Friday, November 19, 2010

How do I get my class to behave?

Ms. Dorothy -
My class is very talkative and uncooperative. Every time I turn around, they are chatting again. I have set up so many different reward scenarios where they earn something for doing something consistently, but they don't want anything badly enough to actually stick with it. What do I do? They like having lunch with me, and they like having extra recess time, but they won't behave enough to earn it. It just seems to be getting worse, and we are losing so much learning time! What can I do to change their behaviors?
-Discouraged 3rd grade Teacher

Your impulse to reward them for positive behavior is a great one, because setting up punishments will only exaggerate the student-vs-teacher feeling that an uncooperative class has.

It sounds like they like you, but perhaps they don't see you as an ally yet. I'm also wondering if there is some important issue or underground dynamic in this group that requires a lot of discussion that you might be missing.

What if you were to give them something they are interested in before they give you the behaviors you want?

Invite the class to have lunch with you. Make it fun and call it a classroom restaurant day. Free them from the cafeteria, sit and chat and socialize with them. See if you can catch on to what it is they are spending so much time talking about. Join the discussion and offer time in class to talk further as a group about what is consuming their attention.

Learning to communicate clearly, to listen to one another, to agree or disagree respectfully, to contribute to a discussion, to weigh opinions and seek compromise are all important skills to learn in 3rd grade. Does it matter if you provide the content for a Socratic seminar or if they do?

This is valuable learning, so don't think of it as "lost" teaching time. Teach the skills of discussion around their issues and provide them a means for bringing topics to the group.

Try using a notebook with some rules about no individual names or put downs. Let them go and write topics for later discussion in the notebook.

Once you establish those positive structures, you can negotiate with them for more time on other content. "If we can focus and finish this math now, we will have more time to set up the room for a restaurant lunch, or for a class issues forum."

Sometimes getting the reward first and expecting the behaviors to follow works to establish in their minds that you want them to have the reward, and it removes the feeling that it is an empty promise.

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