15th January 2010 at 00:00
I have a bright but disruptive Year 8 group. I am thinking of having a whole-class meeting to discuss how their behaviour can be improved. Is this a good idea?

Sometimes, a simple chat is more productive than heavy-handed retribution. Yet at the same time, it is almost like walking a tightrope. Children tend to get defensive when they are accused of something, but also feel personal guilt if a teacher tells them that there is a problem. Whole-class discussion can be a good idea, because disruptive behaviour affects all pupils, regardless of their degree of involvement.

Dr Bill Rogers, a discipline and behaviour management expert, thinks a whole-class meeting could give pupils an opportunity to have a shared voice and perspective. "It can also provide the opportunity for problem solving and a fresh start," he says.

Removing reprimand from the situation and turning it into a class activity will achieve more than singling out individuals for punishment, he believes. "The meeting can be conducted `in the round', so pupils can `see' each other," adds Dr Rogers. He also suggests having a few simple published rules, such as: "one at a time", "we listen to others" and "respectful language - no put-downs or cheap shots".

Strong emphasis on inclusion means any ultimate action you take is less likely to backfire. "Let the pupils know that you will have a meeting to `discuss some concerns about behaviour and learning in our class'," says Dr Rogers.

One poster on The TES forum has used the whole-class approach before and found it to work well. "I presented them with this: `We can't go on this way. You are a great group of people but you are getting yourselves a reputation that will go with you throughout the school of being a group that can't be trusted to behave properly. Do you want to continue like this?' and then I asked them for suggestions on why previous approaches were not working. They came up with interesting ideas in terms of actions and consequences, and class-chosen rewards."

However, she admits that this was a bright and chatty class and there are some classes where it will not work. "They just took the pee and didn't care about behaving in a civilised fashion towards each other, but if you have got a class of basically good kids . it can work on occasions."

Not surprisingly, some teachers are still concerned about taking such action. "The disruptive class is more likely to be the result of the actions of one or a few people within it, and not the whole group," says Steve White, a teacher in a secondary school in Leeds. "It may be counterproductive to tar all with the same brush - or it would seem that way to manymost pupils even though that was not the intention."

But if, as in this case, it is more than just a small number of individuals, the whole-class approach can be effective. Tom Bennett, The TES's resident behaviour expert and teacher at Raine's Foundation School in east London, says: "A few miscreants can be squashed at leisure, but a large group needs strategy."

However, it will require careful planning and prior support from colleagues to succeed. According to Dr Rogers, there are three questions to consider in any type of discussion: what is working well at the moment and why; what is not working well; and what do we need to do to change things so that we have a class where we can learn well, feel safe and where we show respect and fair treatment to one another?

If these provide the foundations for debate then a 30-minute meeting can achieve a lot. Dr Rogers adds that you should introduce it as an exercise to help the class understand shared rights and responsibilities, and not offer an opportunity to "hector, lecture or harangue".

But while a whole-class discussion will foster trust, Mr Bennett emphasises the importance of teachers telling pupils what they need to do if they want to remain the authority in the classroom.

"Until pupils start teaching us how to behave, we need to remember that no matter how unpleasant it feels to be strict and rigorous, the kids need it," he says


- Plan what the class will discuss.

- Consider holding the meeting "in the round" so that it does not feel like a lecture.

- Establish a few ground rules.


- Move so far into group discussion territory that you lose your authority.

Next week calling home.

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