It’s a question I get a lot.
What do you do when most of your class is misbehaving?
Say you notice twelve, fifteen, or more students talking and goofing around during a lesson or in the middle of a transition.
How should you handle it?
Should you start furiously writing names on the board or turning behavior cards over? “You have a warning! And you have a warning! And you have a warning! And…”
Should you raise your voice and remind them of what they should be doing? “I said to get out your writing journals quietly! That means no talking.”
The truth is, when more than a few students are misbehaving at the same time, warnings and reminders aren’t going to cut it.
To fix the problem, you have to go back to the beginning.
Step 1: Observe.
Resist the urge to jump in and stop the misbehavior right away. Instead, take a step back and observe. Give yourself 30 seconds or more to upload into your memory the unwanted behavior taking place.
Step 2: Stop the activity.
Stop the activity by signaling for your students’ attention. If they don’t give it to you right away, then you know this is something else you have to work on. It’s important to your effectiveness as a teacher to be able to get your students’ attention any time you need it.
Step 3: Wait.
Stand in one place and wait another 30 seconds. Let their misbehavior hang in the air and settle before speaking. Let them feel the weight of it. Give your students an opportunity to understand what they did wrong all on their own.
Step 4: Send them back.
After your pause, send your students back to their seats or ask them to clear their desks and put their materials away. Refrain from lecturing or expressing disappointment. It may make you feel better, but it doesn’t help. The focus now is on doing things the right way.
Step 5: Replay.
Model for your students the misbehavior you observed, showing how it wasted time and disrupted learning. Modeling how not to behave is a powerful strategy that allows students to view—and really understand—their actions from a different perspective.
Step 6: Reteach
Now model how the activity or transition should be done. If it was a transition, sit at a student’s desk and go through the steps you expect your students to take whenever they transition from one activity to another.
If it was during independent work, literature circles, centers, or whatever, model what you expect during that particular activity.
Step 7: Practice.
Use the power of one strategy to begin practicing the activity with your class. After a few students do it correctly, then get everyone involved. As soon as you’re happy with how they’re performing, move on with your day.
Step 8: Prove it.
Within a day or two, give your students another opportunity to prove they can perform the same, or similar, activity the correct way. When the activity is over, don’t make a big fuss, but be sure and acknowledge the good work. “Now that’s how to do it!”
Step 9: Standardize.
As much as possible, standardize each activity and transition for your students. In other words, they should know the routine for successfully conducting a pair-share activity or for turning in homework or entering the classroom or anything else you do again and again.
Everything that can have a routine, should have a routine.
Back It Up With Action
In nearly all cases of whole-class misbehavior, the students simply don’t know well enough or exact enough what is expected of them.
This underscores the importance of well-taught routines and procedures. And, although you never—or rarely—have to revisit them again during the year, they do need to be backed up with action.
One of the keys of effective classroom management is to never move on unless your students are giving you what you want. So the moment you notice your class going off the rails, stop them in their tracks.
Return them to the beginning.
And have them do it again.
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