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How and when to lay down the law

Good conduct in primary classes is crucial for effective learning. Sara Bubb explains how this can be achieved.

Without control, you can have little impact on children's learning. Considering how much time and energy is spent on managing behaviour, it gets comparatively little attention in initial teacher training and continuing professional development. Many teachers learn the hard way - through bitter experience.

In preparing to teach a class, we rightly think hard and long about the curriculum. Too often, however, when planning lessons, we imagine a straightforward class, whereas reality is often different. To make teaching and learning successful, you will need to plan for how you are going to manage behaviour, too. Here are some ideas.

First, be clear in your own mind about the behaviour you want and what you will not tolerate. This seems obvious, but people who go into teaching tend to be kind and sensitive - being strict doesn't come naturally.

You need to be clear about your expectations and boundaries and convey them to the children. If there aren't any, children will see what they can get away with. Often teachers with the highest expectations have the most well-behaved classes.

Discuss with your pupils what the rules for the smooth running of the class should be. Ask everyone (adults and pupils) in the class if they agree with them. Phrase them positively, perhaps as promises: "We will be kind to each other"; "We will listen when an adult is talking". Display them centrally, perhaps with illustrations. Refer to them continually, predominantly in a positive way: "Well done, you're doing rule 3"; "I'm going to be delighted if everyone sticks to the rules today".

Reinforce the rules with praise. Use the school behaviour policy as a starting point. Give praise liberally. This takes a mind-set that can be hard to develop. When your instinct is to tell off the children who are messing around, remind yourself to praise those who are doing what you want. The chances are that this will have a positive effect on the naughties who will stop messing around without further input from you.

However, make sure that your praise is justified: don't say work or behaviour is good if it isn't. If you use rewards, give them fairly and for a good reason. Find a manageable system that works for you and your class. Rewards can become counter-productive if they take up valuable teaching time or cause arguments.

Ones that I've seen working well include: favours such as first out to play, sitting on chairs instead of carpet, being monitors, staying in to tidy; stickers; stamps; smiley faces; minutes of golden time; marbles in a jar towards some class treat; names on Stars of the Day chart.

There also needs to be consequences when children break rules, though if there is a great enough emphasis on praise and rewards, this will happen rarely.

Think of a range of responses to misbehaviour that avoid you shouting and screaming - actons which are tiring, undignified and often futile. Design a system where the consequences become progressively worse for repeated or severe rule-breaking, such as:

* praising others;

* non-verbal communication - standing next to them, glares, tuts;

* verbal admonishment;

* separating children;

* name on board or red book, up to three times;

* official warning;

* time out in the classroom for three minutes (use a sand-timer);

* losing minutes off playtime;

* sending to another class for five minutes;

* sending to deputy;

* sending to headteacher;

* letter home.

Once these systems are in place, you need to use them consistently. For instance, if one of the rules is that children should put their hands up when they want to say something, you must not accept, let alone respond to, someone calling out. You are breaking a rule and encouraging children to do so. Soon everyone will be calling out!

Your classroom needs to be organised to minimise fuss and wasted time. Everyone should know where things are kept. Clear classroom procedures are essential. Think about how children are going to get and put away their books, pencils and other resources.

What are the procedures for moving from the carpet to tables, lining up, going to the toilet, tidying, etc? These things need training, practice and reinforcement. Build in time for managing behaviour and procedures - don't just concentrate on the curriculum.

Finally, and very importantly, plan and deliver your teaching well. Even the most angelic of children will misbehave if they are bored, so make sure the work is interesting and relevant.

At the start of a session, give them the big picture of what they are going to be doing and why. Aim for a brisk pace that involves all the children in looking, listening, doing something, talking, answering questions.

See the lesson through their eyes. Do they really want to be sitting on a not very comfortable carpet for the 15-minute text level work and the 15-minute word level work? Perhaps they could move to their tables for the latter, or even practise writing their phonic blends with chalk on the playground.

Think creatively about what will produce the most learning. Plan activities for the children that are not too easy or hard and which can be completed in the time available. Give them time reminders to help them stay on task and work hard. This will give them a sense of achievement, and you another opportunity to praise - a virtuous circle!

You will need to maintain your class behaviour policy constantly. This takes time and effort, but it is worthwhile. You will be able to teach more effectively and the children will learn more. And, best of all, the classroom will be a happier, more productive place.

Sara Bubb teaches primary PGCE students at the University of London Institute of Education and runs courses on monitoring teaching and induction there and in LEAs.

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