When I asked a room of 50 educators how many courses in classroom management they took during their teacher training coursework, an overwhelming majority reported taking only one or even none. Yet, all agreed that effective teaching and learning cannot take place in a poorly managed classroom. With the body of research growing around the importance of a strong tier 1/ universal foundation for behavior support, we now know better than ever that establishing a proactive classroom management system is essential to achieving student outcomes.
If you google “Classroom Management”, you are likely to find a plethora of articles, blogs, and books that promise to transform any classroom into a well-managed one. As a Behavior Specialist with the RSE-TASC, I tend to favor a book steeped in research: Classwide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports by Brandi Simonsen and Diane Myers.
Simonsen and Myers outline evidence-based practices that, when implemented with fidelity, are likely to increase appropriate social behavior, improve academic behavior and performance, and decrease problem behaviors in students. Let’s take a look.
— Actively Engage Students During Instruction: The practice of actively engaging students has become a favorite among teachers that attend our Classroom Management workshops and it is no surprise why: It’s fun! Research supports the use of high rates of Opportunities to Respond (OTRs) to engage students and maximize learning. An OTR is any teacher behavior (e.g., asking a question, making a request, presenting a task) that solicits an observable response from a student (e.g., verbal answer, written responses). So, what are some examples of OTRs? Providing a math problem and directing students to solve the problem on their individual white boards; asking for the definition of a vocabulary word and using popsicle sticks to randomly call on a student; posting a multiple choice question on Poll Everywhere and asking students to use their cell phones to choose the best answer; directing students to “Think, Pair, Share” about the difference between an expository text and a narrative text.
— Establish and Teach Positively Stated Expectations: We often hear the old adage, “Students should just know how to behave”. While that would be nice, it does not address the fact that sometimes students do not know how to behave appropriately because they have never been taught how to. In many schools, students can recite the “rules” (e.g., “No running,” “No yelling,” “No calling out”), but the students do not know which behaviors are expected of them. Many challenging behaviors can be prevented if a small number of positively stated expectations are posted and explicitly taught, much like we teach academic skills: through modeling, practice and feedback.
— Maximize Structure: Teaching classroom routines is like teaching expected behaviors within a particular context. To identify which routines to teach, teachers can first think about what they want their students to do in the classroom from the moment they walk in to the moment they leave. Some common routines include turning in homework, engaging in cooperative group work, and transitioning from one activity to the next. Once routines are identified, it is imperative to teach students how to complete the routine appropriately.
Arranging the physical environment to promote appropriate behavior is another way teachers can maximize structure. Think carefully about visual displays so that distractions are minimized. If you find that teachers and/or students often refer to the visual display for learning purposes, then keep it. If not, consider taking it down to reduce distractions. While there is not one perfect floor plan or seating arrangement that will address all classroom management issues, choose a layout that will allow adequate supervision of all areas.
— Reinforce Appropriate Behavior: Teachers provide feedback to students about their academic performance all the time. That’s just good teaching. Well, behavior is no different. Much like when we tell students they correctly found the area of a rectangle, we can tell students when they correctly engaged in the expected behavior. And what happens when we provide that positive feedback? There is a greater likelihood that they will do it again in the future!
One of the simplest evidence-based strategies for reinforcing appropriate behavior is specific and contingent praise, which allows a teacher to point out exactly what a student did well (e.g., “Tori, thank you for raising your hand”). Not only does specific and contingent praise increase the likelihood that the student will engage in the behavior again, it also serves as a verbal prompt to any students who are not engaging in the expected behavior.
While specific and contingent praise is a necessary practice in every classroom, it may not be sufficient. A popular and well researched option is the token economy. In a token economy, tokens are delivered contingent on expected behavior, which can then be exchanged for something of value. First, teachers select the token they will use (e.g., tickets, poker chips, Popsicle sticks, laminated “money”). Next, teachers determine which behaviors will be reinforced, which is a pretty easy task if the expected behaviors have already been identified and taught. Finally, teachers survey the students and create a menu of reinforcers that they can exchange their tokens for.
The next time you or someone you know is faced with challenging behavior in the classroom, pick up Simonsen and Myers’ Classwide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports. I am sure you will be glad you did.
Simonsen, Brandi and Diane Myers. Classwide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports: A Guide to Proactive Classroom Management. Guilford, 2015.