Psychology is the scientific study of the human mind and mental states and of human and of animal behaviour. Educational psychology is on its part the study of how humans learn in educational settings. Education psychology also contributes to the effectiveness of educational interventions, the psychology of teaching and the social psychology of schools as organisations (Wikipedia, 2012). Classroom management is about influencing and directing student behaviour in a constructive manner to set the stage for instruction. Educational psychology directs teachers to carry out their lessons effectively by monitoring their behaviour in the classroom.
The two major features of classroom management discussed in this work are: preventing problems before they occur and responding to difficulties when they arise.
2. Classroom Management- The preventive perspective
The motto “Prevention is better than cure” though developed by Hippocrates in the field of medicine is relevant in all spheres of life. Using strategies that prevent undesirable behaviours from cropping up is easier to manage than dealing with them when they have already occurred.
2.1 First impression, last impression
First impressions are many times lasting impressions. As teachers, it is imperative to make the most appropriate impression with the students at the beginning of every school year. It is crucial to create a lasting image (though first impressions always evolve) that helps the teacher to build positive and productive relationships.
The first thing that a student notices is the physical appearance of the teacher. So, the outfit needs to be according to the school dress code, clean and ironed. Teachers should also make sure that the hair, nails and teeth are clean. Appearances surely count in making a good first impression. Teachers should themselves set the example of cleanliness and neatness, as these two characteristics so highly expected on the student’s part. The teacher must be punctual and also be prepared for the class. She must have her own markers and other teaching tools.
Introducing oneself and getting to know the students is very important during the first contact as it sets the ground to build relationships. There should also be the right balance between the serious and humorous tone to give the students the opportunity to approach the teacher in a respectful manner.
2.2 Assertive discipline
This approach consists of establishing rules and directions that clearly define the limits of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour at the first day of school or semester.
Examples of class rules include the students to behave well towards the teacher and classmates and to be responsible towards their own learning. Classroom guidelines may then be posted on the walls of the classroom. Care must however be taken while drawing up class rules. The rules must be student- centered but established by the teacher. These rules must be reasonable, culturally sensitive and positive learning environment. Rules that are too severe or easily broken discourage the students from staying within the boundaries (Leveridge, 2008).It is also known that student- made rules are too harsh and that not all the other classmates agree with them.
Rules must be phrased in the form of positive statements. Positive rules explain what students should be doing, whilst negative ones just tell the students what to avoid. An example of positive rule is “Class time is for class activities” and its negative counterpart is “No toys or games in class”.
Rules must be stated clearly and vague terms avoided. “Follow the teacher’s directions” should be used instead of “Always use appropriate conduct”. Rules should be few. Fewer rules make each rule appear more important and are also easier to remember. Having few rules also avoids the students perceive that they are under constant surveillance.
Consequences following non- abiding to class rules need also be spelt out. Appropriate consequences are gradual, progressing from less severe to more severe as misbehavior is repeated. They should also be natural and logical. Consequences should maintain the dignity of the student. Deeper explanations on consequences are dealt with in Section 3.
During the application of Assertive Discipline, the teacher recognizes and supports the students when they behave appropriately and on a constant basis. She also lets the pupils know that she likes what they are doing. Assertive Discipline is an effective and easy to use method.
2.3 The Good Bahaviour Game (GBG)
The Good Behaviour Game (GBD) consists of dividing the class into groups. Good behaviours include actions like asking relevant questions (the Dos) and disruptive behaviours deal with actions like leaving one’s seat without permission (the Don’ts). The groups are then assigned scores with respect to their behaviour during instruction time (Intervention Central ,n.d). Winning groups are then rewarded by allocating them rewards like stars or free time. The GBG is established at particular time during the day. Care need to be taken not to stretch the game over long periods of time to prevent the students of being under constant pressure.
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2.4 Establishing daily procedures and routines
Numerous specific procedures and routines are observed on a daily basis in the classroom. Such activities include checking daily attendance, arriving late and permission to leave the classroom. Such routines should be established to ensure consistency of classroom procedures. The routines help to simplify a complex environment and inform students exactly what to expect, what is expected of them and what is acceptable behaviour. Routines allow students to quickly accomplish day – to day tasks that are required of both teacher and students. Routines also help create smoother transitions between activities and therefore allow fewer opportunities for disruptions to occur (Anon, n.d).
