George Lucas Educational Foundation

Readers' Survey 2007: Most Effective Mode of Classroom Discipline

Edutopia readers weigh in on their favorites.
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Gold-star stickers for all of you who said the best way to keep students in line is to keep them engaged. We salute the fundamental, sound humanity in that approach (much more appealing than the cat-o'-nine-tails). But how to capture children's mercurial attention? You suggested project-based learning, group work, and interactive lessons instead of lectures. Of course, if those fail, you could follow the advice of one not-to-be-messed-with reader: "Talk louder than they do."

Other popular responses read like a prescription for the ideal classroom: rewards, positive feedback, a culture of respect, honest conversation, consistency, and a strong student-teacher rapport. And then there was the slightly mysterious suggestion made by an educator who may be reliving those heady Jefferson Airplane years: "Incentives -- I use white rabbits."

Our Take

An Attention Getter's Menu

It sounds so simple: Just engage the kids, and they'll behave. As any educator can tell you, though, sustaining engagement is an elusive goal. Everyone who succeeds probably does it differently. To provide a few examples, we asked staff here at The George Lucas Educational Foundation which teachers and lessons so engaged them that they still remember them years later. Hands-on learning, and teachers with passion for their subjects, emerged as themes.

One colleague recalled a fourth-grade game called Rapid Calc, in which her teacher created a virtual baseball diamond in the classroom and students advanced from base to base by doing quick math. Another remembers studying the history of ancient civilizations by helping create a language, an architectural style, a piece of art, and a myth. For Editor in Chief James Daly, the key to holding his interest was humor. He looked forward daily to attending his high school art class with Mr. Miller, who had a flair for the funny. "If you didn't learn something, at least you got a laugh," Daly says. "Most times, you got both."

NEXT PAGE OF READERS' SURVEY: Best open source software for education

2007 Readers' Survey Index

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Cathy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The most effective form of discipline I've found is building relationships. The old adage, "Children don't care what you know, until they know you care," is usually true. Some of my most defiant students have been much better behaved in my classroom then in other classrooms. The secret... I simply asked them if they would stop whatever behavior it was, as a personal favor to me. Children know when you care about them. Teachers can't fake it. It is also true, however, that teachers who care about their students usually provide engaging lessons that are relevent to their students.

Any feedback is appreciated!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

For the past five years, there has always been one student in my class who really gets me going. I always try and remain positive with the students. The part that gets the most frustrating is when you are trying to read a story and a student is fooling around or not listening. I treat my students the way I want to be treated. I attended a workshop on Responsive Classroom, and I have been trying to implement it in my classroom for the past few years. It works with some, but not all. Every child is different and we just have to remember that everything affects them. From what they ate for breakfast, if they ate breakfast, if there best friend is absent from school, mom and dad fighting or not sleeping last night. All these situations affect their behavior in the classroom.

Joy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I've used this for several years and although it required a shift in my thinking, it also caused a shift in the long term attitudes and actions in my class. You can get more information here:

Kelli's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have been struggling with classroom management issues since I started teaching. I am currently in my fourth year of teaching, but have taught at four different grade levels. Last year I taught sixth grade, and this year I am teaching kindergarten. Obviously, discipline changes quite dramatically from sixth grade to kindergarten. I spent a lot of my summer thinking about a classroom discipline approach that focused on positive reinforcement and logical consequences. My students have the ability to earn school-wide recognition for good behavior or kind acts. We call it "Caught Doing Good" and we are building a school caterpillar, the student's name gets written on the caterpillar piece as well as their kind act and it gets added to the caterpillar in the hall. A note also goes home so they get positive reinforcement from their parents.

The other piece of the management program are the logical consequences. Each student has their name written on a bee and they move their bee to various levels for each misbehavior. For example, moving their bee to yellow is a warning, orange is a time out, red is a time out and loss of 5 minutes of recess and a note home, and black is a time out and loss of all recess and a note home. The parents have been supportive so far of these discipline approaches. However, as others have commented, this system does not work for all students. One in particular this year has been a real challenge and she moves her bee on a regular basis.

Any comments or insights would be greatly appreciated! Thank you!

Kelli's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I recently went to a conference on the Response to Intervention held by the Maine Principal's Association. The conference focused on how to implement a systematized approach to discipline and documenting the various strategies attempted with children who misbehave. Response to Intervention is based on a three tiered model. In Tier 1 are your regular education students, those who accept and abide by the school and classroom rules and participate in the regular, whole group instruction in social areas. In Tier 2 are those students requiring specific social skills training, perhaps in a small group. Tier 2 is also comprised of those students requiring self-management plans and school based adult mentors. In Tier 3 are the students that require intensive academic support because their disruptive behavior effects their academic progress. Also, Tier 3 students need individualized behavior plans and possibly their parents are provided parental counseling or parenting classes. The key to all these tiers is the documentation of all the strategies attempted with each student to keep track of their progress through the tiers of intervention. It was very interesting that there is finally a state supported effort to intervene and help those students who are stuggling socially and emotionally, and to help their teachers deal with and change those students' behaviors.

Sara's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with you that relationships are very important to students. If they know that you care often they will take the "risk" to allow you into their lives. Kids do know if you are "faking" it and want to be cared about even if they act like they don't. I also see in my classroom those student who can't behave or learn in other classrooms can behave and learn while in my room.

Brenda Buffington's picture
Brenda Buffington
Seventh Grade Reading and Language Arts teacher from TN; Walden Student

I agree that forming relationships with students goes a long way in preventing and dealing with discipline problems. Making a point to let students know at the beginning of the year that I will do whatever it takes to help them be successful gives students the confidence to come to me with problems. Unfortunately, it doesn't prevent some of the bad decisions that middle students make. When my students make decisions that affect their behavior and their academic future, I just try to regroup and remember that I can only do my part in changing the climate of our school.

Arline's picture
High school math

I believe in creating engaging lessons and involving students....but...right now I've got one class that has about 1/3 of the students who will not participate. I was doing a lesson in graphing where students would physically act out shifts in the graphs. Other classes laughed and had a great time...but in this class....the third all said, "you're kidding," and 'this is dumb" and "I'm not doing that!". They managed to negatively pressure others into not participating. there is little parental support and no fear of administrative write up.
I've personally addressed each of the problem students several times.
They don't care that I care. I've been to guidance and school social workers. My focus has been on minimizing the impact of the third
and trying to concentrate on the two thirds. The energy needed to maintain composure, balance, and positivism is EXHAUSTING.

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