Christine Malady Classroom Management Introduction When discussing appropriate classroom management practices, it is imperative that one evaluates every practice against the same standard. In this way, effective and appropriate practices are distinguished from incorrect methods in a consistent and objective manner. Therefore, any discussion of classroom management must begin with a statement of purpose— in other words, a statement of the basic objectives to be achieved through the implementation of classroom management strategies. In this case, the standard for the effectiveness of a method is the extent to which that method increases the ability for individual students to reach their meaningful learning potential. Because of the many uses of some of those terms, it is necessary to further define the terms of this objective in order to make meaning. “Individual” is emphasized in the definition so as to highlight the fact that the unit of analysis will be the learning of each student, as opposed to looking at the achievement of the group or of the majority of students. As all students are in some ways unique, this emphasis on individuality often makes it necessary for a teacher to employ several different management techniques and, at times, to specialize management practices for special learning needs. For this reason, many different classroom management styles will be evaluated in this analysis. Secondly, “meaningful” was highlighted in the classroom management objective so as to distinguish from rote memorization and teaching-to-the-test. Meaningful learning, for this discussion, will be defined as a combination of each of the six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy—knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Therefore, multiple indicators of increased achievement are necessary to demonstrate meaningful learning, as simply looking at a standardized test score, a teacher’s testimony or other source independently is rarely reflective of the total picture of learning at each level. With this standard in mind, individual achievement and meaningful learning, different classroom management styles presented in research articles and encountered in my early field experience shall be evaluated in my statement of personal beliefs about classroom management. Research In a case study of three elementary schools in low-income, urban areas of the Midwest, it was found that a classroom management style focused on order, obedience to authority, and externally enforced control over problem behavior did not yield an environment conducive to meaningful learning. In these schools, the accepted format was 1) clearly defined rules that students must follow at all times, 2) positive recognition for following the rules and 3) consequences that are applied to all students that do not follow the rules. Little time was devoted to explaining the purpose for the rules or their consequences, as the emphasis is placed on obeying authority rather than critically evaluating behaviors. Consequences were given to children in a public way so as to serve as a deterrent to other children. Through analyzing the journals of pre-service teachers placed in those schools, it was found that a significant number of them believed that this form of punishment did not have lasting effects on the students. In their opinions, the object of the disciplinary measures was to stop misbehavior as quickly as possible without considering how to help the children learn more effective ways to handle situations in the future. It was argued that the public discipline was ineffective because the ostracism led to students feeling unwelcome in their classroom community. (Stoughton, 2005) To contrast the philosophy of those schools, Arcavi and Isoda found in their research that truly listening to students may be one of the most important aspects of effective classroom management. According to their study, listening is not a passive undertaking, but rather requires that the listener detects and creates opportunities in which students are likely to engage in discussion. This is done through questioning students in order to uncover the essence of their ideas, analyzing that which the student says to take on their perspective and, finally, deciding in which ways the teacher can productively integrate the ideas shared by the student. In this way, the opinion of the student is acknowledged to be valid, in the hopes that constructive discourse and openness are achieved between the student and the teacher. The students should feel a sense of entitlement and responsibility in the classroom environment, in that their opinions are carefully considered, but, in the end the teacher must be given the respect and the authority of the classroom manager. (Arcavi & Isoda, 2007) According to a management style called “Responsive Classroom,” it is necessary for students to have consistency in their lives. In this way, the students “grow accustomed to their environment” and “attain a sense of calm, assurance and familiarity.” (Riley, 2007) There are six major components to Responsive Classroom: morning meetings, rules with logical consequences, guided discovery, academic choice, classroom organization and working with families. Meetings every morning provide consistency and openness of communication for the students, while the logical consequences to rules give students a sense of fairness in disciplinary practices. Guided discovery and academic choice allow for a sense of autonomy and provide the students with the ability to pursue their own interests to an extent. This, hopefully, yields a greater passion for the learning process. Having a consistent organization of classroom activities and procedures, in combination with support at home of the same philosophy, reinforces the principles of effective learning on a daily basis—again providing consistency. According to the author, this consistency allows students to feel safe—an important component of providing a positive learning environment. (Riley, 2007) However, according to Brian Radcliffe, “poor behavior often originates in boredom, the result of classroom routines that are too predictable.” This seems to directly contradict the philosophy of reinforced consistency found in Responsive Classroom. A technique that Radcliffe advocates to combat the monotony of routine is the use of