I have recently read Robert Marzano’s Classroom Management That Works. It was an interesting read. He exposed some weaknesses in my approach and highlighted some things I am doing quite well. In my opinion, behaviour management is by far the most important thing to focus on at the beginning of one’s career. I think a lot of teachers settle for ‘good enough’ without working towards absolutely outstanding, flawless behaviour. I have a long way to go, but I hope that by sharing some of the things I do in my classroom, others may benefit and share their nuggets of gold too. Here I reflect on some of the things I am doing well in light of Marzano’s research.
Entering the room silently
When young students come back off the playground, they are wound up and full of energy. In order to get their state of arousal down to an appropriate level for learning, I have my students enter the room in silence.
When they return, they need to stand along a wall in a specific way. They should be able to feel the wall on their back and their hands by their sides. Being specific about what they should be doing (not just ‘stand on the wall’) helps the students self-regulate (Can I feel the wall on my back?). Tracking me with their eyes starts straightaway – they all need to keep their eyes trained on me until we enter.
To give students ownership over this routine, I pick a ‘secret spy’ who will choose someone they think is following the routine well to receive a point. I usually begin my lesson within 30 seconds of entering the door.
After instruction on the carpet, a transition to the tables for deliberate practise is necessary. I have found a routine is much more effective than just letting them walk back to their seats. All I have to do is say the numbers 1, 2, 3 outloud. The students use these are cues.
1 – students stand up
2 – students move to stand behind their chair in silence
3 – students sit down and begin work
I always scan the room for 30-60 seconds giving out points where necessary to ensure students get straight down to work. No time is wasted.
When a student breaks a rule that adversely affects property (scribbling; messy work) or somebody else (hitting; being mean; not following a procedure) then I have the student overcorrect their behaviour. If a student scribbles on their book, they rub it out and rub out any markings on a pile of other books. A student who has said something mean to someone at their table will apologise to that student for being mean and also apologise to everybody else at the table for disturbing their learning. If a student decides to break a routine or procedure, then they will say sorry in front of the class for slowing them down. All the others chorally reply “that’s okay Bob, thank you”. This gives students a powerful sense of responsibility for their own actions and has helped to eliminate all of the nonsense behaviours like scribbling.
The why of overcorrection is narrated strongly. Students are pretty happy to do it because they know why the rules and procedures are in place and they know why saying sorry or fixing their wrongs is important. Let me be clear: this is not public shaming. If a student really does not want to overcorrect, then I do not make them. Instead, we have a quiet conversation about what went wrong, what we could do better next time and why saying sorry to others may be a good idea. This balances out my dominant role in the classroom with an appropriate level of cooperation.
Going over-the-top with praise
The opposite of overcorrection: when a student does something well, I make a huge deal of it. When a student completes their point chart (10 points) I basically throw a ceremony. The other students make a small ‘congratulations card’ (they all know how to spell it) and line up to shake the child’s hand and present the card. A round-of-applause follows. Students who are caught doing the right thing are chuffed when I have them stand up so we can big them a big WOOSH! (1…2…3 WOOSH!). I’ve even taken students to the staffroom to announce how well Toby used his manners, and continued to mention it everyday to the class for a week. This goes a long way to establishing a culture of good behaviour. Habits are made this way.
Practise everything over and over again
Every routine, procedure or rule is spoken about and practised on a regular basis. As soon as one student does not keep up in the line, we walk back to our starting point, discuss the procedure and try again. Later in the day, I will practise the procedure again to reinforce the behaviour I want to see. 5-year-olds forget things easily. Being reminded of what to do helps them a lot. Often, the students end up nominating someone to remind them of what to do. I just watch. This is true for a number of procedures, such as handing out materials and changing the calendar.
Schedule time for less structure
A full day of strict rules, routines and procedures is tough for a five-year-old; therefore, i think it is important to schedule less structured, more relaxed times in the day. For example, during eating time, students talk freely at their tables and tell silly jokes to each other while waiting on the carpet to go outside (most aren’t that funny, but every now and then…). At the beginning and the end of the day, we have sharing time – no tracking required, nor perfect sitting (end of the day only). And of course, we have lots of play. Play has its own set of rules, but it’s much less structured. These times are important, but need to be distinct from learning time.