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by Mark Boynton and Christine Boynton
Table of Contents
Establishing and teaching clearly defined parameters of acceptable behaviors is a critical part of classroom discipline, making up approximately 25 percent of the overall picture (see Figure S1). In a summary of the research on classroom management, Marzano (2003) found that “across the various grade levels the average number of disruptions in classes where rules and procedures were effectively implemented was 28 percentile points lower than the average number of disruptions in classes where that was not the case” (p. 14).
Every teacher should formally take the time to teach and enforce clearly defined parameters of acceptable student behaviors. Unfortunately, many teachers make the mistake of announcing rather than teaching parameters to their students. The truth is that students do not learn what's announced; they learn what they are taught. It makes no more sense to announce rules regarding acceptable student behaviors than it does to announce—rather than teach—math facts. It is critical that you formally teach and enforce both a discipline plan and rules of conduct from the very first day of school.
What are the differences between the discipline plan and rules of conduct? Canter and Canter (1997) describe a discipline plan as an umbrella policy that specifies rules that apply to all students, at all times, in all locations. A discipline plan also specifies how you will respond when students comply or fail to comply with the rules.
Canter and Canter (1997) also describe rules of conduct as the policies and rules that apply to specific classroom and buildingwide locations and events, such as attending assemblies, working with substitutes, getting drinks, and using the pencil sharpener. In the category that we call “rules of conduct,” Marzano (2003) includes how to begin and end the class day or period; make transitions to bathrooms; conduct fire drills; use the library; go to a specialist; distribute, use, and store special equipment; conduct group work; and behave when doing seat work and during teacher-led activities, including what to do when work is finished. He states that clearly defined and taught procedures decrease disciplinary problems at all grade levels.
You must take whatever time is needed to teach both the discipline plan and the rules of conduct as they apply to your class. If you do not formally teach these concepts, students will be confused as they attempt to determine what the acceptable policies and procedures are for the classroom. Also, students who have not been taught rules for acceptable behaviors may test the waters to find out how far they can push the envelope. Investing time in communicating and teaching your classroom discipline plan and rules of conduct is extremely worthwhile, as it ultimately yields increased learning time for all students.
Your discipline plan should encompass all rules for all students in all locations. The list should not be too long; that is, five or six rules should be the maximum. Following these six steps will help you to implement an effective discipline plan in your classroom:
Be sure that the rules outlined in your discipline plan are appropriate, as in Step 1 above. Take a look at the following rules and consider how difficult they would be to enforce:
Your rules of conduct should clearly let students know what the specific behavior standards are for various classroom and building locations and activities. Canter and Canter (1997) recommend that there be three categories of rules of conduct: academic, classroom, and special situation.
Academic rules of conduct prescribe specific behaviors that are expected during academics. These may include rules regarding the following:
Rather than simply post academic rules of conduct, you should teach them to your students in the context of specific academic situations. For example, when conducting class discussions, you could teach students that you expect them to raise their hands and be called on to take part in discussions, you expect everyone to participate, and you expect students to be respectful by listening attentively to the thoughts and opinions of others.
When teaching expectations for seat work activities, you could instruct the students on how to get help if needed, when and how to get necessary materials, when and how to sharpen their pencils, and what to do after their work is completed. In training students how to come to class prepared to work, you could teach your students to bring the books needed for the specific subject, pencils or pens, paper or a notebook, and any special equipment, such as calculators. Each teacher needs to determine what items students require to be prepared in his or her class and must teach the students to bring their supplies on a consistent basis so that they can be ready to learn with the fewest disruptions to instruction.
Another element you should teach students under your academic rules of conduct is how to seek your assistance. This may vary depending on the grouping status of your classroom; the rules for seeking assistance will probably be different if you are working with small student groups than if all students are doing independent work or working in cooperative groups. In some situations, you may expect them to ask another student before coming to you for help. You may require that they use other strategies, such as seeking help from the dictionary or just making their best guesses without assistance. Different situations may call for students coming up to your desk, raising their hands, or using a “help” card to signal that they need help. The point is that you should clearly teach your expectations in the context of various academic situations, depending on the special academic setting and what you determine will help an individual student and not interfere with other students' learning.
When, where, and how to turn in completed work is another academic rule of conduct that you should teach to your students. If you want students to turn in homework assignments by placing them in the homework basket at the beginning of the class period before they are seated, it is important that you teach that and consistently reinforce students for doing it correctly. If students are doing independent seat work and you want them to wait until the bell rings to turn in their work to you on their way out the door, you need to teach that. What you want them to do with completed work is not as important as your teaching what you want within the context of the specific situation. Again, we stress that students learn what is taught, not what is simply announced.
Figure 2.1 is an example of academic rules of conduct you may want to include in your classroom.
Seat work activities:
Coming to class prepared:
How to seek assistance:
Classroom rules of conduct prescribe specific behaviors that are expected while students are in the classroom and procedures that students are to follow. They include expectations about the following kinds of activities:
Once again, rather than simply posting these rules, you should teach them on the first day of school and reteach as necessary. It is critical that your instruction be specific regarding your expectations and that you consistently hold students accountable to these expectations.