drama in the classroom. For example, the instructor might choose to employ a “jump starter” or “bell ringer” activity that includes the dramatization of a pertinent curriculum concept, term, person, place or thing. In this way, students’ creative energies are given an outlet in a productive manner, as opposed to disruptive side chatter, the passing of notes or other expressions that do not contribute to the meaningful learning. (Radcliffe, 2007) According to Boles and Troen, a major change in our current school cultures is necessary for teachers to be truly effective classroom managers. In what are called “Millennium Schools,” teachers are encouraged to teach in teams and collaborate with one another to achieve integrated, performance-based accountability. (Boles & Troen, 2007) In the collaborative model, teachers work together by exchanging ideas and theories in front of the learners. Additionally, teachers are more highly specialized on a multi-tier hierarchy of coordinating instruction and disciplinary practices. In fact, teacher’s pay would be directly related to their students’ successes on standardized tests. In this way, it is hoped that the teachers with the best classroom management and instructional skills are rewarded. (Boles & Troen, 2007) As described by Charlotte Laws, instructors have been corrupted by “nun with the ruler syndrome,” in that they are overly obsessed with controlling the behavior of their students. In her opinion, teachers focus on grades and conduct to such an extent that they construct rules that encourage uniformity. Those practices, she believes, “hamper mastery of subject matter, creativity, and personal responsibility, and groom students to be obedient workers and followers rather than executives and leaders.” She argues further, “Teachers should not coddle students” or “drown them in rules.” (Laws, 2007) It should be noted, however, that Laws is speaking primarily of higher education students; therefore, a greater measure of autonomy and personal accountability are probably more reasonable for them than would, for example, be appropriate in a middle school classroom. To present an alternative perspective to Laws, Sue Cowley, the educational author, emphasizes the importance of “taking control of” one’s classroom with the use of militia and battle metaphors to describe a teacher’s classroom management “war.” According to Cowley, who advises that teachers “patrol the class like a sergeant major,” teachers must combat the tendency to stay in the front of the classroom where, stereotypically, the well-mannered students usually sit, while the misbehaving students lay claim to the back. For example, she recommends implementing a seating plan, greeting students at the door, and hovering over students as they work. Finally, she believes a teacher should say how and when pupils are allowed to leave depending on the state of cleanliness of the room. (Cowley, 2007) My Experience Having gone through thirteen years of public school and four years of undergraduate education, I certainly held many preconceptions and assumptions about classroom management before beginning my master’s study of education. As a student, I would have told you that I prefer teachers that allow students to talk to one another, pass notes and generally be lenient and flexible with regards to classroom management. However, subconsciously I truly did value teachers that created structured, curriculum-centered learning environments. This becomes clear when one considers that all of my favorite courses have taken place in rigorous, focused environments where each student was constantly held accountable for being on top of the requirements of the class. Over this last semester, I was able to carefully observe the classroom management practices of my cooperating teacher from a non-student perspective. This new angle yielded significant insight in to the complexities of maintaining the balance between providing supportive, flexible direction and maintaining student focus and respectful behavior. I have found that this line is a difficult one to traverse while still maximizing the meaningful learning potential of your students. For example, one would not wish to be so accommodating with the students as to cause them to no longer put forth the requisite effort to master the material. My cooperating teacher strictly adheres to her “no late work” submission policy with her regular education students. At first, many of the students seemed bewildered and unsettled by the fact that late work was not acceptable. A common theme of her civics class room is, “You are in eighth grade now, and you will be in high school next year. Things are different and for good reason.” The majority of students have been able to adapt to this new paradigm of accountability. Similarly, it is not advisable to be so rigid as to stifle earnest efforts through adherence to policies that discourage meaningful learning. In the case of my cooperating teacher’s management style, she will bend her late work policy for some of the struggling students, especially those identified as having learning disabilities. Her expectations for the children are low enough, that she is pleased to receive any work at all from those students. In her mind, holding special education students to the same standard as the rest of the class with regards to submission dates does not encourage meaningful learning, but rather deters the struggling students from put forth any effort at all. With regards to maintaining acceptable student behavior during class time, she admits that she has really struggled with this particular group of eighth graders. The first few weeks it was a battle every fifth period to have the students come in the room and sit at their seats directly. At one point, my cooperating teacher decided to have a “practice entrance,” in which all students were asked to leave the room and re-enter appropriately, as “eighth graders are expected to.” The activity took away precious instructional time, but proved to be fruitful in that the students have been better behaved since that point. Additionally, she will not respond to two things: 1) questions or comments during instruction time that are not preceded by a raised hand and being called on and 2) being addressed as anything but “Ms. Levinson.” With one attention-starved student, this has