Classroom management strategies that work for novice teachers

Frustrated teacher in classroom, pupils in front of her are not listening to her.Classroom management is difficult enough for the veteran teacher, but for the novice teacher still learning how to work with a fresh lesson, handling the unpredictable events of the classroom is especially challenging, writes June Trop Zuckerman in a recent issue of American Secondary Education.

To identify classroom management strategies that any secondary school teacher could use, even the novice, Zuckerman asked 141 student science teachers preparing for New York State certification to write accounts of a classroom discipline problem that they had managed successfully.  The teachers were being certified to teach natural sciences in grades 7-12.

“The strategies that expert teachers use to prevent and/or manage classroom discipline problems are not necessarily useful to all teachers,” writes Zuckerman who identified a total of 18 different proactive and reactive strategies from the teachers’ accounts. “Thus many teachers are likely to find the strategies that student teachers have used successfully are more helpful than those that expert teachers, such as their supervisors, recommend.”

In this study, the novice teachers found three classroom management strategies that were well received.

Private conferences

Conferring privately with a chronically disruptive student also was an effective strategy for the novice teachers. One teacher asked a disruptive student what they could do together to promote class cooperation.  The student responded that he would “try to control his outbursts.”  In class, the teacher only needed to make eye contact with him to get him to act on his promise. Another teacher recorded his lessons to identify the causes of disruption and then asked disruptive students to listen to how their remarks and behavior affected the class.

Sometimes a verbal warning only aggravates a situation of , the researcher writes, even to the point of provoking a confrontation.  Student teachers reported having success using a progressively more intrusive sequence of nonverbal to verbal strategies. For example, one student teacher positioned herself at the desk of a student who was chatting disruptively with her partners. She then tapped quietly on the girl’s desk. Next she discreetly asked the girl to do her assignment and finally moved the girl to a new seat, privately meeting with the girl later to ask whether she understood why she had been moved.

Another teacher managed a similar situation by just saying the student’s name, followed by a warning, changing the girl’s seat or giving her the choice of working at her new seat or having her desk moved into the hall.

Student engagement

The teachers were asked to write their accounts during the sixth week of their student teaching semester. To prepare for the writing account, they were asked, during the fifth week, to keep a journal of their classroom management experiences.

The student teachers were expected to know that:

  • The purpose of classroom management was to engage students in learning activities;
  • there were both proactive and reactive student discipline strategies; and
  • discipline strategies should foster student growth (e.g. self control, moral development, a willingness to cooperate, and/or interest in learning) rather than merely enforce compliance.

Of the 123 teacher accounts that were expressly about a classroom discipline problem, Zuckerman said only 68 accounts were used in the analysis. Teachers in those accounts were judged to have solved the discipline problem successfully and to have re-engaged the students in the classroom.

Among other strategies mentioned by teachers was “interest boosting,” or bringing students back on task by showing an interest in their work. One teacher invited students to assume significant jobs in the classroom. Another wrote out very detailed suggestions for redoing an assignment, acknowledging the student’s efforts and showing confidence and caring.

Breaking the discouragement cycle was another theme in the teacher accounts. When a student’s unfulfilled need for self-esteem drives inappropriate student behaviors, it may elicit negative responses from the teacher, further diminishing student’s self esteem, and leading to a vicious cycle, the researcher writes.

One student teacher increased a student’s feelings of significance by honoring his peculiar request that she call him by a different name. “Following their agreement, when his self-control would lapse, she would revert temporarily to using his real name, a reminder sufficient for him to regain his self-control,” Zuckerman reports.

Strategies used by the teachers for preventing classroom discipline problems before they happen included:

  • lesson planning, preparation and execution
  • classroom routines
  • classroom rules
  • classroom norms
  • classroom seating arrangements

Since teachers cannot always predict how long, if at all, learning activities will engage a particular class, they should always be prepared with alternatives, the researcher concludes. Also, since verbal strategies are the most intrusive, teachers should keep in mind a predetermined sequence of strategies including signals because it gives students the greatest opportunity to control their own behavior.

“Classroom Management in Secondary Schools: A Study of Student Teachers’ Successful Strategies,” by June Trop Zuckerman, Spring 2007, American Secondary Education, Volume 35, Number 2, pp. 4-16.

Published in ERN December 2007 Volume 20, Number 9

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