You may allow students to use the pencil sharpener only at the beginning of the school day or during independent seat work so as not to interfere with instruction. The same may apply to when you want students to get drinks. Some teachers expect and teach their students specific ways to enter the classroom, such as lining up at the door before being given permission to enter. When students do come in, you may expect them to go directly to their seats and work on the assignment on the board. Many teachers insist that at the end of class, the bell does not excuse the students, the teacher does. In order for this to be done in an orderly fashion, students may be excused one row at a time, with the teacher waiting until the entire row of students is ready and quiet before excusing them.
Regarding the teacher's signal, it is essential that the students know what the signal is, that they give the teacher their attention immediately when the signal is given, and that the teacher wait until every student has complied before continuing. And finally, teachers must teach what they mean by “tardy,” whether it commences immediately after the bell rings or up to a minute after the bell rings.
Again, we are advocating not that you adopt these specific procedures for your classroom rules of conduct but that you decide what your rules are and then teach and reinforce them for your students. Figure 2.2 lists examples of classroom rules of conduct.
Entering the classroom:
Exiting the classroom:
Response to teacher's signal:
Arrival to class:
Special situation rules of conduct prescribe behaviors that are expected when students participate in special activities. They include rules about the following procedures:
Students going to the library or gym may be expected to follow dismissal procedures similar to those at the end of the day, with students waiting for the teacher to line them up rather than running to the door when the bell rings. Many teachers teach their students that whatever rules apply when the teacher is there also remain in effect when there is a substitute teacher in the classroom. As additional support, they may make consequences for student misbehaviors harsher when a substitute is in charge. When you teach your students how to respond to fire drills, you may have them immediately stop whatever they are doing, quickly and quietly walk to and line up in the designated area, and silently wait for instructions.
Figure 2.3 shows examples of special situation rules of conduct that you may have for your classroom.
Going to the library, the gym, lunch, or a specialist:
Whatever you decide on for your rules of conduct, there are five steps you should follow in establishing these rules:
Joanna is a 1st grade teacher. She firmly believes that students need to follow clearly defined parameters of acceptable classroom behaviors. On the first day of school, she taught students her signal and how to respond to it, what supplies to bring to class every day, how to be dismissed from class, where to put their work, when to sharpen their pencils, and how to get help from the teacher. Not only did she teach these rules to the students, but throughout the day they practiced the rules and she posted them clearly and visibly on the walls of the classroom. She knew that she would spend at least the first couple of weeks of school teaching these rules and practicing them with her students until the students' compliance became automatic. In addition, she had communicated all of her classroom rules to the principal and to the parents in a letter that she sent home before the first day of school. In that letter, she included her classroom phone number and the best times for parents to call if they had any questions. She also reviewed the consequences that would ensue if students failed to follow the classroom rules and the positive rewards for following the rules.
Remember, the time you spend teaching both your discipline plan and your rules of conduct is an investment that pays huge dividends in increased learning, on-task student behavior, and increased job satisfaction for you. This is a very important concept, one that many teachers fail to spend adequate time addressing. This could be due to the following misconceptions many teachers have regarding teaching a discipline plan, as Jones (1987) points out:
The truth is that if you don't teach the rules, your students won't know what the rules are and they will test you. Also, as we stated earlier, students learn what they are taught, not what is announced. This needs to be an ongoing process, with the rules taught and retaught as needed, not just at the beginning of the year. Finally, students don't resent the time spent on this process. They want structure, and structure is needed in order to provide good instruction.
You should follow these six steps when teaching your discipline plan and rules of conduct:
Thomas is a new 5th grade teacher. He understands that he needs to be very clear with his students regarding what he expects and to explain the rationale for his expectations. One of the rules he has for his students is that they walk very quietly and respectfully in the hallways when transitioning from the classroom to other parts of the school, such as for lunch, for assemblies, or to go to the library. On the first day of school, he explains that the class will receive instruction not only in the classroom but also in many different parts of the school building. He goes on to make clear to the class that as the oldest grade level in the building, they are responsible for modeling appropriate behavior for other students. In addition, he tells them that he has confidence in them, is proud of them, and knows that they will be a shining example for the entire school. He goes on to explain that when they are moving from one place to another, there is a potential for other classrooms to be interrupted and disturbed if students walking in the hallways are loud or inconsiderate. He expects his students to walk in a straight line on the right side of the hallway, be absolutely silent when they walk, and keep their hands to themselves. He demonstrates what he means with a couple of students he has “pretaught,” and he then has the class practice several times during the day.
An excellent way to see how well the students understand your discipline plan and rules of conduct is to give them a written test. Thompson (1998) encourages teachers to give students a test that requires them to answer questions regarding the classroom and building discipline plan and rules of conduct. Figure 2.4 shows some questions teachers might want to put on the test.
Setting and teaching clearly established parameters for acceptable student behaviors is an important component of a discipline plan. When they are done effectively and monitored closely, consequences rarely need to be used.
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