Minimal responses such as facial gestures and hand signals are a fantastic addition to any teacher’s repertoire. They are effective, efficient and allow everyone else to stay on-task without being distracted. However, there is one potential issue with many low-key responses that needs to be addressed – they do not explicitly correct poor behavioural choices and they do not ‘teach’ the student why the behaviour was undesirable. They also do not tell the student whether the behaviour is allowed under different circumstances or at a different point in time (such as 15 minutes later).
Teachers can also confuse students because the same behaviour may be perfectly acceptable at one point in the lesson but considered shockingly disrespectful just a few minutes later.
In fact, low-key responses assume that students will make the connection between being required to cease the current behaviour and the fact that the behaviour is undesirable. Some students will not make this critical connection and may assume the correction is activity, location or time-specific. In fact, many behaviours that are acceptable in one activity are not permissible in another – teachers may see the obvious reason for the subtle change, but students may not be so cognisant of the shifting expectations. You can see how students can become easily confused, particularly those with neurological disorders. Another false assumption that teachers make is assuming students link a recent reprimand or correction to a future behavioural choice. In other words, the obvious pattern to the teacher is a series of unrelated events and decisions to the student.
This misalignment of intention, interpretation and trend may be the cause of reoffending, particularly in students with processing, neurological or learning disorders. Teachers can also confuse students because the same behaviour may be perfectly acceptable at one point in the lesson but considered shockingly disrespectful just a few minutes later (e.g. behaviour expectations in silent reading compared to a group activity). Again, students may not recognise and internalise the shifting expectations of the teacher.
Many behaviours that are acceptable in one activity are not permissible in another – teachers may see the obvious reason for the subtle change, but students may not be so cognisant of the shifting expectations.
Error correction is an alternative to low-key teacher responses. Error correction not only stops the undesirable behaviour, but also addresses it and future recurrences by asking students what they should be doing compared to what they are currently doing. To do this, the teacher might say, ‘Hayley, explain to me what you are doing and what you should be doing?’ Another option may be a more tiered line of questioning (known to some as Glasser’s Triplets) in which teachers ask students what they are doing, what the rule is, and therefore what they should be doing. However, this approach is a bit long-winded given that the best type of error correction is short and to the point. It may be useful though when working with students who need a more assertive reprimand or who struggle to process instructions. Variations are also common such as, ‘Hayley we have a rule about getting out of your seat, remind me, what is it?’ Hayley then responds with a predictable ‘stay in your seat Sir’ (or similar) and the teacher replies, ‘interesting, what do you think you should be doing then?’ or simply ‘okay, and what now…?’(awaits compliance).
Part of error correction is having students practise the desirable behaviour. This builds habit and automation, and it also serves as a natural consequence. The teacher may have offending students practise the desired behaviour multiple times (Early Childhood Teachers' Association, 2016). Let’s say a student runs into class first thing in the morning. The teacher has the student return outside, enter calmly and sit in his or her assigned seat. If the student has run into class before, the teacher may require the desired behaviour to be repeated a second or third time as part of the error-correction process.
Part of error correction is having students practise the desirable behaviour. This builds habit and automation, and it also serves as a natural consequence.
When correcting behavioural issues, always positively express your instructions. Avoid telling students what they should ‘not’ be doing and tell them what they ‘should’ be doing instead. This helps a child to clearly understand the expected behaviour. For example, the teacher says, ‘remember to take your hat off in class’ as opposed to the negative equivalent, ‘do not wear your hat in class’. The difference is subtle for teachers but significant for children who may not be capable of calculating that ‘don’t wear your hat’ actually means ‘take your hat off now’.
Hint: Positive language also helps to create a positive classroom environment. As teachers give hundreds of commands every day, the emphasis on positive expressions has a cumulative effect on the teacher’s mood, the class and the general atmosphere.
A kinder approach to behaviour management - using the calmer classrooms approach. (2016). Educating Young Children Learning and Teaching in the Early Childhood Years, 22(3), 9-10
Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and a #1 best selling author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of ITAC, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.
Source: Behaviour Management Skills and Strategies for the Modern Classroom: 100+ research-based strategies for both novice and experienced practitioners.
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