My first year of teaching was a real wake up call for me on just how important classroom management is. It goes hand in hand with the philosophy that you can’t teach a hungry child, or an angry child and you can’t teach a child without true student engagement. Classroom management is clearly the most important factor in teaching effectively. I know first hand, during my second year of my MA program in Special Education I landed a job a day before school started in what was then known as a “self-contained” classroom. The class was made up of fourth, fifth, and sixth graders, all boys and many had been given the antiquated label of emotionally disturbed. The group was a mixed bag of emotionally disturbed, learning disabled, speech impaired students, some of whom were diagnosed with ADHD, otherwise known as other health impaired. Being all of 5’2″ most of these students towered over me and it truly was was a baptism by fire.
Immediately, I set up my first behavior modification chart, an idea I had been formulating since my student teaching and substituting experiences. Students would earn a plus for appropriate behavior/work habits, and a minus for a three strike warning about the same infraction. Listening was what I emphasized most and explained daily to my students that good listening was paramount to their success. At the end of the day, it was a math lesson totaling the number of pluses left after taking away the minuses (one minus removed three pluses). If you still had three pluses on the board at the end of the day, a token reward was given out. In those days, being young and single, my rewards ranged from candy bars, Pokémon or baseball cards, “No Homework” passes, and anything else that appealed to that group of kids. (I had done a interest survey asking which were their preferred rewards).
Intrinsic motivation wasn’t even a consideration with the group of toughies I had that first year. My chart was based on my opposition to getting your name on the board for misbehaving; no matter what you did for the rest of the day your name stayed on the board. This program known as Assertive Discipline by Canter and Canter does have many wonderful attributes, but became known as “Names on the Board, Marbles in the Jar technique”. There were books written about the different ways of delivering consequences in school settings. I decided that everyone’s name would always be on the board everyday, all day, and it was their choice whether a plus or minus went next to their name. This technique worked well during the first few weeks of school, otherwise known as the “honeymoon period” and as a novice, I was fairly pleased with my management skills.
One afternoon there were no minuses on the board and it was decided that we would celebrate. Bravely, I took my students out for their first “recess” on the playground. (Back in the day, recess was still allowed.) We lined up and trudged down the steps and down the long hall to the sunshine and ball fields. As soon as we got away from the building a brawl broke out and kids were either hammering each other OR standing on the sidelines egging on the conflict.
I’m not one to raise my voice and hadn’t a clue how to reestablish order. Panic stricken by my loss of control I managed to get the students on the sidelines to walk away and head for the doors we had exited moments before. To my surprise, without an audience, the brawling participants backed off and followed the others toward the door. With my heart banging out of my chest, I managed to gather my wits and get the group back to the second floor without incidence. Major Wake Up Call! My pluses and minuses were working just fine as a checks and balance system in the classroom, but I needed a few more tools, and I needed them ASAP. I went to my evening class and explained the entire scenario to my professor and admitted that this incident terrified me. She, having vast experience with not just the special education population, but also as an assistant principal that dealt with discipline problems, gave me the best tool kit ever. I use it to this day and it is older than old, but guaranteed to work and I wanted to share this treasure with others.
Fritz Redl to the rescue from 1952! Fritz and a colleague came up with a list of 17 different techniques to help manage behavior and they start with the least invasive and work their way up. This research had been based on more restrictive environments for extremely trouble kids and was used in treatment facilities. This list is actually a combination of common sense and a masterful use of behavior modification techniques. Every new or student teacher who has crossed my path has been given a copy and I’m sure you will find a few that work for your students or your own children.
- Planned Ignoring – Disruptive behavior is generally time limited. The belief is without intervention said behavior will stop.
- Signal Interference – This approach is about signaling unacceptable behavior to a child through verbal or via a gesture. This approach places the burden of responsibility on the child.
- Proximity & Touch Control – Children and youth who lack inner controls may benefit from the mere presence of an adult. This approach lends “ego support” to children who may need it. When sheer presence is not enough non-threatening physical contact may prove helpful.
- Involvement and the Interest Relationship – it is noted that troubled children and youth lose interest in activities more rapidly than those without emotional/behavioral problems. Adult involvement may be needed to stimulate interest.
- Hypodermic Affection – Many troubled children and some youth require adult affection if they are to maintain good self-control. This is despite the fact that they may reject adult attempts to show it. This is likely an unconscious expression of early needs that have gone unmet.
- Tension Decontamination through Humor – “kidding the youngster out of it” may reduce the severity of inappropriate behavior, as long as the humor is not sarcastic or used in a way to demean the child, in that instance it may escalate the problem.
- Hurdle Help – Help provided by an adult when a child is getting frustrated or agitated may help her to get over a hurdle and thereby prevent an inappropriate response.
- Interpretation as Interference – When an adult uses this method, it helps the child to gain a better perspective on his outer or inner reality, as the child’s view may be distorted. It is imperative that a relationship of trust exists between child and adult so that a candid conversation can be of help.
- Regrouping – This is a time honored technique for avoiding conflict by changing the composition of one or more groups
- Restructuring – This technique involves changing an activity when it has become clear that said activity is not working or has “gone wrong”.
- Direct Appeal – When using direct appeal the adult reminds the child of the possible consequences for given behavior.
- Limitation of Space & Tools – This concept speaks to removing “seductive objects” that children and youth may misuse or even destroy. These may be fragile or valuable items. The removal of such objects must stem from realistic concerns and not be of a punitive nature.
- Antiseptic Bouncing – This is the equivalent of “time out”.
- Physical Restraint – This technique should only be used by those trained in its use and it is not used in public school settings.
- Permission and Authoritative Verbot (“No!”) – These techniques are mirror opposites. Sometimes permitting behavior is the most efficient way of stopping it as the child no longer gets the kick that the provocation often gives.
- Promises & Rewards – There is power in promises and rewards for changing behavior but this approach comes with certain dangers. Rewards reinforce the ”business deal” view of life that many troubled youngsters have. The child must be able to connect a reward to some behavior and truly be deserving of it in order for this approach to work in a positive manner. Promises and rewards should not be used for the purpose of intervention, instead use rewards as “gratification grants with no strings attached”.
- Punishment & Threats – the argument against employing this method is clear. A child would have to view himself as responsible, refrain from getting angry with the person doling out the punishment/threats and use the impulses created by the punishment productively. Few troubled children and youth meet those requirements.
*This original list has paraphrased explanations of what each technique involves, hopefully you will never make it down past number thirteen and need to use physical restraint.