Learn the art of classroom management for teachers


The art of classroom management

You can use this article (“classroom management”) as a guideline for you whenever you need it. It helps you manage your classroom more effectively. This is a compilation by our contributors and it also includes regular updates from our community of learners.

You can chime in by simply contacting me or go to our community forum. Feel free to follow me on Quora.

Learn from a use case: classroom management

First scenario

The first is Ella, a 4th-grade student who has been having behavior problems in class – she is frequently leaving her seat, which on occasion escalates into talking to or bothering other students.

She shows non-compliance and occasional disobedience when asked to return to her seat.

Ignoring Ella doesn’t work – She simply seems to escalate from wandering to talking to bothering.

Class distraction

On the other hand, paying attention to her behavior and especially reprimanding her will cause Ella to resist and engage in power struggles with the teacher.

Ella’s academic skills are generally below average – her reading skills are well below the other students and she is clearly embarrassed by reading aloud in class.

Her math skills are stronger, but as word problems are becoming more common, her reading skills get in the way.

Ella has good social skills, so you suspect that she can fool you and the others into thinking she knows an assignment she really doesn’t understand.

Recently, you’ve noticed that Ella’s become more vocal in her defiance when asked to return to her seat and you worry that she could become a real behavior problem.

Ella’s parents are strong supporters of the school and are happy to be involved with working with you on Ella’s problems.

Second scenario

The second scenario is Mr. Jones, a 6th-grade teacher who finished his student teaching a year ago.

He is approaching the end of this first year of teaching and is concerned about the general state of chaos in his classroom.

It seems as if he has to send a constant stream of students to the office despite repeated harsh warnings to them.

He is worried about making it through his probationary period.

Classroom management issue

His principal has visited his room twice and both were days that students seemed disinterested and disengaged with his lessons.

The principal observed that the majority of students were off-task, passing notes, talking with each other, and making hand gestures when Mr. Jones was looking at his overhead presentation on the screen.

It was also observed that at least 60 percent of the students did not have the math text on their desk.

The problems were more common in the back of the room where the principal was observing.

The principal asked Mr. Jones what he thought the reasons were that students who were successful in previous classes were suddenly having problems with his class.

Mr. Jones is searching for answers to improve the behavior in his classroom.


Although the goal of teaching is to establish an environment in which children can learn, as the two scenarios have shown, students often engage in behavior that distracts themselves and others from that task.

Mild or serious disruptions can range from simply failing to do assigned work through bothering or bullying others, to severe aggression towards classmates and the teacher.

The case of Ella is fairly typical of the types of mild student disruptions a teacher is likely to encounter in class; however, there is rarely only one problem when a child is misbehaving.

Understanding how these problems fit together and what causes them can ultimately provide insights into how to intervene.

Think about the case of Mr. Jones. Here is a situation where the teacher contributes to the chaotic state of the classroom.

A conversation with Mr. Jones quickly reveals that he is questioning his competence to teach.

Fortunately, classroom management, the ability to handle and reduce student misbehavior, is a skill that can be learned by Mr. Jones or any other teacher.

Classrooms are complex environments

When students enter a new classroom at the beginning of the year, they bring with them varied previous school experiences and widely differing home histories.

Likewise, as the teacher, you enter the classroom with a set of expectations and a history of experience working with children.

Even the most skilled teachers struggle sometimes with classroom management.

Clearly, there are some students whose behavior would pose a problem in any classroom.

For the majority of students, however, behavior can be shaped by appropriate and skilled classroom management.

The purpose of this module is to introduce a set of skills that enable teachers to establish and maintain a classroom in which the number of time students spends actively engaged in learning is maximized, while disruptions are minimized.


Classroom management 101

This module will provide an introduction to ways of identifying and understanding classroom management problems.

We will begin by looking at Mr. Jones’s whole class situation first because understanding how classroom management affects the entire class is critical before one can hope to make sense of an individual case such as Ella’s.

By examining Mr. Jones’s situation we will illustrate various aspects of instructional and management strategies that set the context for student behaviors.

Then we will look at Ella’s case to provide strategies in defining the problem(s) when the problem is primarily an individual one.

That section will begin with a review of some strategies that have shown to be counterproductive in dealing with student behavior problems and then will follow up with considerations of teacher attention, Functional Behavior Assessment and Individual Behavior Plans – strategies that can be used when an individual level of intervention is necessary.

Ultimately, in order to be effective, teachers need both an understanding of how to structure their class to maximize learning for all students and specific skills to deal with individual students.

Classroom Management Defined

Classroom management can be defined as a collection of teaching strategies that promote the self-regulation of behavior by students, in order to enable them to take maximum advantage of the available learning time.

Our ultimate goal is to encourage and motivate each student to be fully engaged in the learning task, not to focus on misbehavior.

If the focus is on misbehavior, a behavior vacuum is created – the targeted problem may decrease, but is often replaced by another undesirable behavior.

However, by increasing appropriate behaviors, simultaneously problem behaviors decrease.

When students are fully engaged in learning they are not distracting others from learning or causing the teacher to stop teaching.

A note on self-regulation.

Ideally, teachers should not have to spend their time telling students what they should be doing, but rather students need to internalize teachers’ expectations so they can be independent learners.

The overall focus of this module is on moving from reacting to student misbehavior to preventing student misbehavior.

