Crime and punishment regime founders;Briefing;Research Focus

9th April 1999 at 01:00
The Norwegian humanitarian approach is a surer way of motivating difficult pupils, says Paul Stephens

The "e" in "ebd" - the emotional part of emotional and behavioural difficulties - is the one letter that is often overlooked in English schools.

In England, pupil disaffection triggers a behavioural response from teachers - punishing the offending behaviour. At best, sanctions lead to resentful compliance. At worst, they produce counter-attacks.

In Norway, the thinking and practice behind classroom management are based on humanistic principles. Teachers place more emphasis on praise than punishment and focus more on the "e".

Teachers in Norway, assisted by on-site counsellors, respond to misbehaviour by talking problems through with unruly pupils. Norwegian educationists know that coercive measures do not work. Compassionate measures feel right and, importantly, produce better results.

Case-study investigations in senior high schools by myself and fellow researcher Age Hultgren provide tentative evidence that Norwegian teachers value a class-management style which is consultative rather than authoritarian: "indulgent persuader" as opposed to "sergeant major".

Moreover, campus, ministry and chalkface cultures all support non-combative styles of class management.

Such is not always so in England and Wales, where, as Ted Wragg (TES, February 19) wryly notes, politicians and teachers adopt the language of warfare. Ted, of course, is a campus-based teacher-trainer who opposes bellicose measures. His views are the norm in Norway.

Last year, a government-backed national study of teacher responses to pupil misbehaviour found that best practice was characterised by "initiatives which supported pupils and adopted a problem-solving approach - talking to pupils outside the classroom, praising desired behaviour, extra help and encouragement for individual pupils, and class discussions on why things go wrong".

Comparative empirical data show that Norwegian teachers usually encounter less pupil misbehaviour than teachers in England do. Norwegian humanitarianism may therefore be more effective than English disciplinarianism.

Professor Terje Ogden, who led the national study and who recently drew up a set of classroom-management guidelines for the Norwegian Teachers' Union, has reached some conclusions:

* Difficult home circumstances do not inevitably lead to pupil misbehaviour. What happens in the classroom is important.

* Effective classroom management is characterised by "structured teaching, pro-active behaviour correction, and crisis back-up when all else fails".

* Social skills should be taught as part of the school curriculum.

* Good classroom order is based on "minimal effective intervention".

I have seen such minimal interventions during my many visits to Norwegian classrooms. Teachers prefer unobtrusive ploys such as dropping an inattentive pupil's name into the dialogue - "Did you get that last point, Magnus?" They also ensure that the pupil's attention is directed to the desired behaviour - "I need you to listen carefully now" - rather than the misbehaviour.

Lest some might accuse him of producing cookbook recipes, Ogden says that there is more to classroom management than tried-and-tested strategies. Teachers need to develop a style that is in tune with the school's organisational culture. Like their pupils, teachers too need to be socially (and emotionally) intelligent.

Paul Stephens is an associate professor of education at Stavanger College, Norway

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