Praise is the key to tackling bad behaviour

23rd November 2007 at 00:00
Disruptive pupils need to have classroom etiquette rules reinforced, writes Adi Bloom.Teachers should tackle poor behaviour by clamping down on shouting out in the classroom, insisting that pupils do not ask or answer questions without permission. And they should be careful to praise good behaviour as well as good academic work.

Jeremy Swinson, of Liverpool John Moores University, studied 20 secondary teachers responsible for more than 300 pupils. His results were published in the journal Educational Psychology in Practice.

The teachers advised Dr Swinson in advance which pupils they considered to be challenging. While three-quarters of all pupils were on task during lessons, this figure sank to fewer than two-thirds among those seen as disruptive.

Proportionally similar numbers from both groups talked during lesson time or were inattentive. But the pupils seen as challenging were more likely to shout out in class, disrupting the lesson for their peers.

Dr Swinson said: "Shouting out disturbs their concentration, is difficult for a teacher to ignore and therefore requires some action." He believes teachers should tackle the shouting out if they want to ensure productive lessons.

Several previous studies have suggested that praise is the best way to gain pupils' co-operation. The aim is to ensure they associate school with a sense of achievement rather than with constant criticism.

Dr Swinson found that teachers did praise challenging pupils considerably. However, most of this was for their academic work; they received virtually none for their behaviour. And teachers still criticised them when they misbehaved so any positive feedback in the classroom had little impact on those with poor discipline. Disruptive pupils received a disproportionate amount of teacher attention overall.

This, Dr Swinson says, is often counterproductive: less attention is given to the rest of the class, who are negatively influenced by their misbehaving classmates.

"It is clear that the teachers in this study were not adopting a style of pupil management that was likely to improve the behaviour of the most difficult-to-teach pupils in their class," Dr Swinson said.

He suggests that teachers adopt a more direct approach, addressing the problems of pupils who shout out in class and disrupt the lesson. There should be a constant emphasis on the importance of putting up hands to ask or answer a question. This should be reiterated whenever pupils shout out, even if they have the correct answer. Similarly, teachers should make a point of praising pupils who do raise their hands in the expected manner.

Dr Swinson concludes: "No one would doubt that teaching pupils who display challenging behaviours can be extremely demanding, both in terms of professional skills needed to deliver successful lessons and in terms of emotional energy needed to deal with such demanding pupils. By using carefully targeted, praise-based strategies, the appropriate behaviour of all pupils, including those with challenging behaviour, can be successfully improved."

How to deal with pupils who call out

- Teach all pupils to raise their hands when asking or answering a question.

- Stick to this rule even when a pupil shouts out the correct answer.

- Look for good behaviour among pupils, especially potential trouble-makers, and be sure to praise it.

- Do not ignore disruptive behaviour but respond with a reminder rather than criticism. For example, your response to a pupil who shouts out should be: "Remember to put your hand up when answering a question."

- Plan the lesson well so pupils are engaged and interested.

Source: Jeremy Swinson

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Adi Bloom would like to hear from anyone working on research they think is relevant to TES readers. Please email

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