by Harry and Rosemary Wong
The Problem Is Not Discipline
Bob Marlowe is typical of the millions of devoted and committed teachers who fret about their next day's lessons. His major question every evening is, "What am I going to teach tomorrow?" So, he plans what he will cover or what activity he will do in class the next day. He thinks this is teaching because
- most teachers cover or do activities,
- then they discipline when things go wrong.
And when things go wrong, Bob Marlowe frets again the next evening wondering
- what he can do to get the students to pay attention to their lessons and,
- thus, have fewer behavior problems in the classroom.
He asks that perennial, but incorrect question, "What can I do to motivate my students?" thinking that motivated students will be more attentive and better behaved.
But the next day, the cycle repeats itself and Bob Marlowe continues to
- cover and
The problem is that most teachers do not spend any time managing their classrooms. If classroom management procedures were taught, most all class discipline problems would disappear and more time in the classroom could be spent on learning.
THE PROBLEM IS NOT THE PIZZA
Let's look at Bob Marlowe as if he owned a pizzeria. Every night, Bob would ask himself
- What kind of a pizza can I make tomorrow?
- Then when customer problems occur, he fires an employee.
As his business gets worse and worse, he frets over what he can do to motivate the diners to return to his restaurant. He wonders, "What new kind of a pizza can I serve tomorrow-Thai, eggplant, shellfish?" But, still the problem of having no customers occurs.
The problem with Bob Marlowe's restaurant is not his fabulous pizzas; it's his lack of management skill. He pays little or no attention to such things as teaching his employees the procedure for how to take an order, how to cook a pizza, how to store leftover ingredients, how to clean the pizza paddle, or how to clean the restroom. He thinks that all he has to do to run a successful pizza restaurant is to have a great menu featuring fun, creative, and exciting pizzas.
Bob Marlowe, the teacher, is no different. He thinks that all he has to do is cover the material-maybe even make the lessons fun and exciting. He pays no attention to such things as procedures for getting student attention, heading papers, entering the classroom, taking lecture notes, passing papers in, absences and tardies, maintaining a current grade-record book, what to do if a student finishes early, and a myriad of other procedures that happen on a daily basis in a classroom.
An effective teacher is a master at classroom management skills. The effective teacher knows that student achievement will only occur when the student's work environment is organized and structured so that learning can take place. When students are engaged in the learning process, there is a concomitant reduction in behavior problems.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT AND DISCIPLINE
Classroom management and discipline are not the same thing. Owners don't discipline a store; they manage a store. Coaches don't discipline a team; they manage a team. Likewise, teachers don't discipline a classroom; they manage a classroom.
No learning takes place when you discipline. All disciplining does is stop deviant behavior, which must be done, but no learning has taken place. Learning only takes place when the students are at work, or as we say in education, on-task.
DISCIPLINE: Concerns how students BEHAVE
PROCEDURES: Concern how things are DONE
DISCIPLINE: Has penalties and rewards
PROCEDURES: Have NO penalties or rewards
We have been getting many questions about what to do with the behavior of certain students. We regret that we cannot respond to each situation because we have no background on the student, the classroom environment, and, most importantly, the specifics of how the classroom is managed.
We suspect that the great majority of what teachers call behavior problems in the classroom have nothing to do with discipline. The number one problem in education is not discipline. It is the lack of procedures and routines resulting in students not knowing what to do-responsibly-in the classroom.
WHY PROCEDURES ARE IMPORTANT
Students readily accept the idea of having a uniform set of classroom procedures, because it simplifies their task of succeeding in school. Efficient and workable procedures allow a great variety of activities to take place during a school day, and often several activities at a given time, with a minimum of confusion and wasted time. If no procedures are established, much time will be wasted organizing each activity and students will have to guess what to do. As a result, undesirable work habits and behaviors could develop which would be hard to correct.
Procedures are the foundation that set the class up for achievement. Student achievement at the end of the school year is directly related to the degree to which the teacher establishes good control of the classroom procedures in the very first week of the school year.