Classroom management strategies for preventing misbehavior

What could Mr. Jones have done differently to improve his classroom situation? There are a variety of well-tested strategies that can increase most students’ engagement with learning tasks while reducing the likelihood of problem behaviors.

This section of the module begins with a description of the physical layout and instructional and curricular strategies that set a context for a well-managed classroom.

The next section examines strategies for communicating expectations for classroom behavior through rules and procedures.

Finally, a three-tiered model of prevention will be highlighted as a framework to conceptualize efforts to promote an effective learning community.

Aspects of Classroom Management

There are a number of ways in which effective teachers structure their classrooms, their instruction, their curriculum, and their rules and procedures to maximize the likelihood of a positive and effective learning climate.

In this section, we will review those findings in the areas of:

  1. Physical Arrangement of the Classroom
  2. Characteristics of Instruction
  3. Student Interaction with Curriculum

For each area, we provide a set of questions that can help you in evaluating and perhaps restructuring your own classroom to create the optimum environment for learning.

Classroom Physical Arrangements

Imagine a classroom where it is difficult for students and teachers to find assignments, desks, and tables are haphazardly arrayed, and traffic does not flow smoothly.

It is easy to see how inappropriate behavior could be generated as students wander around in confusion or bump into each other.

Classroom Decoration

Mr. Jones, for instance, agreed with the principal that the problems were worse in the part of the classroom that was furthest from his desk.

Simply restructuring the room can be very beneficial.

Relative to the physical arrangement of the room, we could ask the following questions:

  • How does the seating arrangement promote or inhibit classroom interaction?
  • Can the students see the teacher or do they have to move their chairs or turn their desks in order to do so?
  • How does the seating arrangement promote or inhibit students’ interaction with each other?
  • How does the arrangement of students’ desks and workspace accommodate normal traffic patterns?
  • When do they turn in homework/seat work?
  • When they gather and put away materials that are used frequently?
  • What is displayed on the walls of the classroom?
  • Do the materials displayed contribute to a sense of community in the class?
  • Are class rules posted?

The layout that seems to be most functional is one where all the students face the teacher.

This arrangement will be best for classroom flow in most situations.

However, in some cases, small clusters of desks facing each other can be useful if the students are working collaboratively in small groups.

It is up to the teacher to determine the most productive classroom design based upon their individual teaching style and instructional activities – a teacher who regularly employs group work may prefer clusters while a teacher who favors individualized instruction may find the separate desks most dynamic.

Characteristics of Instruction

Imagine looking out at your class and seeing nothing but glazed over eyes, blank stares out the window or fidgety movements in chairs.

That image is something teachers dread.

Mr. Jones experienced this during his math lessons when the majority of students were off-task, passing notes, socializing with each other, and making hand gestures when they thought he could not see.

What suggestions would you make for Mr. Jones that would help him engage his students?

Questions to consider concerning the characteristics of instruction that predict better student attention are:

  • How are lessons introduced? Are students given a “preview” of what is to be covered through advanced organizers?
  • Are prerequisite concepts or previously covered material reviewed?
  • Did the teacher capture and keep student attention with humor and enthusiasm?
  • Does the pace of the lesson provide the appropriate challenge for all students?
  • Is there a high level of student response in the lesson?
  • How were the students motivated to become engaged in the lesson?
  • Are there smooth transitions between activities?

This knowledge comes from hundreds of observed classroom teachers who promoted the highest levels of achievement and the lowest levels of disruption in their classroom.

The teachers that best kept their students on track exhibited behaviors such as clearly telling students what they were about to cover and reviewing previous concepts as they introduced their lesson.

Those teachers also worked to capture and keep student attention through enthusiasm, the use of humor, and a well-paced lesson.

Among the most important discoveries from this research was that the more students were actively engaged in a lesson—through the pacing of questions and answers or through hands-on learning—the more they actually learned from the lesson.

You may have noticed that from your own classroom experiences.

Have you experienced disturbances in classroom flow when changing from one topic or activity to the next? Studies have shown that more than 30 transitions can occur in a day in a classroom, accounting for approximately 15% of classroom time.

Making transitions planned and organized can be an important aspect to creating a smoothly functioning learning environment.

Student Interaction with Curriculum

Children and youth are by nature active and energetic.

If they cannot understand the academic material put in front of them, a natural response will be to put their energy and attention elsewhere.

Each teacher can recall students who get frustrated with their school work and end up distracting themselves or others.

Thus, it is important to find out if the material being presented is at a level that students can understand.

Due to a range of abilities and skills among students, this understanding is highly specific to the individual.

It is very valuable to ask students how much of their assignments they clearly understand.

The answers may surprise you and can often provide a key to better instruction for students who are having difficulty.

Potential questions to ask students are:

  • What was the assignment?
  • What materials/books were you supposed to have for this assignment?
  • If you are working in groups, what is each person’s role?
  • What are the rules that the teacher wants you to follow?
  • On this particular problem, how did you get that answer?
  • Where do you turn in your assignment?
  • What are you supposed to do after you finish this assignment?
  • Do you think this work is something you can do? Is it too hard? Too easy? If you can’t do it, what kind of help do you need?
  • What happens after math lesson each day?

We know that students learn best when work is appropriately challenging.

Asking students, especially those who are having difficulty, how well they understand what their assignment was, what materials they need to complete it, or how they need to complete it, can provide insights into any breakdowns in their learning.

Asking specific questions, such as how they got an answer or if they understand what the question is asking, provides an opportunity to assess their comprehension of classroom processes.

