Six ways to a calmer classroom

You might have a talent for conveying the know-how of algebraic equations, and your knowledge of the periodic table may be second to none, but if you can’t manage a class there’s no way children will learn. Andy Vass, trainer and former government behaviour management consultant, shares some invaluable ideas for success:

Organise things to prevent misbehaviour
Great teachers deliberately do things to make it less likely that children will misbehave. Here are some key suggestions:

  • Make sure the curriculum is relevant, interesting, accessible and diverse. Remember to alter the pace of your teaching to break up the monotony.
  • Have clear logical routines and seat plans. Make sure that children can easily access resources.
  • Learn children’s names, meet and greet them, show interest in them. Make a point of knowing one of their interests, and speak to them outside of the classroom.

“Seating plans are key,” says Sarah Petter, Year 1 teacher and lower school leader of Park Walk Primary School, Chelsea, in London who uses them for the carpet area and for literacy and numeracy hours. “Rules are drawn up with the children and displayed in the classroom, and they are very clear about sanctions,” she adds.

Use the language of choice
The language of choice is in contrast to the language of demand. If you demand something of someone, for example, saying: ‘If you don’t stop talking now you’ll be in detention!’, you’re actually allowing them two options:

  • Resist the demand and create temporary conflict
  • Accede to the demand (and lose face)

Whereas the language of choice places responsibility for behaviour with the child, for example, a teacher says: “If you choose to interrupt again while I’m explaining this you’ll receive a warning. Make a better choice. Thanks.” Crucially, this approach acts as a bypass to the natural ‘resistance principle’, which occurs when we are told what to do by someone else. But, if the child continues to talk, the sanction can be applied as a logical consequence to their inappropriate choice.

Effective teachers regularly smile, give thumbs up, or say thanks to point out and reinforce when children make appropriate choices.

Be specific and descriptive when offering praise
Praise on its own doesn’t point out explicitly the things children have done well. By adding description, the teacher gives a clear direction for how further positive feedback can be obtained in other similar contexts. This gives a sense of control to the child. For example, a teacher that says: “This group has allocated the jobs to do and are sharing resources and recording their results. That’s really effective work. Well done!” is is more effective than the one who comments, “Well done this group.”

Use positive language
By this we mean language that describes success and avoids use of the word ‘don’t’. A key principle in positive language is simply to describe what you want children to do rather than what you want them to stop doing. For example,. “Can you stop talking and pay attention”, becomes “Carl, I need you to put your pen down, look this way and listen. Thanks.”

The simple rationale is that our brains cannot process negative statements. Try this: don’t think of a banana (to do this you have to picture a banana first!)

If you use positive language children are less likely to resist, and, because it is said in a pleasant and respectful tone the child is more likely to follow the instruction and want to experience more of the same.

Establish clear structures and processes to set expectations
Use the widely known ‘4Rs’ framework:

R Right to be safe, to learn, to be treated with respect - these are mutual

R Responsibility to act in a way that protects mutual rights and to be responsible for our own choices about our behaviour

R Rules are operational descriptions of behaviour that support mutual rights. For example, “Follow instructions willingly”, protects the right to learn, teach and be safe

R Routines, such as entering and leaving the classroom, handling equipment

“Sharing learning objectives with the children is a good way for children to know what is expected of them,” says Imogen Stewart, Year 3 teacher, of Park Walk Primary School, Chelsea, London, who also draws up ground rules for behaviour with children at the beginning of the year.

Use reflective listening skills
Teachers should use the opportunity to show that although they understand how a child is feeling or thinking, they do not necessarily always agree. Validating children’s feelings prevents children feeling upset or frustrated because at least their view is understood. For example, a child isn’t concentrating on their work and is keen to go over to the art table instead. The teacher recognises this and says: “I know you would prefer to go over to the art table now, but I need you to concentrate on your work and get it finished. Thanks.”

Andy Vass is co-author of ‘The Behaviour Management Pocketbook’ (Education Resource of the Year 2005), and other titles. He has worked in education for the past 31 years as teacher, headteacher and latterly coach, trainer and consultant. Andy has worked as a consultant to the DfES and co-written national training materials in behaviour management and leadership. He has contributed to the Government’s National Behaviour and Attendance Strategy.


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