Pupils creating discord?

6th June 1997 at 01:00
Then try the way to harmony adopted by Joan Mowat's music department

There's always been a degree of petty disruption in our music department - a twanging of guitar strings while the teacher's speaking and the general hubbub of classroom noise. To try to counter this disruption, we adopted a multi-strand approach to discipline, targeting the new Secondary 1 intake. We started:

* a points scheme, setting monthly targets, rewarded by certificates for goodexcellent behaviour at the end of term;

* giving a support card to pupils "at risk" - that is, those who would find it difficult to respond to normal classroom discipline;

* weekly departmental discussion of pupil progress;

* issuing individual target cards (please do not interrupt the lessonswing on your chair) to students at the beginning of a lesson;

* asking senior pupils to help children with learning andor behavioural difficulties;

* pairing pupils - volunteer helpers assisting another pupil;

* on-going monitoringevaluationadaptation of the curriculum (including observation of lessons by all departmental staff - everyone observing and being observed using an agreed checklist);

* updating departmental policy on promoting positive behaviour;

* the normal application of school and departmental discipline procedures.

The behaviour scheme was introduced with three S1 classes, one of which was particularly noisy and unsettled. When, on his second lesson, a pupil told me he hadn't done his homework because "he couldn't be bothered", I knew I was in for a rough ride. The other two classes were enthusiastic, if a bit noisy, with one or two more disruptive pupils in their midst.

"Being considerate" was our first target for September: this was subdivided into smaller targets, such as putting up your hand to speak or not playing instruments at the wrong time.

At the beginning of each lesson the class was to remind me of the targets and, when appropriate during the lesson, their attention was drawn towards them. At the end of the lesson, each pupil who had met the targets was given a point in the register.

We set two new targets in October and November - being responsible and being orderly. And we tackled too much noise with the help of a cardboard clock with movable hands, half of it green (12-6) and half red (6-12). If the hands did not move round (that is, class behaviour was excellent), everyone in the class gained double points. If the hands gradually moved into the red, no one gained any points. Often it was enough to move the clock hands round to get the message across.

Other measures were introduced for the small number of pupils who were not responding to the scheme: individual targets; support from a senior pupil or other pupil in class; specialised materials such as simplified music and tapes; and a "support card" which proved highly effective.

Parents, guidance staff and the assistant head were told when a pupil was placed on a card and the nature of the concern explained. At the end of the lesson, a comment would be given on the pupil's behaviour and work attitude and the teacher would discuss it with the pupil. Often behaviour would not improve for a while (there was even deterioration) followed by a series of positive entries and a general improvement. When a pupil was removed from a card, the assistant head and guidance teacher would praise and encourage him or her to behave in future.

Did it succeed? All but four pupils received a certificate. Sixty-three per cent thought their own behaviour improved, 67 per cent thought class behaviour improved, 82 per cent wished the scheme to continue and 61 per cent wanted it extended to other subjects. And even the four who did not gain certificates showed some improvement. Pupils made helpful suggestions, including gems like "Why don't you say 'shut up' on the card, instead of 'Please try to be quiet'." They had a point.

I am now much more aware of the need to teach behaviour, just as we teach our subjects. I also found it was vital to carry the pupils with you, which meant involving them in decision-making. I was also aware that there was clearly a risk of an alternative culture arising (akin to brownie points for getting the belt), in which pupils who were not succeeding set out deliberately not to gain points.

But I enjoyed the benefits of teaching classes who were trying their best to be co-operative. And I became more aware of the factors which would make one class in particular difficult to handle. Most of all, it was fun watching a class almost falling over each other to prove how helpful they could be. I would not propose that all teachers rush to embrace the same scheme, but I would say it is worth being imaginative in your approach. We can all find ways of promoting positive behaviour.

The author is principal teacher of music at Woodfarm High School, East Renfrewshire

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