There is a strong relationship between academic failure and misbehavior.

Constantly monitoring the extent to which assignments and instruction are understood is an important method of preventing classroom disruption.

Although it may be unrealistic to assess all students’ understanding on a frequent basis, a sample of students can be interviewed to make sure most students understand the material.

In order for a student to benefit from your instruction, three things must occur.

First, as just noted, the student must have the prerequisite skills and knowledge to complete the lesson.

Second, the student must be motivated to accomplish the task.

Finally, there must be adequate time allocated for the student to complete the task successfully.

A breakdown at any of these three points can lead to student disengagement from academic tasks, and increase the probability of inappropriate or disruptive behavior.

Teaching the Social Curriculum: Expectations, Rules, and Procedures

Social Curriculum

In every school and classroom, an implicit social curriculum acts as a guide for student behavior throughout the school day.

The details of that social curriculum are unique to each teacher and classroom: from the way each teacher chooses to decorate the classroom, to the schedule of the day.

How do you introduce your social curriculum to your new students? Teachers present their own social curriculum to students in the form of hundreds of interactions per day, and in their verbal explanations, rules, and associated consequences.

Thoroughly explaining your rules and expectations is very important for student sand it is beneficial to the classroom to spend a lot of time on it at the beginning of the year.

Classroom and school rules, especially when written, function as an explicit outline for students of classroom expectations.

Students also learn about teacher expectations on a daily basis through the responses they receive for positive and inappropriate behavior.

In a well-run classroom, these three components work together to teach students how they should behave in order to succeed in the classroom.

In less well-managed classrooms and schools, inconsistency among expectations, rules, and consequences makes figuring out the social curriculum more difficult, and may even give students conflicting messages about the appropriate way to behave in a given classroom or school situation.

Disciplinary responses that are inconsistent with written rules or unfair to certain students may give students the message that they do not need to pay attention to posted rules since what the teacher says is not the same as what she does.

For example, one of the authors of this module once observed a resource room with the posted rule: “Raise hand before speaking.”

Yet the teacher in that room also appreciated a spontaneous discussion, and as the discussion became more animated she would allow students to speak freely without first raising their hands.

When the teacher noticed the discussion becoming unruly, she reminded students of the rule, at which point they returned to raising their hands.

In contrast to the written rule, then, the implicit rule that students had apparently learned was: “Raise hand before speaking, unless we are having a really good discussion.”

In the following sections, we will explore setting and following through on expectations, rules, and procedures, so that students receive a consistent message about the social curriculum.

The Importance of Setting Expectations Early

Setting Classroom Expectations

Wong emphasizes the importance for teachers to establish expectations for students in the classroom, especially at the beginning of the year.

The first week of class is essential to molding the group of individuals who make up a class into a cohesive learning community.

Establishing a set of rules is a critical step toward creating a classroom where students respect each other and pursue learning.

During the first days and weeks of class, the students do a great deal of observational learning: watching how the teacher responds to students, learning what the teacher pays attention to and what is ignored.

Based on their observations they make judgments about how they will behave.

Number and Form of Rules What should you consider when creating rules for your classroom? How many do you usually have? Most classroom management experts recommend not more than three to six general rules.

If the list is longer, the students will have difficulty learning and integrate the rules.

The rules should be clearly and positively stated’, e.g., Respect others, Be on time, and Be prepared.

There is a difference between”Respect others” and “Do not interrupt the teacher or a student when speaking.” All students regardless of education level will benefit from clearly stated and posted positive rules.

The Importance of Teaching Classroom rules

Classroom Rules

It is also important to explain the rules of the classroom to your students.

All students have different experiences and histories and as a result, they might not understand how to behave in the new class or might come from a home or community where rules are inconsistently enforced or regularly changed.

Likewise, each teacher enters the classroom with a different set of expectations and experiences.

It is the teacher’s responsibility to make sure the students understand the rules in his or her classroom.

This often means repeating rules for students, working with students to clarify their understanding, and perhaps even using some type of formal or informal assessment to see if students’ understanding of classroom rules matches that of the teacher.

How to Establish Rules

There are different schools of thought regarding how one should go about establishing classroom rules.

Marshall prefers to use the term, “expectations” instead of rules because it has more of a positive connotation. He believes that student-teacher and student-student interactions should promote internal self-discipline, not just compliance. So Marshall lists six expectations he used in his classroom.

  1. Do my tasks
  2. Have materials
  3. Be where I belong
  4. Control myself
  5. Follow directions
  6. Speak considerately

These are good expectations (or rules) because they are brief, there are not too many, and they cover many classroom situations.

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Rules vs. Procedures

What is the difference between rules and procedures? Marshall suggests that “procedures” have more specificity than expectations or rules.

For example, a science teacher would teach procedures for handling materials in a lab.

Procedures refer to routines that occur on a daily or frequent basis.

Consider the following examples of procedures:

  • Homework is always deposited in the basket on the right corner of the teacher’s desk.
  • Each day’s assignments are written on the whiteboard to the left of the teacher’s desk.
  • Students that are absent may consult the 3-ring notebook next to the homework basket on the teacher’s desk.
  • Each homework assignment is dated and placed in the homework binder.

(More technologically advanced schools/teachers also post homework assignments on the Internet so they may be easily retrieved from home).

One person may go to the restroom at a time.

The wooden pass is kept by the coat rack and must be returned to that spot when the student returns to the classroom.