2.5 Discipline with dignity
Discipline with Dignity deals with teaching the students responsible thinking, cooperation, mutual respect and shared decision- making. This approach like the other preventive ones enable teachers to spend less time dealing with behavioural problems and more time on positive interactions with students and on instruction.
Discipline with Dignity becomes though only possible when the teacher takes time to build relationships with students (Delisio, 2011). The strength of those relationships can help minimize conflicts. While spending more time to get to know students, learners are more likely to want to be compliant. These relationships are made by greeting the students on entering the room, getting to know about their interests, being visible and asking their viewpoints on certain subjects. It is said that building such relationships is “Building connections for the bad times”. Discipline with Dignity is learner- centered as the latter takes his own responsibility of his behaviour.
2.6 Pacing and structuring lessons appropriately
Lessons should be paced as smoothly and continuously as possible. Effective classroom management maximises academic learning time. Lessons that are too easy are boring and those that are too difficult are frustrating. It is therefore important to find the right level of difficulty for the students. A common strategy is to begin with the more familiar content, then, moving to the more complex one. An example to illustrate this point in the science classroom on “Air pollution” is to tackle sections on smoky air (something visible) then moving to air pollution caused by carbon monoxide (colourless gas), moving from the seen (smoky air) to the unseen(carbon monoxide being colourless) makes the comprehension of the topic successful.
Lessons must also contain a reasonable amount of structure and detail to facilitate comprehension of the topic. An example to illustrate this point on “Energy required by living things”, examples of how this energy is used must be given. The teacher must provide for details like energy is needed for a person to walk, speak, breath. The energy is also needed in other processes we do not see like growth (body size, nails, hair and repair of wear and tear of tissues like wounds, cuts and bruises).
Maintaining the flow of activities is another aspect the teacher has to consider while managing the class. During classwork, when one group of students is busy making a presentation, the other groups may be attending to other activities. To prevent this situation from disturbing the class, the teacher must have an eye on both the group presentation and the others who are supposed to follow the activity. The teacher must make the students conscious that she is aware of almost everything that goes in their class. This consciousness on the students’ part discourage them from doing other things in the class like passing written messages to their classmates. The teacher’s simultaneous awareness is an effective way to maintain the smooth flow of classroom activities.
2.7 Attending to classroom space
Classroom organisation is obvious even if no one is present. Furniture arrangements, location of materials, displays and fixed elements are all part of organization. Effective teachers decorate the room with student work; they arrange the furniture to promote interaction and to have comfortable areas for working (Stronge, Tucker and Hindman, 2004).
Placing students’ desk next to the wall encourages them to lean against it and doze off. Also, desks near the window on their part cater for distraction as the students continuously glare outside. Desks should therefore be arranged in the middle of the room. Arrangements must also provide for the students and the teacher movement around the class. The teacher’s table must be on its part placed in front and middle so that she can cast an eye on everything and everyone. The teacher must be able to see everyone and everyone must be able to see the teacher.
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The way in which the wall is filled affects the mood or feeling of the classroom. Student- made posters and charts displayed in the room reinforce curriculum goals but also recognise publicly students’ work. Too many displays however make the classroom seem busy, distracting as well as physically smaller. Students’ work must then be displayed by taking turns to cope with the large number of posters produced.
2.8 The teaching process and teacher characteristics
The strategy used to teach subject content must be changed from time to time to prevent the students from getting bored. An example is by using ICT, film projection or simply doing the class under the tree in the school yard. A democratic attitude by giving the students opportunities to ask for clarifications also keeps the students with the lesson, thus reducing the occurrence of undesirable behaviours. Giving timely feedback on desirable behaviour and performance such as telling the students that the teacher appreciates their positive contribution to their own learning experience is also likely to result in smooth classroom activities. Teachers must bear in mind that feedback are effective only when they are received as soon as possible, while the experience is still fresh in the students’ minds. The principle of timely feedback is consistent with one of the principles of operant conditioning, that is reinforcement works best when it follows a to- be learned operant behaviour closely, the feedback acts as a reinforcement.