When a class is managed with procedures and the students know these procedures, they will more willingly do whatever you want them to do. You can then be an exciting, creative, and informative teacher with a well-oiled learning environment.
Ineffective teachers begin the first day of school attempting to teach a subject and spend the rest of the school year running after the students.
Effective teachers spend most of the first two weeks of the school year teaching students to follow classroom procedures.
There must be procedures in the classroom. Every time the teacher wants something done, there must be a procedure or a set of procedures to accomplish the task. Some procedures that nearly every teacher must teach include the following:
- entering the classroom
- dismissing at the end of the period or day
- returning to class after an absence
- arriving to class tardy
- quieting a class
- beginning of the period or day
- asking for help
- moving of students and papers
- listening to/responding to questions
- working cooperatively
- changing groups
- keeping a student notebook
- finding directions for each assignment
- collecting/returning student work
- getting materials without disturbing others
- handing out equipment at recess
- moving about the room
- going to the library/tech center
- heading of papers
TEACHING CLASSROOM PROCEDURES
Most behavior problems in the classroom are caused by the teacher's failure to teach students how to follow procedures. Teachers must learn how to effectively convey the procedures just as students must learn how to follow the procedures. Below is a summary of an effective method of teaching classroom procedures.
The Three-Step Approach to Teaching Classroom Procedures
- Explain: State, explain, model, and demonstrate the procedure.
- Rehearse: Rehearse and practice the procedure under your supervision.
- Reinforce: Reteach, rehearse, practice, and reinforce the classroom procedure until it becomes a student habit or routine.
Please refer to Chapter 20 of The First Days of School or the video series, The Effective Teacher, to see how the three-step technique is used to teach selected procedures.
I AM SO EXCITED TO GET TO SCHOOL EACH MORNING
(A letter written to Harry K. Wong)
I began teaching in 1992 fresh out of college, 21 years old, single and no clue as to what I was getting into. I opened a new high school teaching three classes of Consumer Math and two classes of Algebra II.
I went through a year of TOTAL hell! I gave serious thought to not returning in the Fall of 1993. I had no order in my classroom. I posted the rules but did not put much emphasis on my rules and policies.
The next three years were no better. Last year was awful! Pregnant with my second child I found myself sick and put to bed 31 weeks into my pregnancy. My students suffered greatly. When I was able to return part time I found there was NO organization present in my classroom. Needless to say when my students completed the semester I truly believed I was a failure as a teacher.
I was not looking forward to returning in August until I heard you speak to our county teachers at our preschool meeting. I decided to make some major changes in my classroom structure. I never knew what one simple thing I was missing until your session in August. I went home that night and started writing. By the time I finished, everything I expected was written out and ready to give to my students on the first day of class. I spent the first two days doing nothing but discuss and practice my policies and procedures. Then, I reinforced them the next full week.
We are five weeks into this school year (as I write this letter) and I have to say I am having a wonderful year! My students follow my policies and procedures without any gripes. The greatest thing is that my students are really learning this year! They walk in the door on task and stay there for 90 minutes every day. My first block students are even in class before the first bell; they do not wait until the second bell anymore.
Plus, we were on a testing schedule last week and my students were disappointed they were not going to be in class those days. Can you believe students being disappointed to miss Algebra II?!
I am totally sold on the technique of procedures and routines! They work! You saved my career as a teacher! I can't wait; I am SO excited to get to school every morning and start teaching my students.
Jamie Davis, Math Teacher
North Laurel High School
PLEASE SHARE WITH US
Your kindness in sharing your classroom procedures with us will be most appreciated. It can be e-mailed to us or sent to us at Harry K. Wong Publications, 943 North Shoreline Boulevard, Mountain View, CA 94043.
We hope all of you followed our summer columns and you had as successful a start to a new school year as Jamie Davis did and that you were able to present yourself to your students as a person worthy of
that noble title . . . Teacher.
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