Once the students learn the procedures, you won’t need to give instructions for each occurrence.

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Primary Prevention Model: Preventing Classroom Behavior Problems

Prevention is the key to developing classroom management systems that maximize student engagement and minimize student misbehavior.

Classroom problem preventions

The more we can prevent misbehavior from occurring, the less inappropriate or disruptive behavior we will have to react to.

However, determining which prevention techniques to use can be difficult due to the varying degrees of behavioral problems.

In the field of mental health and school violence prevention, a framework known as the primary prevention model has been widely accepted as a means of organizing our interventions.

The model deals with a range of problems and attends to them at three levels simultaneously: the universal, selected and intensive levels.

At the primary prevention or universal level, interventions are targeted at all students.

An example is conflict resolution, where students learn how to avoid conflict and violence.

At the secondary prevention or selected level, we attempt to identify students who may be at-risk for emotional or behavioral problems and involve them in programs such as mentoring in order to re-engage them in schooling.

Tertiary prevention or intensive level interventions are directed at students who are already engaged in a disruptive or violent behavior.

Universal prevention

Establishing appropriate expectations and consistent routines is a universal prevention strategy that will substantially decrease classroom management problems.

The effort is directed at all of the class members, making the prevention universal.

All students benefit from a clear presentation and occasional reminders of the classroom rules and expectations.

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Secondary/selected prevention strategies

At this level, students at risk of behavior problems are identified individually so that they can be administered assistance before a problem occurs.

Response to Intervention (RTI) is a strategy designed to identify students who are at risk for falling behind in reading, written language or mathematics.

For example, a frequent assessment with Curriculum-Based Measurement is used to identify 15-20 percent of class members who are struggling with reading.

If you recall the case of Ella, the disruption that she caused in class was mainly due to her inability to do the work because of her low reading level.

As reading is one of the foundational skills for children’s success in most subject areas, targeting those students who are struggling in reading permits them to receive the needed additional instruction.

As noted above, although one may not think of academic interventions as “classroom management,” providing curricular materials that are neither too easy nor too difficult clearly contributes to a classroom in which students are engaged in learning.

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Jacob Kounin

Other secondary prevention strategies include those described by Jacob Kounin for catching classroom problems before they develop into larger more difficult confrontations.

Have you ever experienced a class situation that escalated very quickly, such as a disruptive student who gets other students involved in the disruption?

Kounin believed that in order to prevent those situations, the problems should be stopped at the source.

He analyzed videotapes of classrooms to identify strategies used by teachers who experienced minimal behavior difficulties while teaching.

Kounin used the term “withitness” to describe teachers that had a hypersensitive awareness of what was going on in their classrooms.

These teachers were constantly monitoring the behavior of all their students.

“Overlapping,” or doing two things at once while teaching, was another behavior that was characteristic of those teachers with the fewest behavior problems.

Through the use of overlapping, these teachers were able to continue whole-class instruction while simultaneously noticing when and where students were beginning to show signs of a struggle.

The teacher’s physical proximity to the students would inconspicuously calm the situation.

Suppose your class was divided into a few smaller groups for a group project.

In order to still have control over the class, you would always have your eye on the rest of the class even when working with an individual group.

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Tertiary/Intensive Intervention

Despite the presence of the most extensive primary and secondary prevention strategies, however, there will always be some students who will engage in inappropriate or disruptive classroom behavior.

It is important to have a set of tertiary or intensive intervention strategies available for coping with classroom disruptions that may arise unexpectedly.

In the second half of this article, Interventions for Individual Student Behavior Problems, we will present a variety of such tertiary strategies.

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Interventions for Individual Student Behavior Problems

The first half of this module presented a set of management skills.

Now we will discuss some intervention techniques you can use in your classroom.

Classroom Intervention

Through appropriate use of physical space, engaging instruction, curriculum matched to student abilities, and setting rules and expectations, you can alleviate a large proportion of classroom misbehavior.

What happens, though, when misbehavior does not go away? What can you do? Classroom behavior management involves being prepared to deal with any disruption and misbehavior at the classroom level and promoting self-regulation for each student.

We will now discuss teacher attention strategies, functional behavioral assessment, and individual interventions for students exhibiting more consistent or serious behavior problems.

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What Does NOT Work for Improving Classroom Behavior

Depending on your teaching style, classroom management strategies will vary.

Some approaches are more successful than others.

We start here with some of the unsuccessful ways to handle misbehavior such as: the use of extinction(or ignoring inappropriate behavior), reliance on harsh or punitive disciplinary approaches, and intense emotional responses to student behaviors.

One ineffective strategy that is attempting to completely ignore inappropriate classroom behavior, the technical term is extinction.

For many students, especially older students, attention from peers can be more rewarding than attention from the teacher.

Because of this, many students might be disruptive in order to test the limits.

If a student continues to engage in behavior that violates the rules, procedures, and expectations of the classroom without a response from the teacher, both that student and other students in the class will pick up on that.

Just as you notice your students’ behavior, they will notice yours.

Another unsuccessful approach stems from the belief that student behavior can be controlled at the classroom or school level solely by “getting tough.”

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Classroom management: more to avoid

Many schools and school districts in the past 10 to 15 years have adopted zero-tolerance strategies, using increasingly harsh consequences like suspension and expulsion for increasingly minor misbehavior in order to send a message that misbehavior of any kind will not be tolerated.

The data, however, have shown that such procedures are for the most part ineffective and often lead to over-representation of students of color in school punishments.

