Basic Principles of Classroom Management

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Unit 1: Basic Principles of Classroom Management

Basic Principles of Classroom Management

Students learn best when their minds are engaged and their bodies are moving. People learn through experimentation with the real world, rather than by memorizing a list of rules. This statement has implications for the design of instruction. Learning opportunities should be based, as much as possible, on real tasks and rich environments, and include opportunities for reflection and application.

Management Versus Discipline

Video and Journal by an American teacher

We all know that discipline is good, particularly self-discipline.  In our opinion, the best kind  of discipline is self-discipline. We have often seen, however, that teachers (particularly new ones) resort to harsher discipline for students who are un-engaged and misbehaving. 

Here are four factors that often contribute to out-of-control classrooms: 

Problems arise when teachers fall into the four traps listed above.  The information we are providing in this section focuses on this last area: the effective learning environment and structure. Research shows that "discipline" is the primary concern of beginning teachers and an ongoing issue that creates "burn out" for maturing teachers. Teachers who are successful in classroom management do the following:

Why Do Students Misbehave?

Behavior problems are caused by many factors.  What you see in the classroom can be limited to three areas.  You can recognize them when you see them:

Fear: We are referring to fear of the material, of the teacher, of fellow students. Students express it in various ways; it is up to the teacher to read the signs. A climate of fear can be created. This includes a fear of being struck, embarrassed, and/or excluded. Our responses are simple: children should never be hit, under any circumstances. They should also never be belittled or treated with lack of respect.

Flight: The students you do not remember, or the ones who seem quiet in class, are often the ones who suffer the most in social situations. They know how to hide or leave difficult situations. We often refer to this behavior as "flight" because it describes students who tend to remove themselves from the interactions in the classroom. In other words, they "flee" the classroom environment because they feel uncomfortable in it. Since students cannot physically remove themselves from what is happening in the classroom (with the exception of serious behavioral problems where students - especially older ones - get up and leave during class or skip classes), they often employ strategies that allow them to reduce their presence in the classroom. Some students pretend that they are absorbed in taking notes or working on a problem in their notebook to avoid being called upon and participate in class, for example. They do not understand the material or have no interest in what is being taught/discussed, and instead of asking a question the way an engaged student would, they stay silent and will often pretend that they are doing work because they know that the teacher is less likely to ask them a question if they appear to be on task. Some students, when asked if they understand the material, will state that they do, when in fact all they are doing is deflecting attention from themselves, hoping that the teacher will move on to someone else.

Students who find classroom situations stressful (because they do not have any friends in the class, or because they just have no interest in being there, or because they are exceptionally shy) are quite likely to blame themselves for all their shortcomings, which causes even more disengagement from the class, their peers, and the teacher.So, the role of the teacher in regards to classroom management must also extend to identifying such students and creating the kind of learning environment where they will be encouraged to participate and to "risk" engagement and learning. All too often, teachers tend to assume that students who appear to be working or who stay quiet are one less problem to worry about - often, the opposite is true. A good teacher will ensure that all students participate and feel comfortable asking questions, seeking clarification, admitting that they do not understand, and interacting with their peers and the teacher.

Fight: Disruptive students intimidate their teachers. Their behavior may be confrontational or aggressive. They are often attacked themselves, either at home or in their community, and this is often all that they know. They may withdraw from classroom interactions or, more commonly, may be openly hostile to the teacher or their peers - this is their way of asserting control. Often, the reaction of the teacher - whether anger or punishment - makes the situation worse.

Common Behaviors and What You Can Do

Behaviors and Limits from Day One

Here are some simple yet effective management techniques to establish on the first day of class:

This simple strategy will increase the students' awareness of how often and how deeply they are listening to you or others when speaking. It does it in a way that does not put any one person on the spot to have to actually say back what was said. However, it does let the class know that you're all working towards deep listening no matter who is speaking. It also gives students the confidence to know that when they speak, their voice will be heard. This is tremendously important for creating an environment in which students can feel safe to share their thoughts.

The Rest of the Year:  Firm, Fair, and Friendly

Effective classroom management can be summed up in three words: firm, fair, and friendly. Keep these in mind.

Lesson Plans are Scaffolds

Another important tool that ensures successful classroom management is effective lesson planning and scaffolding of curriculum material so that students are engaged and challenged in class. Students who feel engaged and motivated are much less likely to be disruptive or to stop paying attention - if we take the time to ensure that they are motivated, students will want to actively participate.

Scaffolding is a term that one would normally associate with buildings - the structure outside that allows workers to move around and construct the building. It is also a way of providing these same workers with materials so that ropes and ladders can haul building materials to higher and higher levels. Without a proper scaffold, the building can become faulty, subject to collapse from its own weight or from a natural disaster. In short, the building will not last.

We must think about education in the same way. For lessons we teach, we must create a scaffold - a set of steps, a structure, a set of tasks and expectations, a way of determining if we are on the right track, and if the structure is sound and strong. This requires that we feed that structure with the materials and resources we need. In designing a lesson, we should think about a scaffold.

Is the project motivating? Will students want to climb that ladder?

  1. Can the students see what this building will look like? Are the directions clear so that students can imagine that they will be able to climb that scaffold? Teachers should provide a model of what the project should look like, just as a builder creates a model from the design. The example model should not be too ambitious or impressive so that students do not feel that they could not accomplish something similar themselves.
  2. Will students know where to find answers? Will they have to rely only on the teacher, or can they rely on themselves, textbooks, each other, the Internet, or outside experts?
  3. Will the scaffold design ensure some level of success? If the students are putting so much work into the project they should feel confident and competent about their efforts. Otherwise, students will be greatly disappointed. In other words, have you designed this project so that students will finish it knowing more than when they started? Will students be able to show their results with pride? Will their "building" look like the model you presented?
  4. Will students be able to accomplish this task within a reasonable amount of time? They might feel failure if they are not able to see the results on a regular basis, day by day.
  5. Will students also learn how to learn? Will students gain new skills as a result of this project - skills that they can apply to new problem-solving situations?

If you plan your lessons effectively and take into account the importance of scaffolding, you work to ensure student buy-in and motivation, which will, in turn, minimize classroom management problems. In short, students who see value and meaning in classroom work stay focused and engaged.

Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource. fred. (2008, June 13). Education for the New Millennium. Retrieved May 04, 2010, from TWB Courseware Web site. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
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