Classroom Discipline

Primaria - JPG- Ottobre 2019 - Classroom-discipline-shutterstock_309241565_750.jpg

Suggerimenti per migliorare la gestione della classe


Gestire la disciplina in classe non è sempre un compito facile, l’insegnante spesso deve affrontare situazioni complesse, ma coinvolgendo gli alunni nello stabilire le regole e nel condividere con la classe gli aspetti più importanti della convivenza e della disciplina si possono trovare interessanti soluzioni. L’articolo propone diversi approcci con suggerimenti pratici e link a Worksheet scaricabili per lavorare con i bambini nell’ottica di una migliore gestione della classe.

di Sarah Gudgeon

A standard dictionary entry of the word ‘discipline’ defines it as the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour and more specifically, in relation to school classrooms, it has been defined as the business of enforcing simple classroom rules that facilitate learning and minimize disruption, Jones (1979).
The key question that many primary school teachers ask themselves at the beginning of the year is how they can achieve a high level of discipline whilst still maintaining a positive and interactive environment. Whatever approach you decide on, it is essential that you are consistent and that you get it right at the beginning of term. Research by Emmer 1982; Emmer and Evertson 1980 and Evertson, et al. 1983 shows that teachers who they define as ineffective managers, a term first coined by J.S. Kounin in 1970, will find it very difficult to establish and maintain control in their classrooms later on if they start out like this.

Code of conduct

It is well known that young children respond well to fixed boundaries and therefore it is a good idea to draw up a code of conduct during the first lessons back after the summer holidays. The code of conduct should be the result of discussions between you and your young students though, not just something imposed by the teacher. Over the years a number of researchers, including Emmer and Evertson (1981), have corroborated the findings of Kounin who claimed that sharing the responsibility of classroom management with students increased its effectiveness and promoted self-discipline and a sense of belonging.
After having decided on a code of conduct, the next step is to identify the kinds of behaviour that are acceptable and those that are not. Be realistic in your expectations, as young children are never going to behave perfectly 100% of the time. It is important that they know how they should act and that they generally stay within the boundaries of tolerable behaviour. Explain the reason behind certain rules to your students. For example, if you tell the class that they cannot run inside the classroom then point out that this is because they could trip and fall and consequently hurt themselves.
Divide the children into groups and ask each group to come up with what they think are some good classroom rules and then vote on them as a class, with you explaining their importance where necessary. Write them down. Once you have agreed upon some basic rules, get the children to help you make a classroom code of conduct poster.
Allocate each group a rule that they have to illustrate. A list of some basic classroom rules that you could consider putting on your poster are as follows:

  • We must put our hands up if we want to ask a question.
  • We must listen to our teacher.
  • We must be kind to each other.
  • We must not run in the classroom.

Note the use of we. This will make the children feel as though these really are their rules and feed the sense of belonging advocated by Kounin. You could also give each child a copy of Worksheet 1 at the beginning of term and ask them to fill it in at the end of each lesson/week so that they can evaluate their own behaviour and become more aware of self-discipline.

When agreeing class rules, make sure that they are not so rigid that your lessons are bereft of any spontaneity. The teacher should be firm but flexible and be able to address the needs of all their students and, as with anything, prevention is better than cure.
What then are the main reasons behind bad behaviour and how can we stop it?
Disruptive behaviour can often be caused by lack of self-esteem. If a child feels uncomfortable because they are not particularly good at English, then they are likely to feel embarrassed in front of their peers and bad behaviour will shift the focus from their inadequate language skills to the fact that they are daring to challenge the teacher.
In this case, there are two important factors:

  1. The teacher’s reaction;
  2. The monitoring and praising system in the class.

If the teacher responds negatively to bad behaviour then the situation is likely to get worse because neither the teacher nor the student wants to lose face in front of the class. If, however, the teacher talks to the student to find out what is wrong and to explain why certain behaviour is necessary, then it should be possible to resolve the situation before it progresses. Monitoring the class when they are doing pair or group work should also give you the opportunity to keep an eye on things and remember that you should let children show you what they can do and praise them for their efforts rather than drawing attention to their weaker areas. When children are bored or tired they also tend to play up. Make sure you explain to them what they are doing and why, and try to keep the lesson quick-paced. Introduce some short physical activity, such as a quick game of ‘Simon Says’ or a song where they have to mime the actions, to raise energy levels and keep your students focused.

Using L1 disrupts a class

Children also seem to become more disruptive when the use of L1 is widely diffused. If children are allowed to chatter in their mother tongue during their English lesson then, of course, they become distracted and noise levels inevitably rise. How can we reduce the use of L1 during class? The first thing would be to provide the children with the right tools to be able to communicate in L2. This means eliciting or offering specific functional language that you would like to see them use and understand during the lessons.
It is essential to create a poster of classroom language at the beginning of term that is visible to the children at all times. If a child asks ‘Posso andare in bagno?’ then you quite simply point to the poster until you elicit the phrase ‘Can I go to the toilet, please?’
The children will quickly learn these key phrases and after only a short time it will become second nature for them to make and understand simple requests in L2.
Use Worksheet 2 to enable the children to become familiar with the sentences.
To be realistic, apart from this basic functional language, we can't really expect young children to use L2 for a complete lesson period as they are bound to slip back into L1. It is important, however, to insist on the use of L2 in controlled speaking exercises. Work with the children before the start of the task to agree on the phrases that you would like them to use in English during that particular activity and make sure that they do not switch to L1.

Stand still and in silence, raise your hand

If, despite your best efforts, the use of L1 is diffused and the children are a little rowdy, then you'll have to rein them in quite quickly. Although it's often tempting to shout and stamp your feet so that you can be heard above the racket, this isn't really an effective way of regaining control of the class. In fact, it just adds to the mayhem. Children learn by example and so the best thing is just to stand still, in silence, and raise your hand. After a while, the children will wonder where you are, and indeed why you aren't shouting at them to be quiet, and turn around to look for you. As soon as you catch their eye, indicate that they should raise their hand, like you, and sit in silence. Gradually, the rest of the class will catch on and once you have achieved total silence and gained their full attention, you can then explain what they were doing wrong and give them new instructions. After you have done this a few times, the children will see it as standard practice and will automatically turn around to look for you when they realise that noise levels have risen above an unacceptable level. As soon as they see you standing in silence with your hand raised, they will do the same. This will further perpetuate the cycle of self-discipline. Sometimes, however, the problem is not general class disruption and can be down to individual students. If you spot a child at the beginning of the lesson who could be potentially disruptive, then give them extra jobs to keep them occupied. You could nominate them as your helper that day and get them to hand out photocopies or coloured pencils etc. to the rest of the class. By singling them out for special attention and keeping them busy, you should be able to limit the chances of them misbehaving.
Unfortunately, however, whether you are dealing with the whole class or an individual, there are some occasions when you will be unable to nip a discipline issue in the bud. When you find yourself in a situation where some kind of punishment is necessary, make sure that it fits the crime. As researchers Cotton and Savard (1982) and Docking (1982) said, the punishment must be commensurate with the offence if it is to be effective. Unfair or excessive punishment can often backfire and create further problems. To conclude, the presence of fixed, clear rules in a classroom, along with the friendly but firm approach of the teacher together with the cooperation of the students should result in a happy, well-disciplined class.

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Sarah Gudgeon is a UK trained journalist and qualified EFL teacher. Originally from Manchester, Sarah has lived and worked in and around Milan and Como as a freelance ESL materials writer, content editor, proofreader, trainer and tutor since 2002.