George Lucas Educational Foundation
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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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Linette's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What do you do when you have a group of 7 8 year-old boys that are bullies. When they are very competitive and believe they are the best things ever? No amount of positive or negative reinforcement works. You can take recess away, have them call home, and/or send them to the principal, but nothing curbs their behavior. They are a distraction and are outright obstinate.

Tarrah D.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach 6th grade and at the beginning of the year I pass out student expectations and consequences to all the students. We read each expectation and I explain exactly what I expect. I send a copy home for parents to sign and send back, also a copy for them to keep at home. I post one in my room too. It takes about the first six weeks to get my students on my routine and following what I expect. I still may have 1 or 2 that for what ever reason just can't seem to follow rules. These students are usually the ones looking for attention. With them, I redirect and move on. One important trick I have learned is that idle time is not good. Idle time causes trouble. So it is important to have students continuously working with no down time. If there is down time, be sure to have a plan "b."

Elena's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with you about idle time! Idle time and transition time are moments when some kids fall apart. I think it's because they're really just not clear on what's expected of them. When I first started teaching I often underplanned -- what I expected kids would need 45 minutes for took them 20. That was when things fell apart. I learned to keep a stack of picture books close by and when I ran out of plans and had no idea what to do next, I grabbed a picture book and read to them. Thanks for raising that point.

Elena's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I understand how frustrated you must feel having to deal with such a large group of difficult boys. I know how exhausting that can be. I wonder what's going on with them that's resulting in this behavior? What are they like when they're not in a group? When one is alone with you? I'd try to do a little exploring of who they are, individually to start with. As hard as it might be, what positive qualities does each one, individually, have? Try to find one thing you can appreciate about each one. I know it's hard though when they can be so difficult. But I think you're going to need to know them better in order to change their behavior....Do you think they can change? Maybe start with your own assumptions about why they are behaving this way. Also, it might help if you can talk to their previous teachers, other staff members who know them -- get some on-site support for yourself. Good luck,

Allison B.  's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I want to add on to what you said Tarrah. I teach at an ITI (Integrated Thematic Instruction) modeled school. One of the biggest differences in what we do is have procedures and not rules. I don't post a list of rules, but at each learning club (tables of 4-5 students) I have a small photo album with my procedures listed. I was told by an ITI coach, if you want them to do something a certain way, have a procedure for it. Students help make the procedures too because class dynamics change from year to year. These procedures books are at their disposal. I can tell them, "Check the procedures," and they do. We also have common "family" procedures for the school (hallway, lunchroom, dismissal). At first I was skeptical. But now, it is the only way that I can see managing my classroom.

Tracy 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It is amazing to me how much different it is to teach procedures in the middle school versus the elementary school. I thought my principal was crazy when she said to spend the first whole week or so discussing expectations and going over procedure. We did not switch classes until the second week of school. I now know why we had to spend so much time on procedure. Procedure is so vital to the success of a classroom. Many of the procedures needed to be taught in elementary school do not have to be taught in middle school. We assume they already know the expectation. Again I can't say how important procedure are.

Melissa Engman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with your thoughts about consistently teaching and reteaching classroom expectations the first 10 days of school. I was told that 3=33, meaning three consistent weeks of teaching procedures and expectations will provide 33 weeks of greater student learning. When procedures and expectations are in place, off task behaviors are less likely to be a problem.

It is also helpful to recognize problems before they become interruptions in class. Having a quick chat with students before the learning begins will tell them that you care about them and behavior problems will be less likely to occur. The 90% learning time is much greater in comparison with 25%!

Pam B.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that establishing rules and procedures at the beginning of class is extremely important. It is also important to reinforce those rules and procedures when students seem to be forgetting those rules and procedures. The 9th graders that I teach can be disrespectful and rude at times. I think that their "all about me" mentality has caused them to be like that. Some days I feel I talk more about this than the lesson that we are teaching. Communication is not just verbal, it is also how students relate to each other and to society. It has been said that it only takes 3 seconds to make a good impression. This is a skill that students need to practice and perfect.

Dianne's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

At the middle school where I teach, we are in academic teams. The five core subject teachers on each team get together and set some standard procedures that will be followed in every classroom our students enter. This helps with the discipline because there is some consistency among all their teachers. Granted, we all have a few classroom procedures that are specific to our subject area but for the most part we are consistent.

Trish Potts's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I disagree with your statement that middle school students don't need to be taught basic procedures. Each year I am amazed that students, left to their own base of knowledge, often do not automatically conform to basic classroom behavior. Perhaps it's because the format of middle school is so different from what they are accustomed. In addition, they have more freedom and a wider variety of teachers with different expectations. Adding to the difficulty is that at some point in middle school, students become far less concerned with what their teachers think of them and far more concerned with how they are viewed by peers. After many years of fighting it, I too have come to rely heavily on the model of clearly stating expectations, role-playing them, and year-long reinforcement.

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