Teachers who are well prepared, knowledgeable, helpful, confidential and positive are likely to render the class interesting and her students motivated. In such environments, students are less likely to demonstrate undesirable behaviours. Teachers should thus develop these attitudes that make the classroom a pleasant one. Teachers should furthermore be aware that they are responsible to make their classroom enjoyable for the students. Teachers’ characteristics contribute in activating students’ intrinsic motivation.
2.9 Communicating with parents and caregivers
Teachers are responsible for keeping parents and caregivers informed and involved about their ward’s performance both behavioural and academic. Such communications lead to a better understanding on what their wards are doing and consequently allows them to support the students learn more confidently and efficiently. Teachers can communicate with parents through regular classroom newsletter, telephone calls and parent- teacher conferences.
3 Managing classroom when undesirable behaviours arise
Every effective teacher sets up classroom conditions to minimize misbehaviours. Despite adopting preventing approaches, minor and serious misbehavior take place in the classroom.
3.1 Ignoring misbehaviour
Teaching becomes indeed impossible when students’ behaviour is distracting or disruptive. Judging the situation, the teacher may decide to keep the instruction going while ignoring them. Any required intervention must be discrete without disrupting the class. Teachers should however bear in mind that ignoring and not noticing are different. They must always be aware of what is going on in the class but at times decide that the best thing to do is to ignore pupil’s misbehaviour.
3.2 Non- verbal expressions
Minor unacceptable behaviours are easily “nipped in the bud” by using proximity whereby the teacher just circulates around the class to get students back on task.
Body language like facial expressions, eye contact and hand signals also keep students on their task. Non- verbal expressions may also be used for time- out.
3.3 Verbal interventions
Whenever possible, non- verbal interventions must be used first. Only when these do not work that verbal interventions become necessary. “I” messages is an example of verbal intervention, for example, to deal with a noisy class, the teacher may say “When people talk while I am explaining, I have to repeat and this wastes time, and I get frustrated”. “I” messages convey indirect command in a non- blaming and non- judgemental way. “I” messages do not put the students on the defensive and students are more willing to change their behaviour.
3.4 Logical consequences
When non- verbal and verbal interventions do not work, teachers need to resort to logical consequences. Students are aware of rules and procedures and their respective consequences when they are not followed. Consequences are also arranged in hierarchy of severity. An example of light consequence may be loss of certain privileges and the most severe will be contacting families. Whenever possible, consequences should logically relate to the misbehaviour.
4 The importance of student awareness about positive classrooms
Adopting strategies to ensure the smooth running of the class is beneficial for both teachers and students. But, the fruits of these efforts are more obvious to the teacher than the learners. To reap more benefits of good classroom management, teachers must also use tactics to prove to students that academic learning time is greatly enhanced because of their active and responsible contribution to the process.
After setting goals with the pupils and getting a commitment from them to reach the goals, teachers must follow certain steps to make the learners realise the need for good behaviour. Students may be encouraged to compare their performance with their own previous performance, not with other students. The link between effort and improvement may then be pointed out. While giving feedback about performance, the teacher should focus on information not evaluative judgements. Finally, the teacher may point out that increases in knowledge or skill happen gradually by sustained effort, not because of inborn ability (Seifert and Sutton, 2009).
5 Common mistakes in classroom behaviour management
While implementing strategies to manage the classrooms, sometimes teachers make unconscious mistakes and consequently worsen the problem. Misbehaviours need to be defined by its function instead by how it looks. For instance, a student may jump suddenly out of her chair because a cockroach was crawling on her desk. Logically, such action should not be considered as a misbehaviour. Another example is two classmates who are always speaking to each other during instruction time. The teacher must look into the cause of such action, she may find out that the two of them are very good friends. So, in this case, it is wiser to change their places instead of reprimanding them.
Teachers should be flexible concerning their management approach. If a student is always passing comments on subject material, instead of asking her to “Shut up!”, the teacher may use expressions like “Oh really!” to get her on task. The key here is to try another way of trying harder.
There are many other type of mistakes that that crop up while dealing with classroom management, and for teachers to know how to deal with them wisely, she must always enrich herself through reading on the subject area. Indeed, knowledge is power not only to students but to teachers also.
Classroom management is about more than correcting the misbehaviours of students, more than just discipline. Classroom management is also about orchestrating sequences of learning activities so that everyone, misbehaving or not, learns as easily and productively as possible. Classroom management is about creating a positive classroom environment.
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