are touched rate the library more favorably, and people dining at restaurants who are casually touched by waiters or waitresses feel more positively about their experience and leave higher tips. And numerous other studies suggest that touch can have additional positive cognitive effects.

Further studies have shown that a light touch on the upper arm can increase compliance substantially, and two light touches can increase it even more.

Of course, teachers have to be careful using this tactic, but a quick shoulder touch should be doable for many.

Choice and Ownership

People are more motivated when they have more control over their environment. In an experiment documented by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, which has since been repeated many times, half the participants in a lottery were given random numbers. The other half were given pieces of paper and could write whatever numbers they wished. Researchers then offered to purchase the tickets. They found that they had to pay those who wrote their own numbers five times what they had to pay those who were given numbers. In other words, experiments have found that having the ability to choose for ourselves makes us five times more committed to -- and invested in -- the outcome than if someone else chooses for us.

A different and very recent study reemphasizes the importance of choice in the classroom for most students. Researchers found that power and choice were interchangeable, since both deal with the issue of control; having more of one could compensate for having less of the other.

There are many things we can do in the classroom to help our students feel like they have power -- for example, involving them in decisions on issues like seating or even room arrangement. But those efforts can appear tiny in situations where students are immigrants whose parents moved them to a new country or come from low-income families and feel they have little power to confront multiple economic and social challenges.

However, in addition to our possibly feeble efforts to help engage students in feeling powerful, we can certainly emphasize offering choices -- the kinds of homework they have to do, the types of presentations they can organize, the essay topics they can respond to, and so on.

The payoff can be students who are happier and more open to learning and to accepting challenges -- not to mention an easier classroom-management situation for the teacher.

Another recent study seconded this endorsement of choice. Students in Texas were given the choice of two homework assignments covering the same material. The researcher wrote: "When students were given choices, they reported feeling more interested in their homework, felt more confident about their homework and they scored higher on their unit tests."

You can never have too many positive classroom management strategies in your "back pocket." Feel free to share your own in the comments section below.

This article was adapted and excerpted with permission from Larry Ferlazzo's Self-Driven Learning: Teaching Strategies for Student Motivation, © 2013 Eye On Education, Inc. Larchmont, NY. All rights reserved. More information about this title is available here.

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