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Texas ISD School Guide
Texas ISD School Guide

Articles for Teachers

Engagement--A Preemptive Strike Against Classroom Misbehavior
By:Amber Wilson <aewilson04uh@hotmail.com>

Engagement—A Preemptive Strike Against Classroom Misbehavior

A classroom teacher has many weapons in her arsenal to fight classroom disruptions and misbehavior. Like many classroom issues however, the best defense is preventative and proactive rather than reactive. Student engagement, when conducted effectively, can aid classroom teachers in maintaining a productive learning environment that is virtually free from student misconduct. In order to achieve phenomenal student engagement, the teacher must perform a delicate balancing act that involves preparation, motivation, attention, and participation.

Being prepared is a teacher’s first line of defense against student misconduct. Not only does preparation show students that the teacher cares, preparation also helps the teacher remain organized, efficient, and less stressed. Preparation involves having the classroom ready—from decorative bulletin boards and thoughtfully arranged student desks to posted objectives on dry erase boards. Teaching materials should be organized and accessible, including seating charts and extension activities for free time, such as word searches, journal activities, projects and puzzles. All technology should be checked for functionality before class and backup plans created in case of technical difficulties. Preparation includes having strategies for student learning from the moment they walk into the classroom until they leave. Teachers should begin with a self-starter activity, or anticipatory set that prepares the students’ minds for the lesson. Closure should be planned for the end of the lesson to help students review the lesson and to give them the opportunity to hear key points one more time. Also, the teacher should be prepared with extra-credit or makeup activities for students who finish their work sooner than others. Being prepared reduces chaos and difficult transitions in the classroom thus reducing the opportunity for students to misbehave.

Unfortunately, students can often be described as apathetic, lethargic, and unmotivated, and if something is not done to motivate them, these students can turn into behavioral problems. To motivate students, a teacher should prepare meaningful, engaging lessons, and use media such as PowerPoint, computers, televisions, and radios. Teachers can offer incentives such as stickers, candy, and certificates to recognize achievements. Of course, a teacher should always maintain a positive attitude and wear a smile! Even though these motivational strategies will be productive with most students, there will still be a few kids who remain unmoved. What can a teacher do to motivate them? Find out what their interests are, get to the root of their social issues, talk to the students one-on-one, and let them know that they are cared for. Students prove that they are motivated through their behavior; they arrive to class on time and ready to learn, they actively participate in class with little or no prodding or nagging by the teacher, and they ask questions, exhibit curiosity about the subject taught, and even ask for extra credit.

For some students, misbehavior stems from uncertainty about what’s expected of them or their ability to meet those expectations. Surprisingly, some of this anxiety can be relieved by giving clear instructions. When beginning any activity, the teacher should give precise directions. These directions should describe the quality of work as well. The teacher should positively accept student questions about directions, perhaps allowing students to repeat or paraphrase them. Written directions should be placed where they can be seen and referred to by students. Directions should be given immediately prior to the activity they describe, being followed by the teacher modeling the correct behavior. It is evident that instructions have been given clearly when students immediately begin the assignment or activity, there is little or no talking when transitioning to an activity and there are few or no questions about the assignment.

Students who misbehave are often off-task and oblivious to what is being taught in class so throughout the lesson, the teacher must maintain student attention. However, this task can be challenging as it seems that student attention spans are shortening in the wake of an era of instant gratification. How can attention be maintained in the classroom? Direct instruction, or lecture, should be given for no more than seven minutes. After that, students need a break—an opportunity to vocalize their thoughts, such as with Think-Pair-Share or a question and answer session. Teachers can use advanced organizers when giving direct instruction.

Students can follow along using graphs, charts, and tables that must be filled out, study sheets and note-taking guides, or questions that guide the students’ listening and note taking. The teacher must also adjust and regulate the pitch, pace, and power of their speaking. Changing pitch helps to avoid speaking in a boring, monotone voice. Pace can be adjusted by speaking more slowly for important points, perhaps even repeating key words or phrases. Changing the power or volume of the voice catches attention, from loud to very quiet or vice versa. Students should be enthralled not just by what the teacher says, but how they say it.

When all students participate in a class, the class becomes exciting and full of energy. This is when true learning takes place and misbehavior is erased. In order to generate active participation, choral questions, questions that permit any student to shout out an answer, have to be eliminated and students must be called on specifically by name. Also, higher-level thinking must be a classroom norm. Stimulating higher-level thinking in the classroom usually causes students to form strong opinions which they like to verbalize. Rather than the teacher telling students how she thinks or feels, students need to be allowed to discover their own thoughts and feelings about the subject. Teachers can also incorporate Think-Pair-Share into their lessons to encourage students to participate. Often students would like to participate but cannot always keep up with the fast pace of classroom discussion. Think-Pair-Share allows students the time to think (perhaps by jotting thoughts down), share their thoughts with a partner, and then perhaps share with the class. Active participation does not always mean the teacher has to be involved. If students are engaged with a partner or a group, they are still participating. When students are actively participating, they do not have time to misbehave.

Seatwork, also sometimes referred to as bookwork, should be used sparingly, and if it is used, it must be used effectively. The purpose of seatwork is to give students the opportunity to independently practice the skills that have been taught in class and demonstrate mastery of those skills. Seatwork should not be used as busy work, independent study, or just as a grade in the grade book—that is an invitation for misbehavior. Keeping the lesson cycle in mind, seatwork should only be part of guided practice or independent practice and should always be done with a teacher supervising, monitoring, and tutoring. There are many activities that can replace seatwork, including small chunks of direct instruction, group work, games or other fun activities used for learning, group presentations, and class discussion.
Granted, not all student misconduct can be prevented; however, much of it can be if the teacher is diligent and proactive. Plenty of work is involved in conducting such a large scale preemptive strike against classroom misbehavior, but is holds no comparison to the stress and frustration of chaotic classes and excessive student misconduct. In addition, these strategies will take teaching and learning in the classroom to a higher level, thus benefitting all involved.

Ms. Amber Wilson is an administrator on a high school campus with a background in English/Language Arts. She holds a masters degree in business administration, founded a nonprofit organization that helps teens earn their diploma which can be found at www.advance-edcenter.org and is currently publishing a novel.

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