Similarly, at the classroom level, a teacher may believe he or she can “send a message” to students by responding to misbehavior with harsh disciplinary tactics (e.g., sarcasm, calling a student out in front of peers) or overuse of office referrals.

Although such tactics may appear to work in the short term, in the long term they can backfire.

Harsh interpersonal tactics may lead students to lose respect for the teacher and discourage cooperation.

In addition, the overuse of office referrals shifts the responsibility for managing the classroom to the office, ultimately sending the message to students that the teacher is not in control of the classroom.

Have you ever felt like completely breaking down after a long, frustrating day of teaching? If so, then you know that disruptive behavior can be very upsetting.

However, it is important to avoid personalizing classroom management responses through drawn-out emotional interactions.

However tempting it is, venting emotions in your classroom will only leave you more frustrated.

It takes away time and energy from the lesson at hand and can create personal power struggles with individual students.

Instead, directions and corrections to students should be delivered in a brief, unemotional, and consistent a manner as possible.

In the long term, depersonalizing behavior management interactions directs students away from a personal power struggle with the teacher and focuses their attention on learning the posted expectations, rules, and procedures.

In the following sections, the module describes more effective approaches to intervening with student behavior problems, including shifting teacher attention, functional behavioral assessment, and strategies for intervention with more intensive behavior problems.

The Importance of Teacher Attention

Can you think back to a class you either taught or were in where the students excessively needed the teacher’s attention? There are a variety of reasons for seeking attention in the classroom.

Some students have learned that the only method for getting such attention is through negative behaviors.

Bringing this experience with them, such students may well attempt to get teacher attention primarily through negative behavior.

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The Importance of Positive Teacher Attention

Imagine one of your students was misbehaving.

  • Would you find it difficult to avoid focusing your attention on that student?
  • Can you think of some problems that might result from giving that student your attention?

Vance Hall, a searcher on classroom management, found that it is not uncommon (and is perhaps “natural”) to pay increased attention to students who are misbehaving, in an attempt to get them to stop.

The trouble with such an approach is that students may be reinforced by such attention, learning that they can get their teacher’s attention through negative behavior.

If such a pattern continues, other students will likely learn that they too can get the teacher’s attention by calling out, getting out of their chairs, or bothering each other.

Over time, paying attention only to misbehavior and disruption can spiral into chaos, as a teacher spends a greater and greater percentage of time “putting out fires.”

Allowing such a pattern to escalate can destroy the classroom dynamic.

How can we break this cycle? One of the best ways to change this pattern is to shift the focus to noticing or rewarding those students who are doing the task they were assigned.

Such attention should be as specific as possible, “I like the way Joan has her book open and her eyes on me.”

Such an approach termed “praise and ignore” or differential reinforcement can be extremely effective in general classroom settings.

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A Continuum of Teacher Responses

For some students, however, stronger messages may be necessary.

These slides present a continuum of strategies for preventing a behavioral escalation in the classroom.

At the top are strategies covered in the first half of the module, such as effective instruction and teacher awareness.

As misbehavior continues, unaffected by prevention, the list presents a continuum of progressively more intrusive options.

Since more intrusive strategies will disrupt the lesson to a greater extent, however, the goal is to choose the least intrusive option that will be effective in re-engaging the offending student.

As the teacher, you can begin with the use of praise for appropriate behavior or praise coupled with ignoring.

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Prevention through Effective Instruction

  • Develop engaging instructional activities
  • Make rules and procedures clear
  • Generate meaningful tasks geared to students’instructional level
  • Use humor and enthusiasm

Nonverbal Cues and Teacher Awareness

  • Clearing one’s throat immediately following the misbehavior, without looking at the offending student
  • Changing tone, inflection, and volume of the “teacher” voice slightly
  • Making eye contact
  • Teacher withitness and overlapping
  • Proximity (moving close to a student)
  • Placing light hand on shoulder of student misbehaving

Complimenting Correct Behavior Incompatible with Misbehavior

  • Finding them (student(s)) being good

Complimenting Other Students

  • Ignoring any misbehavior and compliment appropriate behavior
  • Praising the behavior you’re hoping for
  • Praising others whose behavior changes positively

Verbal Reminders

  • Saying the student’s name while continuing with instruction
  • Giving reminders about appropriate behavior immediately after misbehavior
  • Stating what students should do
  • Focusing on the behavior rather than on the student

Repeated Reminders

  • Response to “testing”
  • “Broken record strategy”
  • Avoid argument

Applying Consequences

  • Removing misbehaving student from activity he or she likes, lose a privilege
  • Consequences should be mildly unpleasant, short in duration, immediate
  • Certainty of consequences is more important than severity
  • Follow through on ensuring that consequences are received, but then it is important to let go of any grudge

What is the next step if prevention strategies or positive teacher attention fail to engage the students who are misbehaving? You would move to the use of verbal reminders, such as saying the student’s name or direct reminders.

Such reminders should focus on the directions being given (“Josh, please open your book”) rather than on an emotional confrontation with the student (“Josh, you never listen! How many times do I need to tell you to open your book?”).

Have you ever witnessed a student who appears to be non-compliant just to be difficult? A useful strategy for students who may appear to be “testing the limits” is giving repeated reminders, sometimes called the “broken record strategy.”

In this case, the teacher simply repeats the request, in the same non-emotional tone, in the face of student non-compliance or verbal resistance:

Teacher: Josh, please open your math book to page 43.