been a particular struggle, as he constantly blurts out his feelings at any given moment, prefaced by “Hey!” or “Guess what?” I was surprised and pleased that my cooperating teacher was so relentless in sticking to her guns on this issue, as I believe it to be fundamentally important to maintaining appropriate student-teacher relationships. With regards to discipline, she usually utilizes the seat-switch tactic for common malfeasance, such as side chatter or inattentiveness. For more severe problems, she usually chooses not to deal with the problems herself, as she is often pressed for time as it is and feels that it is unfair to her other students to detract from their learning time to address the misbehavior of one student. Instead, the disruptive student is either sent out of the room or sent to an administrator. In her mind, that student loses his or her right to the lesson for that day if he or she chooses to act in a manner that is not only disrespectful to her as the teacher, but also to the fellow classmates. My Beliefs In the introduction, I explained my standard for effective classroom management tactics. I believe that all management strategies should be focused on creating a learning environment in which the individual student can best achieve meaningful learning of desired content and skill objectives. For this reason, I believe it is important to use a variety of strategies so that all learning needs might be addressed. However, one theme underlies all effective management strategies—that being, cultivating an environment of respect. This is primarily established by being absolutely clear and benevolent in communicating the appropriate procedures for my classroom—a strategy outlined by Harry & Rosemary Wong in The First Days of School. It is my opinion that meaningful learning can not take place in a climate of disrespect. Respect is a universal, in that every person, regardless of special needs, is entitled to it and operates best in an environment that contains it. By respect, it is meant that a person should be treated as one would wish to be treated: with consideration for their feelings, with recognition of their rights, and with a general tone of amiability. This is true with respect to both the teacher and the student—both should be afforded the respect they deserve as defined by a combination of their actions and their inherent self-worth. In other words, individuals are due a greater or lesser degree of respect due to the extent to which they reciprocate that respect to others, but a certain level of respect is due every person regardless of actions. For example, if a student chooses to bully another student, that student should not be afforded the same privileges and amiable tone for a certain period of time as a consequence of having perpetrated a disrespectful act. At the same time, the student does not completely lose his or her entitlement to respect, as all persons should always be afforded such basic considerations as respect for their person. For example, it is never appropriate to purposefully attempt to hurt, belittle or negatively impact a student beyond the fair punishment of the misconduct. In my own experience in front of the classroom, I found two things to be most effective in maintaining a productive and respectful learning environment: 1) calling on students by name to participate or discontinue unacceptable behavior and 2) requiring students to raise their hands and be called on before their comments will be permitted or responded to. In my studies I have come to believe that placing an emphasis on classroom procedures instead of rules makes the most sense for creating and maintaining an orderly yet respectful environment. These were found to be most important when I was lecturing in front of the regular class, as it ensured that the student’s remained focused, the noise level remained appropriate and that I could address the needs of individual students instead of being unable to sift through multiple comments at once. When working with the much smaller special education group, I found that the most useful tactics were individualized attention, the use of the student’s name in addressing him or her, the use of respectful language (such as “please” and “thank you”) and maintaining a relationship with the students where my role was to help them, as opposed to unnecessarily using force. Inappropriate behavior should be treated as the breaking of a contract—the terms and purpose of which should have been clearly laid out for the student at the beginning of the year. Students should understand why a rule or procedure is in place and how that rule serves their best interest. The importance of fostering empathy between students should be equally emphasized, so as to prevent maliciousness and unwarranted dislike. It is necessary for students to see reason and purpose in disciplinary actions, so that they do not feel that teachers are unjust or “out to get them.” Rather, it should be clear that the aim of rules and regulations are to create positive, supportive, respectful and productive learning environments to the betterment of each student. In sum, respect is the underlying foundation of achieving the most effective classroom management in that it best yields a learning environment where individual student achievement of meaningful learning is maximized. Works Cited Arcavi, A., & Isoda, M. (2007). Learning to Listen: From Historical Sources to Classroom Practice. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 111-131. Boles, K., & Troen, V. (2007). How to Improve Professional Practice. Principal, 50-53. Cowley, S. (2007). Now here's the drill... The Times Educational Supplement, 7. Laws, C. (2007). Danger in the Classroom: the 'Nun With the Ruler' Syndrome is Rampant. Chronicle of Higher Education, 73. Radcliffe, B. (2007). Inside the Fence. The Times Educational Supplement, 48. Riley, B. (2007). The Library Media Center and Responsive Classroom Practices. Library Media Connection, 22-25. Stoughton, E. (2005). "How will I get them to behave?": Pre-service teachers reflect on classroom management. Teaching and Teacher Education, 1024-1030. Wong, H. & Wong, R. (2005) How To Be An Effective Teacher: The First Days of School. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications, Inc.
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