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The ripple effect

Behaviour Management

The ripple effect

a guide for classroom teachers and teacher aides

Children in a classroom raising their arms to answer a question.

Be wary of this phenomenon as it can have both positive and negative consequences. The ripple effect occurs when the action or experience of a target student influences the behaviour of other students. Students closer to the target student are most affected. The influence can be negative (for example, a student misbehaves and others copy) or positive (a student is on-task or follows an instruction, and others copy). The ripple effect has been studied for many decades and is a well-known effect in the teaching profession (Kounin & Gump, 1958).

The standard metaphor is a pebble hitting a still lake – small waves radiate out in all directions. Imagine a scenario where the teacher belittles or ridicules a student who asks an innocent question. What message does that send to other students? Few students are now game enough to ask the teacher a question as most fear a similar experience. Not only that, this poor behaviour (on the teacher’s part mind you) ripples through the lesson and results in reduced student participation in discussions, guided activities, worked examples and so forth. While the teacher’s action was aimed at only 1 target student, it quickly reverberated around the room.

Diagram demonstrating how a teacher’s actions can reverberate around the classroom.

Figure: The teacher reprimands a student (blue cross) by asking if he/she 'would prefer to finish their work at lunch time’. Students nearest the target student assume the instruction applies to them as well. The first wave is followed by a second wave as the ripple moves outwards and eventually dissipates. The rear of the class is unaffected except for 1 student who has direct line of sight to the target student.

Now imagine a scenario where a student wears a hat inside the classroom. The teacher lets the student get away with it – no real harm in that right? Suddenly, a third, fourth and fifth student puts on their hat. Luckily, unlike the snowball effect (discussed next) which can be disastrous, the ripple effect has limited reach and it can be managed quite easily.

Hint: The ripple effect is how peer prompting works: an individual is congratulated for a specific effort. Other students notice, copy and hope for their fair share of teacher admiration.

References:

Kounin, J. S., & Gump, P. V. (1958). The Ripple Effect in Discipline. The Elementary School Journal, 59(3), 158-162. https://doi.org/10.1086/459706

About the author

Image of the managing director of ITAC.

ADAM GREEN

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.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to check his article for accuracy, information may be outdated, inaccurate or not relevant to you and your location/employer/contract. It is not intended as legal or professional advice. Users should seek expert advice such as by contacting the relevant education department, should make their own enquiries, and should not rely on any of the information provided.

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