And the secret to a quiet, well-behaved class is...

14th June 2014 at 07:00

The class is in chaos. You decide you have no choice: actions of mass classroom disruption demand a weapon of mass bad behaviour destruction and, as a teacher of some experience, you feel you have the experience to wield this particularly mighty behaviour management tool with the care and control required. So you reach down and, hands steady, you place the guinea pig on the desk.

You may laugh at the mere thought of doing this. After all, what chance has a miniature fur ball that looks continuously surprised to be alive got against 30 rebellious pre-teens? And yet, according to recent research, that guinea pig may well be one of the most effective behaviour management tools at your disposal.

The research, investigated in this week’s edition of TES, comes from Australia and is the work of Marguerite O’Haire, from the School of Psychology at the University of Queensland. In an eight-week study of 130 students aged between 4 and 12, 64 of whom have autism, she found that having a guinea pig in the classroom resulted in students having better social skills and improved behaviour.

However, it’s not just guinea pigs that can whip a class into shape. Michal Motro, a senior lecturer at the Institute of Pet Assisted Education and Therapy at the David Yellin College of Education in Jerusalem, says there are plenty of other animals that have been shown to keep bad behaviour at bay in schools, including snakes and rats.

So what have these animals got that teachers don’t have? Well, disappointingly, the academics are not exactly sure. The key, says O’Haire, may be biophilia.

“We grew up around animals and nature, but in today’s society we spend all of our time inside buildings, surrounded by technology and we rarely interact with anything living [other than other humans], so when we are around [an animal] we’re drawn to it and it has a soothing effect on us,” she explains.

Time, then, to reintroduce those once-ubiquitous classroom pets that used to rule over primary classrooms. Once installed, teachers can just sit back and watch the behaviour problems disappear faster than a rat up a drainpipe (note: if you choose a rat as a pet, we accept no responsibility for losses of said rat up drainpipes).

Read the full story in the 13 June edition of TES on your tablet or phone by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up in all good newsagents.

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