23rd October 2009 at 01:00
I teach a chatty Year 6 class. How long should I give pupils to settle down at the start of a new term? I've granted them a few weeks' grace so far, but how can I get them to start knuckling down?

Picture your students sitting in neatly aligned rows. Their eyes are fixed on you as you speak. There is no scuffling. There is no noise. Seem unlikely? As the term wears on, it becomes increasingly hard to enforce good behaviour.

For reception teacher Samantha Meadows, the idea of a smoothly-running classroom is becoming increasingly elusive. She spends a large portion of each day having to reprimand children for unruly behaviour. "It reduces teaching time and causes me incredible stress," she says. "I know I should have spent the first school day going over classroom rules, but I had countless other things on the agenda."

There are positive alternatives to continually battling with a class who are not meeting your expectations, especially when you are several weeks into the term.

"Although the first few lessons often set the tone for the rest of the year, setting out classroom rules to pupils at this stage should not create a major problem," says Marina Angadi, education director at The Twist Partnership, a consultancy that offers professional development for teachers. "I suggest the teacher goes in and spends one lesson getting the children to understand three to five basic class rules."

Communicate your behaviour expectations clearly and explain why students need to abide by the rules, says Mrs Angadi. The "because I said so" response gives the impression that the teacher is being arbitrary - pupils may be more inclined to break rules that make no sense.

The key is to keep pupils engaged by involving them in the rule-making process and being consistent and clear about behaviour policies, she says.

"It is important that rules are specific and phrased in a positive way. I find that a useful rule for low-level disruption is 'follow instructions' as this covers a lot of things such as 'listen now'."

The teacher should also reward pupils when they show the behaviour that is required of them. "The teacher should develop a hierarchy of rewards, for example praise, stickers and good phone calls home," says Mrs Angadi.

It is also important to devise a hierarchy of consequences for those times when pupils don't follow the rules, says Mrs Angadi. "These should be things that are not too painful for the teacher to implement, for example a warning, one-minute detention, note in homework diary, phone call home. However, the warning stage is important and should not be omitted."

When it comes to children who decide to break the agreement, Paul Dix, lead trainer at behaviour management consultancy Pivotal Education, suggests you develop a simple set of stepped consequences that you apply every time without emotion. "Create consistency and certainty by tackling one routine at a time and making it clear that 'in this classroom we do it like this'," he adds.

Setting targets is a useful way of giving children incentives for good behaviour. "Mark a target that they are aiming for by the end of the lesson and connect it to a small reward," says Mr Dix. "Let them see your pleasure in their compliance, your passion for their appropriate behaviour and your persistent search for children who are doing the right thing."

Once you have prioritised the behaviours that you want to tackle, and efficiently contracted a new routine with the children, there are certain useful ways of making sure good behaviour persists. "Post the new routine up on large sheets on at least three walls of the classroom and start a tally on the board," says Mr Dix. "Relentlessly teach the new behaviours that you want to see and mark up each time you catch children following the agreed routine."

You could also experiment with alternative teaching methods in order to encourage good behaviour. "I've learnt that the more a teacher varies their methods to get all types of students involved, the fewer behaviour problems they will encounter," says Miss Meadows. "One of my students often disturbed his classmates. When I gave him the chance to move around, by having him come to the board or allowing him to tap out the rhythm of a poem on his desk, his behaviour improved. Being flexible and making compromises often brings success."

Next week misbehaving in PE.

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