“Clase… clase… a ver… a ver… Julio- Julio- sttt - ssst. JULIO. This is the LAST TIME that I tell you to be quiet. Isabel- Please. What is the answer? Isabel, I can’t hear you. Can you speak louder? JULIO, what did I just say? [No response.] Be quiet! Be quiet. ”
This is an actual transcription from one of my English classes 9 years ago in which a teacher tried to manage student behavior.
In reality, the one in control of the situation was Julio. Julio was a good, but not great English student at the bachillerato (junior/senior in high school) level. His objective during English class was to chat with his friends. The teacher’s objective was to teach the lesson. Julio knew from experience that “last time” had no real meaning; he heard the teacher say it every day for the past 3 months. Heck, I had heard the teacher say it to Julio and to other students 5x a day, every day for the past 3 months. It was an empty threat.
What did the teacher want from the students? What were their expectations for behavior? In this example, they were pretty straightforward: Isabel was expected to answer a question and Julio was expected to be quiet. But, let’s assume positive intent on Julio’s part for a minute. What if Julio had NO IDEA what the teacher expected of him, and that was why he started talking? This is why you need a proactive plan for classroom management, and it starts with making your expectations for each activity clear.
Crystal Clear Expectations
1) Share your expectations (both orally and in writing) by:
A) breaking the task up into steps and posting these on the board
B) explaining the specific ways to participate and posting these as well
Speaking: Silent? Whispering? Normal voice? Shouting?
Movement: Sitting? Lying down? Standing? Moving around?
Participation: Working alone? In a group? With a partner? Online? In person?
To get credit: Turn in online? Put paper on the chair? Keep it?
Once finished: Work on something quietly? Begin homework? Read a book?
You might be thinking, “This is overkill.” I don’t disagree with you. Nevertheless, it provides very explicit instructions for both you and your students.You can even print out the titles on the left so all you have to do is tape them to the chalkboard/whiteboard and fill in the answers. Ask a student to write them so you don’t have to. Making your expectations known sets students up for success. Ensuring they know what these expectations look like, however, is just as important.
2) Model correctly following your expectations
Once you have shared the steps and explained how to participate, have one student (and only one student) model the proper way to follow these expectations. While he does so, ask the other students to raise their hand and point out what they think the student is doing correctly. After the class has mentioned all (or most) of the things on the board , move on. If he does something incorrectly, help him correct his mistake by reading the instruction out loud and reminding him what to do (set him up for success- don’t try to “catch him” messing up)
3) Model incorrectly following your expectations
This next part is awesome. Ask for a volunteer to incorrectly model how to follow the steps. Remember Julio? Get Julio up there front and center. Let him break all of the rules. Let him speak in Spanish. Let him take off his shoes, dormir una siesta, lo que sea--Julio will be so into this it’s not even funny. Then, have students point out everything he is doing wrong. In doing this, Julio gets positive attention AND you get the students to review the instructions again.
4) Start the activity
Begin with step 1, and don’t be afraid to stop the class right away if they are not following your expectations. A quick “Clap once if you can hear me...” to get everyone’s attention* and then redirecting their behavior is all you need. “Sorry everyone, I forgot to mention that you need to write your name on the paper.”
* Important note: wait until you have 100% of the class’s attention before giving clarifying instructions.
5) Positive Behavioral Narration. Immediately redirect if needed.
This is like a Jedi mind trick; as soon as I learned about it, I wondered how many times teachers had used this on me. There are three steps:
Find a student who is following one of the directions.
Objectively state what he or she is doing aloud (e.g. “I see Julia writing her name on her paper.” “I see Marcos completing #2.” “I see Josué and Sara talking over the answer.”)
If you see a student not completing a step, go over to where they are, tell them what they need to do, and walk away. If you they are not following a behavior guideline, remind them of that expectation and walk away.
If you notice that the student you walked away from needs help, go back and help. If they just need additional motivation, try giving them a mini-deadline: “The next step is _____. I’m going to come back in 2 minutes, and by then you should have _____.”
6) Mean business.
Following the steps above will take care of most of your problems. For those it doesn’t take care of, you’ve got some options: let the main English teacher deal with it and/or completely ignore it. There is nothing wrong with this, because it’s not in the job description to deal with behavioral issues anyway. There’s no judgement coming from this side of the screen either, since this is exactly what I did.
That said, if you do want to try to handle it on your own, here are some thoughts:
Is the student not following a behavior guideline?
Come up with a predictable consequence chart. Talk with the teacher or the English department chair before implementing this. The important thing is using it right after explaining it to the class. You mean business, remember? So, DO NOT let students break one of your behavior rules, especially in the first few weeks of school. You really, REALLY want students to test you to see if you will stick to your word. Plan on giving a warning. Plan on moving a seat. Print out 20 copies of the reflection form so that you can just hand it to a kid and point to the back of the room. Don’t justify not doing it by thinking, “Oh, I’ll just let it go because it’s not a big deal.” No way! If you let things go now, they will never get better.
When you break a rule:
Fill out reflection form at the back of the room
Sit outside for 5 minutes
Detention / Talk with the principal
Is the student not understanding the content?
Use the “praise, prompt, leave” technique. First, point out something they did well: “Hey, good job putting your name on your paper and numbering the problems.” Next, remind them what the next step is: “So, based on the posted steps, #3 says to underline the subjects and the verbs- I’ll be back in 2 minutes to check how you did with that.” Then, go to the next student.
Other potential actions include:
Pairing the student up with a tutor
Providing access to flipped lessons
Seeing if the main teacher can work with the student while you work with the class
Use more “checks for understanding” with this student, move their seat near you, and speak with them more during class
Is the student choosing not to participate?
Ask the main teacher why. If they don’t know, try talking with the student's mentor.
Perhaps “break the English bubble” (talk in Spanish) with the student and see if they will talk with you 1-1. I would ask the main English teacher before doing this to check if this is ok at your school. And if your Spanish isn’t strong enough, maybe ask them (or another teacher) to be there with you. Try being honest: “Hey, it seems to me like you aren’t participating in English class. Is there a particular reason why?” See if you can find out a bit more about the student, and use their interests in your next speaking activity to show you care.