Josh: Yeah, wait a minute, I’ve just gotta do one thing.

Teacher: Josh, please open your math book to page 43.

Josh: Yeah, yeah, geez you’re so impatient!

Teacher: Josh, please open your math book to page 43.

Josh: OK, OK.

(Pulls out math book and finds page 43).

Through the judicious use of this strategy, the teacher shows Josh that non-compliance or resistance will not make the request disappear and that eventually – he will have to respond.

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Consequences for Behavior

What happens if the behavior becomes more severe and keeps escalating? This situation may require consequences for the student’s behavior that he or she has never had to deal with before.

While it is important not to overuse consequences, it is also important to have responses planned and in place for serious disruption or defiance; otherwise, students learn that rules will not be enforced.

To be most effective, a continuum of possible consequences should be available that can be geared to the seriousness of the offense.

In general, the severity of the consequence is less important than whether the student learns that failure to follow the rules will result in a certain consequence.

Consequences continuum

A possible continuum might include several options, ranging from least to most intrusive:

  • Name on board.
  • “Time-out” in back of classroom
  • Send student to another classroom
  • Lose free time or recess time
  • Contact parents
  • Send to office for further action (e.g. detention, suspension)

Whenever possible, consequences should be planned beforehand, not improvised in the heat of the moment.

This will ensure that the consequences are fair, objective, and structured.

Behavioral researchers have emphasized that consequences can create side-effects (e.g., anger or desire for escape) in some students, so it is helpful when using consequences to work with colleagues to help define those consequences and the situations under which they will be applied.

When a special behavioral program involving consequences is implemented, time should be taken to teach the student exactly what those are.

Your students should know what to expect.

As noted above, consequences should be delivered in as brief and unemotional manner as possible.

Finally, it is important not to hold a grudge in administering consequences.

Once a student has received whatever consequence has been administered, it is important to welcome that student back into the classroom community.

Such a perspective is difficult to take on with some students, but it helps keep all students engaged and prevents certain students from establishing a reputation with their peers as “bad” or “the troublemaker.”

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Intervention Plan: Functional Behavior Assessment

Some students’ behavior problems continue over long periods of time, occur in multiple settings, or may escalate into serious disruptions or even violence.

For these students, a more comprehensive intervention approach will be necessary.

The first step in designing an intervention plan is conducting a Functional Behavior Assessment.

Functional Behavior Assessment provides teachers with a technology that addresses the most common question that comes to mind in the face of challenging behavior, “Why is he or she doing that?” Think about the various reasons students misbehave in classrooms.

What comes to mind? Some students might misbehave in order to escape work they cannot do.

For instance, Ella, whose reading skills are not adequately developed comprehend written math problems, will be unable to solve those problems.

Wandering around the room, talking with others, even physically disturbing classmates, may seem like good alternatives to sitting still and completing work he or she “knows” cannot be done.

Another rationale for misbehavior is to obtain attention from the teacher and/or peers.

Once Ella has started wandering around the room, the attention she gets from the teacher and other students may motivate her to continue that behavior or even accelerate it.

When a student is misbehaving in order to get attention, it may be possible to change the misbehavior by making sure a student is rewarded for positive rather than negative behaviors.

More details into Functional Behavior Assessment

Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) provides a vehicle to understand an individual’s rationale for misbehavior.

  • The goal of FBA is to develop hypotheses as to the reasons for the behavior.
  • The foundations for FBA are found in the science of applied behavior analysis.
  • The assumptions of FBA include: 1) all behaviors, even misbehavior, serve some purpose for the student; 2) behavior is best understood within its context or situation; and 3) past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior.

ABC Analysis

The foundation for functional behavior assessment is what is known as the A-B-C analysis, for Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence.

Antecedents are also known as setting events, while the consequences that maintain the behavior are often spoken of in terms of the “function” of behavior.

Antecedents (Setting Events) In FBA, when and where the behavior occurs and does not occur is very important.

Antecedent events may be broken into two categories, slow and fast triggers.

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Slow triggers

Slow triggers or distal setting events are situations that may set the stage for the problem behavior but do not result in immediate behavioral issues.

For example, a troubled family situation with intense marital fighting and multiple separations places a child at-risk for increased emotional and behavioral problems.

In this case, the antecedent is a slow trigger, because the child’s behavioral reactions may or may not be exhibited immediately.

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Fast triggers

Fast triggers, on the other hand, are immediate and are close in time to problem behavior.

For example, every time a fifth-grade boy is teased, he hits or kicks a classmate.

Since the behavior occurs immediately afterward, we term the antecedent a proximal setting event or a fast trigger.

Other antecedents to explore in this portion of the analysis might be type of assignment (e.g., paper-and-pencil, lecture), subject area (e.g., reading, social studies, recess), or social arrangements (e.g., with peers vs. alone).

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In order to best understand the behavior, the behavior must be described as specifically as possible.

Stating that Thomas is aggressive does not enable one to develop a plan, since the aggression could be physical or verbal or some mixture, and could range in form from angry glares to life-threatening assault.

Therefore, a number of questions should be answered in describing the behavior:

  • What does it look like?
  • How long does it last?
  • Are there different variations of the behavior(e.g., hitting and kicking)?
  • How intense is the behavior?

The more detailed the description of the behavior, the better it can be understood and more easily modified.

