An orderly classroom runs on repetition. To start a positive cycle of good behaviour, don’t tell students what you want – show them.
Meet Kate. Kate wanted to be a teacher all her life, so when she finally qualified it was a dream come true. She’s now in her second year. However, there’s a problem: she hates it.
“I just don’t get it. I’m no pushover, I’m not, but their behaviour is so difficult to control. I’ve got to be on them every moment of the lesson. It’s chaos and it’s getting me down.”
Kate asked me to observe her Year 8 class. The lesson was pretty much as she described it: definite moments of unruly behaviour, particularly around the beginning of the lesson, transitions between activities and the end of the lesson.
Now those three areas should each be governed by some pre-taught routines. Unfortunately, Kate hadn’t done that. Sure, she’d told the students how she wanted them to behave (in fact, she told them and told them and told them), but she hadn’t actively taught them. And because she hadn’t, she was missing out on the benefits that come from routines. Routines avert misbehaviour, save teaching time and create a learning community. Oh, and they reduce teacher stress too.
So what behaviour should be turned into routines? Simple. Any behaviour that you ask a student to regularly do. So, as with Kate, definitely beginnings, endings and transitions, but also things like checking planners, collecting in homework, giving out materials, standing in line, putting up your hand, paired work, group work … all of these need to be turned into routines. In other words, they need to be habitual behaviours standardised by you.
Kate decided that the first routine to get right was how students entered the classroom. A good one to do, not least because the beginning of a lesson often sets the tone for the rest of it.
To teach this routine, she used the ‘do as I do’ method. It comes in three parts and it can be used to teach any and all classroom routines.
1. You model
Simply put, you model the behaviour that you want to see. Kate, though, put a twist on this. She first modelled the behaviour that she didn’t want to see. This is how she did it.
She left the classroom and then re-entered in the role of a student. She was loud and chatty. She shouted out across the room to friends. She banged into chairs and desks. She plonked herself down at a desk and then immediately twisted round to talk to a student sat behind her. As you can imagine, this display evoked a great deal of laughter … some of it, no doubt, the laughter of self-recognition.
Kate then modelled the behaviour that she wanted to see. Once again she left the classroom and reentered as a student. To enhance the learning, as the student, she also gave a running commentary of her actions and thoughts. It went something like this:
Right, I’m going to start by saying a quiet hello to Miss. “Hello, Miss.”
Now I’m walking to my desk. I’m walking calmly and quietly, making sure I don’t knock into any desks or chairs. Other students are coming into the classroom too, but I’m not going to speak to them… even if they speak to me first.
I’m going to stand behind my desk and get my things out. There’s my exercise book and my pencil case. By getting them out, I’m getting myself ready for the lesson. I’ll put my bag under my desk, out of the way, so that no-one trips over it.
I’m going to wait for Miss to tell me to sit down. I’m going to wait in silence. No talking, just waiting.
Kate then briefly comes out of role to give a teacher instruction: “Sit down, Year 8s. Thank you.”
Right, Miss has said that we can sit so I will. What she didn’t say, however, was begin talking, so I’m not going to. I’m going to remain silent and listen for her next instruction.
2. They model
Kate then got a student to model the appropriate way to enter the classroom. Kate did not accept an ok-ish job but went for perfection. If the student failed to acknowledge her as she entered the
classroom, knocked into desks, forgot to get out her books and pencil case, forgot to put her bag on the floor, Kate pointed it out and made him or her do it again until it was right. She didn’t bark orders but kept it on the light side of serious, praising concentration and effort along the way.
Once the student had modelled it with perfection, she got a small group to have a go. The rest of the class watched to see if they did it right. Again she went for perfection, and again concentration and effort was praised.
3. All practise
Finally, the whole class practised the routine. As before, she didn’t stop until she got perfection. As before, praise was given.
Kate had done it. She had taught the behaviour she wanted to see. However, teaching a behaviour is not the same thing as making it routine. Sure, the students knew what to do, but it wasn’t yet an habitual behaviour. For that to happen, Kate had to make sure that the next lesson (and the next and the next and the next) the new behaviour was again performed to her own very high standards.
I went back to see Kate a month later. As I suspected, the students entered the class just as she’d taught them. She had also worked on transitions and endings, her other two problem areas, and they too were now performed perfectly. She said that once she got one routine right, it became much easier to get the next ones right. She’s even noticed an improvement in the students’ schoolwork. “They know that I want them to behave well, so it follows that I also expect them to work well. It’s just
the same steady insistence on high standards.”
I asked her if she was now enjoying teaching. “Oh, yes, definitely,” she said. “I’m still on their behaviour, but now it’s about maintaining perfection, not responding to chaos as it was before.” She
smiled. “I suppose you could say that now I’m routinely happy.”