Teaching a class is hard work... but some classes feel like harder work than others!
When whole class behaviour is a problem, it's always useful to go back-to-basics and ask: what can we change to get the behaviour we want?
What factors are in our control?
What levels can we push or pull to get results?
Make the right changes, and classroom behaviour improves dramatically. Get them wrong... and, well, you might be reaching for a wine glass at the end of the evening.
That's why I'd like to share with you 3 key areas that impact behaviour.
These are all simple and fast to change, and when you get them right, you immediately see the impact.
Check your classroom layout
Want to achieve classroom behaviour success? Don't overlook the importance of your classroom layout.
It's one of your greatest assets in improving whole class behaviour - and a few small, smart changes can provide a quick win.
Your classroom layout consists of:
- the layout and positioning of desks
- your seating plan (ie. deciding where every pupil sits)
Both these factors have a significant impact on student behaviour. When you harness them in your favour, they actively encourage positive, on-task behaviour.
Of course, get it wrong, and they'll do the opposite.
So, if you're working with a tricky class, start with an environmental check.
Look around your classroom and ask, "Does the layout support good behaviour? Or does it get in the way?"
- Does this layout frustrate students as they move around the class?
- Can they access resources easily?
- Is there enough space?
Then think carefully about where each child sits... especially pupils who present behaviour issues.
The thing is: I don't really believe there are 'bad' children...
But I do believe there are bad combinations of children.
As adults, we all know people who bring out our best side - who lift us up to be our best selves. And there are others who - frankly - drag us down.
And it's the same with children.
So ask yourself: Are all my pupils are sat next to someone who influences them positively?
If the answer's 'no' - then it's time to make a change.
Check there's a positive climate
As the adult, how we speak - and what we draw attention to - sets the mood in the classroom.
It sounds obvious, but the students follow our example. They follow where we lead.
- If we focus on positive praise, we create enthusiasm.
- If we constantly criticise, we create frustration.
But how do you know if you're being positive or not? And how positive is positive?
(After all, ask 100 teachers if they're positive with their class, and you'll probably see 100 hands raised in the air.)
Here's a simple test to take with your class.
You'll need to ask another adult, preferably one who comes routinely into class, to run this test for you.
- Tell them to take a sticky note and fold it in half.
- For a period of 20 minutes they're going to secretly keep a tally of how you interact with the children.
- On one side of the note, they tally any positive interaction you have with the children (praise, gestures like thumbs up, smiles made to individuals etc.)
- On the other side, they tally any negative interaction (telling off, shushing, frowning etc.)
Don't ask them to run the test straight away. Tell them to do it in a few days, secretly, when you've forgotten about it - so you get a true picture of how you interact.
Now look at your results.
According to the research, good classrooms hit a ratio of 3 positive interactions to 1 negative.
The best classrooms hit a ratio of 5 positive to 1 negative.
In my experience, having observed in hundreds of lessons, most teachers actually hit a ratio of... 1 to 1. (Including me, when I ran this test on myself.)
If you're below 3:1, it's time to actively increase the number of positive comments you give your students. If you want help with this, check out this article on harnessing the power of praise.
Get this right over time and watch the classroom climate change.
And remember, this isn't about eliminating the negative - it's placing it in the right proportion.
Check your differentiation
Differentiation is another driver of poor classroom behaviour that gets overlooked...
...and yet it's one that's easily fixed.
One of four things happens when any student is given a piece of work:
- The difficulty and quantity of the work is judged perfectly - so no problem!
- The work is too easy - so the pupil finishes quickly and then has nothing to do. This results in 'dead time' which results in poor behaviour.
- The work is too hard - so the pupil gets stuck or frustrated with the work. Eventually, they give up or fall off-task , resulting in poor behaviour.
The solution for the last two examples is to make sure:
- the work is at the right academic level for your students...
- and there is the right quantity of work to last the entire lesson
The fourth case is more interesting. It happens when you're working with pupils with low resilience.
You'll see it when you differentiate the work perfectly, but the child doesn't perceive they can complete it.
So instead of risking failure, they reject the task before it rejects them.
The short-term solution here is to differentiate the work below their perceived level of ability. The long-term solution is to help them develop a growth mind-set.
These three factors might sound simple, but they often get overlooked when classroom behaviour becomes a challenge.
So before you invest time in complicated strategies to improve classroom behaviour, check these three key areas:
- Review your classroom layout - the positioning and layout of the tables, as well as your seating plan
- Check you're creating a positive climate by asking another adult to tally your interactions (when you're not aware of it)
- Review your differentiation