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Consequences (Function of Behavior)

Learn how to implement consequences

The functional assessment paradigm assumes that students engage in behaviors because there is a reinforcement, or payoff, for doing so.

Ella may wander around the room because she has learned that it gets her out of work that she perceives as too difficult for her.

Josh may act like the class clown because he has learned that he can always get the attention from peers he craves by doing so.

Thomas may hit other students because it keeps them afraid of him and keeps him in control.

These reinforce direct our attention to the function of the behavior; that is, what type of payoff does the student receive from maintaining this behavior.

What situations have you had or can you imagine some that are similar?

Behavior can allow either access to certain outcomes (e.g., attention, control or the situation) or escape from some part of the situation that is perceived as negative (e.g., classwork, individuals).

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Conducting a Functional Assessment

If a student in your classroom consistently generates classroom problems in a number of situations or settings, and those problems are severe enough to regularly take time away from other students, a functional assessment and development of a behavior plan may be in order.

It is likely that some personnel in your building, such as the school psychologist, special education teacher, or behavioral consultant, have been trained in and regularly conduct functional behavioral assessments.

In working collaboratively with other professionals, the FBA enables you to better understand the behavior and develop more effective interventions.

The following slide summarizes the steps in conducting a functional assessment and designing a behavior plan.

Define the behavior

  • What is the frequency, duration, intensity of the behavior?
  • Where and when do the behaviors occur?
  • What happens before? after?
  • Can we identify “bad days” at the beginning of the day?

a. Identify the function and context of behavior

  • How does this student see the world?
  • What function/need is being met by this behavior?

b. Identify replacement behaviors Alternatives that meet the same need

  • Functional for the student; reasonable for the classroom

Designing the Plan

  • Proactive instruction/planned consequences guide a transition from negative to pro-social behavior
  • How will opportunities to learn the social curriculum be provided?
  • What types of external structure or consequences will be needed?
  • How will these be faded?

Fading involves the reduction of a stimulus as the student’s response stays the same.

A more familiar example from dog training involves teaching a dog to sit; starting with a loud command and pushing him gently down.

Gradually you can fade out the loud command and only use a hand signal without touching the dog.

What types of support/staff training will be needed for this plan?

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FBA Phase 1: Defining the Behavior and Its Context

In the first phase of functional assessment, teachers work with a consultant to define the behavior and identify setting events and consequences that may be creating or maintaining the behavior.

Three types of measurement strategies are typically employed.

First, the school psychologist or consultant will interview the teacher, to gain a better sense of the behavior and its context.

Observations of the student’s behavior are conducted, often by the psychologist or consultant, but teachers may also wish to write down their own observations.

There are a variety of behavior sampling techniques.

Third, FBA checklists, such as the Motivation Assessment Scale may help provide a fuller picture of the behavior without a great investment of time and effort.

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FBA Phase 2: Hypothesis Development and Specification of Replacement Behavior

The process of functional assessment is at the core a process of hypothesis generation and testing.

Rather than simply reacting to inappropriate or disruptive behavior, we collect data about the behavior and attempt to better understand the gap between what the student is currently doing and what we expect her to do.

Typically, data from interview, observation, and checklist are used to generate hypotheses about maintaining causes and conditions in two areas.

First, what are the setting events or environmental conditions (e.g., individual seat work, playground, or classes right after lunch) that make the occurrence of the behavior more likely?

Second, what is the student getting out of behaving that way? Understanding the motivation behind the act is essential in choosing the most appropriate intervention.

The ultimate goal of this phase is to specify a replacement behavior or behaviors that the student will be taught.

In order to be an effective replacement behavior, the behavior should address the setting events, function, or skill identified in data collection.

In this phase, it is important to distinguish between instructional goals and replacement behaviors.

For a student who is often out of her seat because she frequently approaches the teacher with questions, increased time in a seat is an appropriate instructional goal; it does not, however, represent a replacement behavior.

An appropriate replacement behavior, such as asking peers for help before approaching the teacher, addresses the instructional and functional needs of the student in attempting to reach the instructional goal.

Ultimately, the end result of this phase is to identify environmental and instructional changes needed to help the student better adapt to the classroom environment.

Can you think of any other replacement behaviors that you have heard of or have actually used?

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FBA Phase 3: Developing an Individual Behavior Plan (IBP)

Once we have developed hypotheses about the behavior and a replacement behavior, that information is used to create an individual behavior plan to teach the skills and behaviors that will improve student adaptation.

If the behavior plan includes a description of consequences for various behaviors (e.g., the first occurrence will result in a check mark, the second loss of five minutes of recess, the third a trip to the office), that sequence should be clearly spelled out in the behavior plan.

Keep in mind that overuse of consequences in dealing with disruptive behavior can lead to fruitless power struggles in the classroom.

In addition to specifying consequences, the behavior plan must also specify how the replacement behaviors are to be taught.

Just as we use a variety of strategies–overviews, discussion, modeling, practice, and feedback – to teach academic subjects, a variety of instructional approaches should be considered in designing an individual behavior plan.

If we are teaching a student a new routine to replace call-out behaviors with quietly asking a peer for information, it is important to: a) teach the student the new routine, b) model or practice the new strategy, c)check the student’s understanding of the procedure, d) make sure the student practices the strategy,and e) reinforce the student when he or she engages in the new strategy.

It is important to re-emphasize that the goal of any behavior plan is not just to stop specific instances of misbehavior, but rather to help the student learn new responses that will enable them to internalize behavioral control.

