Articles for Teachers
When we are put in stressful situations the directions and instructions we give out to pupils who are causing problems us are often very unclear and impulsive. As such they virtually guarantee conflict when they are stated.
Children become confused unless the instructions we give them are very specific - especially when they are in a state of anxiety themselves.
Let's not also forget that a large proportion of pupils in our classes are EBD, ADHD or on the autistic spectrum and as such, have a genuine need for unambiguous, precise instructions.
The following example illustrates this need perfectly and although it relates to an experience in a special school setting, the message is equally relevant to mainstream children:
At the first EBD centre I taught in, the pupils (11-14yrs) were allowed on the yard at break to play football.
These sessions were a living nightmare for whoever was on duty because when the boys were given explicit instructions to "walk down to the yard quietly", they were unable to contain themselves for more than a few steps before tearing off shouting and yelling at the tops of their voices, running wild in the school grounds.
The solution to this problem came when I remembered that the same 'chunking' method I used in class with these boys, whereby their work was broken down into smaller, more manageable tasks, would be necessary in all their activities if they were to be kept under control.
The instructions, which sound incredibly pedantic, broke the short 200 yard journey into very small segments and went something like this...
"Stand silently behind your chairs."
(wait for them to stand in silence before giving next instruction)
"Walk across the hall to the fire door and wait in line."
"Go though the doors and walk down the corridor to the outside doors.
Wait in line at the doors, don't go through them."
"Now walk to the gate and wait in line."
..and so on.
At every stage, if a child misbehaved in any way they were sent back to the previous door to have another go at following the instructions properly. And in their eagerness to get to the yard, they complied every time! Whenever a child continued to play up, they were calmly reminded that the consequence of their silliness was that they were missing their break.
Again, this usually resulted in a compliant child without the need for tantrums from either the staff or the pupil concerned. These extremely tight, precise instructions together with consistently enforced, appropriate sanctions transformed break-times from a living hell into an enjoyable activity for everyone.
The boys appreciated the tight boundaries because they could have a full 20 minutes of football - whereas before, they weren't even getting a game started.
What's more, the staff were no longer having to spend 20 very stressful minutes chasing wild boys round the grounds, and then a further hour calming them down in class. By giving directions that are specific and unambiguous, we alleviate the need to raise our voices or get annoyed. We eliminate all tension from the situation.
The key is that the child's options are reduced to a minimum and they know exactly what is expected of them and exactly what they have to do in order to succeed. Isn't that better than repeating a vague command over and over again, becoming more exasperated and frustrated each time we are ignored?
Here's another example to show how vague instructions are such a waste of time...
On the way back from the yard at break one day, Mark was deliberately lagging behind, bouncing the football.
"Come on Mark, quick... Hurry up Mark, lessons have started... Mark! Break's over Mark!...
Come on... Quickly Mark!...
Mark!...Stop that and hurry up!"
After a few minutes of totally ignoring the first yells from the teacher Mark eventually complied perfectly with the final request - "Stop that and hurry up" - by standing still and bouncing the ball as fast as he could, with a sly grin!
Mark then proceeded to enjoy the undivided attention of two members of staff as they altered their approach from friendly cajoling and encouragement to aggressive shouting and frustrated threats. The incident tied up all three of them for the whole morning as Mark became more and more abusive and aggressive - incensed at the unfair punishment he believed he was receiving. Had the teacher altered her instruction slightly at the beginning, the situation could have been very different.
By giving one clear, specific direction and an explanation of the consequence for not complying, she could have remained in total control, Mark could have returned to lessons and the other member of staff would have been free to teach his lesson.
"Mark break is over. You need to bring the ball here now otherwise you will be paying time back next break."
You'll see how this incident could have been resolved calmly and efficiently - even if Mark had still refused to follow the instructions when you read 'The Three Requests Technique' in my ebook 'Magic Classroom Management. You can get a copy at my website: http://www.behaviourneeds.com.
Rob Plevin is the author of Magic Classroom Management and the originator of the Needs-Focused approach to behaviour management for parents and teachers. The Needs-Focused approach presents a step-by-step, easy to follow system for effectively preventing and dealing with behaviour problems. Rob provides training in schools, universities and youth centres all over the world and full details of his courses and speaking schedule are available at his website...