The classroom context
There's a lot to look out for in the classroom setting in terms of managing pupil behaviour.
Creative teachers display many skills.
Teachers managing the classroom situation are:
- managing the physical setting: layout, seating, resources, etc
- managing the social structure: groupings, working patterns, etc
- managing the psychological setting of the classroom
- handling the timing and pacing, developing effective routines
- giving a personal yet public performance, with a focus on group participation
- being aware of the multiple dimensions of classroom life and showing it
- managing more than one event at the same time, ignoring as appropriate
- recognising and tolerating the unpredictable nature of classroom life.
To identify some useful pointers for your own action:
- Identify an occasion when a classroom you were managing created a positive, purposeful atmosphere. Apply the headings on the previous page to that example. What aspects of your classroom management went well?
- Now think of a less positive example where the behaviour concerns you. Apply these headings to that example. What aspects of your classroom management are highlighted? Identify two areas which it could be useful to develop.
Is there a particular classroom which is causing you concern?
Analyse the following features of your classroom.
- Physical setting: layout of furniture, positioning of seats, resources, lighting, display, etc. Do any of these seem linked to the difficulty? If so, can you experiment with some aspect? Remember that managing the physical setting is one of the teacher's key skills, but they often de-skill themselves by saying that someone else `wouldn't like a change on this front'.
- Social structure: the groupings of pupils, the patterns of working together, rationales given, etc. Is there any link to the difficulty? If so, can you imagine some modification to try out? Re-grouping using some random process can be useful now and again, to break patterns which may have become unproductive. Re-teaching the skills of working together can be important. Reviewing the rationales for groupwork can be needed.
- Psychological setting: this is mainly managed through the type of activities in the classroom and the way they are conducted. The busyness is managed through timing and pacing of activities. Too few activities can lead pupils to seek diversion: too many can get them confused. The transitions between classroom activities can be unstable periods which need effective orchestration. They are well handled when preceded by some advance warnings:`There are three minutes before we return to the whole group', 'We've been working on this experiment for ten minutes now so you should be about half way through'.
- The public aspect of classrooms can create difficulties if it becomes exaggerated. It is constructive to have private interchanges in the classroom, including with those pupils whose behaviour concerns you. The sense of being on stage declines as the relationship with a group develops.
- The multi-dimensional nature of classroom life needs recognition. Those teachers who try to keep the rest of life outside the door operate less effective classrooms. The rest of life can be acknowledged and sometimes linked to the learning.
- The simultaneity of classroom events demands skills of selective ignoring. Effective teachers are effective at deciding what to overlook. They give a `smooth' performance, which maintains a sense of momentum, and conveys the sense that they are steering the events. By contrast, the teacher who does not use such skills well gives a 'lumpy' performance, responding to something here then something there so that momentum is lost and the events seem to be in control. Sometimes our own approaches to managing the classroom constitute interruptions, and disturb the flow in a non-productive way!
- The unpredictability of classroom life has to be recognised and accepted as well as managed. Here routines and rituals are useful and need to be established and reviewed with each class.
Are there any of these preventive skills you wish to enhance? Can you observe colleagues in their handling of these aspects?
Help and support
For further advice on this issue, ATL members can speak to their school rep, their branch secretary or their regional official. They can also call the London (020 7930 6441), Cardiff (029 2046 5000) or Belfast office (02890 327 990) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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