Strategies for Improving Classroom Behavior

A number of individual interventions are available for students whose behavior requires more intensive programming.

You can work with special education teachers, school psychologists, or behavioral consultants to design such programs; the ultimate aim of such programs is to re-engage disruptive students in classroom activities and curriculum and assist them in moving towards self-control.

A few strategies are suggested on the following slides.

These suggestions are illustrative and should not be considered comprehensive.

If you are interested in a more extensive list of strategies, you can find an appendix of helpful sources on our website near where you entered this module.

Reinforcement through token economies or behavioral contracting Although the ultimate goal in behavioral programming is to encourage self-control, using external reinforces are often helpful in getting students to re-engage if they have learned that schoolwork is something to be avoided.

Have you used any kind of external reinforces to further engage your students? If so, then you have created a token economy in your classroom.

In token economies, a student or students earn some kind of symbol (e.g., stickers, points, check marks) that can be exchanged at the end of a week for items or activities that they find reinforcing.

Meanwhile, in behavioral contracting, the teacher and student develop a paper contract specifying a reward (e.g., extra free time, time to visit a favorite school staff member) in exchange for a given amount of behavior (e.g., two chapters completed or four days with less than three call-outs).

And in a token economy system, reinforces are defined as those events or activities that increase the likelihood of a behavior. Thus, reinforcers are highly individual-specific and age-related.

Although some students might view washing the board as a chore, for others it might be the best reward imaginable, something they might be willing to do a lot of work for.

Also, the exchange should be developed with terms that are meaningful for students, yet do not overburden the teacher.

Although students may be unrealistic in expecting that they will be able to get 10 minutes of free time for every math problem they complete, it would also be unrealistic to expect students to be willing to work an entire week to receive only 15 minutes of free time.

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Home-school contracts or folders

A specific form of contracting that involves the parents is called a homeschool contract or home-school folder.

In this intervention, students receive a folder or assignment sheet that contains information on all their assignments.

At the secondary school level, students may carry the folder from class to class to help them organize across classes.

The student gets each teacher to initial assignments for the evening.

At home, the parent or guardian review the assignment sheet before the student begins her homework, and then signs off after completion.

If desired, the home-school folder can be made into a behavioral contract, stating that a certain amount of completed work will result in a certain reinforcer (e.g., going out to the movies).

Depending on how technologically advanced the school is, the teacher also has the option to create a site to do this online by posting assignments, forms, and notes for both students and parents to read and refer back to.

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You know how busy the classroom can get and that there is not a lot of time for you to monitor the work completion of every student every day.

Therefore self-monitoring is a valuable method of implementing a behavioral intervention that requires less time and attention from teachers.

In self-monitoring of academics, students can monitor their own progress on assignments, checking off assignments on a check sheet on their desk or in a folder.

In self-monitoring of behavior, students can count the number of times they engaged in a positive or negative behavior on a check sheet or wrist counter.

Studies have found that students can be trained to be quite accurate if there is a periodic monitoring of the student’s and teacher’s counts at the beginning of the program.

Again, reinforcers may be provided when a student has completed a certain level of work or reached a certain level of appropriate behavior.

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Discipline of Students with Disabilities

Students served in special education are guaranteed a free and appropriate public education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Federal and state special education laws define a separate set of procedures for discipline of serious misbehavior of students with disabilities.

That law intends to maintain a balance between the need for safe school climates and the need to preserve disabled students’ right to an education under IDEA.

It is important to note that, up until 10 days of suspension or expulsion, students with disabilities are subject to the same disciplinary procedures as other students.

It is a myth that federal and state law does not allow the discipline of special education students.

Once a student reaches 10 days of suspension or expulsion, however, certain rules and safeguards apply.

Some of IDEA’s disciplinary provisions are: Manifestation determination.

In order for a student with a disability to be removed from school past the 10-day limit, it must be shown that the behavior in question is not a result of the student’s disability.

A manifestation determination meeting is held to consider data pertaining to whether or not this is the case.

If the behavior in question is not due to the student’s disability, that student may be removed from school for the same amount of time that a non-disabled peer would be removed.

Functional behavioral assessment/Individual behavior plan

If the behavior in question is determined to be a function of the child’s disability and the child is to be removed more than 10 days, the team must conduct a functional behavioral assessment plan and implement a behavioral intervention plan for the student.

* Removal to an Interim Alternative Education.

For possession of drugs, weapons, or behavior involving serious bodily injury, students with disabilities may be removed to an Interim Alternative Educational Setting for a period up to 45 days.

This is not to say, however, that there will not be issues requiring additional attention for students with disabilities.

Students with emotional disabilities, will, by the nature of their disability often exhibit a greater frequency and intensity of emotional and behavioral problems.

With such students, it is likely that more intensive individual interventions will need to be put in place.

Teachers should work with the special education teacher of record, the school psychologists, or other personnel who specialize in behavioral issues, to ensure that a behavioral intervention plan is in place if needed, and the effectiveness of that plan is periodically monitored.

Finally, it is important to note that requirements regarding the implementation of a functional behavioral assessment and behavioral intervention plan after 10 days suspension or expulsion are a minimum requirement.

For any student exhibiting consistent behavioral problems that interfere with classroom instruction, whether disabled or not and regardless of the number of days of the suspension, it is always a good idea to consult with the school psychologist and other school professionals on whether a functional behavioral assessment would be valuable in better addressing intensive behavioral issues.

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