Behavior influencing techniques

Prevention is indeed better than cure. It avoids waste of energy, time and resources. Prevention allows teachers to nurture positive working relationships with students. Students respect teachers who take necessary steps to prevent misbehavior rather than waiting to react toward them when they do surface. Reacting to misbehavior is risky as it could lead to loss of control and encourage impulsive actions. Nasty battles between teachers and students could be averted if the former were more proactive in their approaches to dealing with classroom issues.

Teachers could set up preventive measures that would effectively guard both themselves and their learners. These strategies are not difficult to follow. With practice, they would become an integral part of teaching-learning processes. If applied consistently, these strategies would yield positive outcomes and nurture internally driven behavior in students.

Proximity

The most useful of these preventive measures is proximity. Teachers who use the principle of proximity to their advantage experience fewer disruptions. Proximity requires little time and effort to implement. It accomplishes what shouting and screaming at students do without having to make a scene or leaving deep psychological scars. It is a soft, but powerful way of telling students that you are aware of what is happening. It is a diplomatic way communicating that you are watching their behavior and do not tolerate any misconduct.

Moving toward a student who does not pay attention during a lesson and quickly moving away from him is an example of using proximity to one’s advantage in teaching. The key is not to be present near a student until everyone realizes that he is in trouble. As long as the concerned student is aware that the teacher is responding to his misbehavior, the goal of proximity has been successful.

Interest boosting

Another technique that works almost all the time with all levels of learners is interest boosting. I still remember when in Year 10, I skipped school and locked myself in the study to complete the chemistry textbook in one day. I did it with ease and understood the contents therein without any problem. I topped the class in the subject for the next two years until graduating from high school. However, I was not excelling in other subjects.

The difference was caused by the level of interest in the subjects taught. Our hemistry teacher inspired interest in the subject by holding high expectation, relating lessons to real-life experiences, believing in every student and their potential to succeed, and treating everyone kindly and fairly. Once interest in a subject increases, there is no time to waste in misbehavior. Most disruptions correlate directly to students’ feeling of boredom with subjects and/or teachers.

Hurdle helping

Students display inappropriate behavior when they feel a lack control over what happens in the classroom. They do so to express frustrations. This is particularly true if the perceived lack of control springs from one’s inability to cope with lessons. Hurdle helping technique could be employed when students feel overwhelmed by an academic task. Assisting students with a particularly difficult task redirects their attention to the task itself. Instead of giving up and engaging in unnecessary behavior, students try harder and smarter, recognizing that they are not facing the difficulty alone.

Program re-structuring

When someone does a stand-up comedy, he has to constantly gauge his live audience and be flexible in effectively sharing jokes to amuse people. The same applies to teachers. If one is not careful to continually gauge students’ responses, they may run the risk of losing their attention and willingness to learn – which spirals into uncontrollable behavior. In teaching, being flexible simply implies a teacher’s willingness to change anything that does not appeal to young learners; and creatively replacing what does not work with what does!

Real-time feedback

One of the major weaknesses of teaching according to the old paradigm is the lack of planned time (during instruction) to continually gauge learning outcomes through effective feedback mechanisms. Hence, a teacher would go on teaching a lesson for a full period and not know how much of learning had taken place. Without checking for student understanding, it is difficult to know for sure if instructional objectives are met.

Hi-tech solution

For those schools that have got the money, classroom or audience response systems are readily available to efficiently elicit instant feedback from students. A teacher who uses clickers for example, could frequently check for student understanding while instruction is in progress. He does so without interrupting the overall flow of learning.

The teacher simply flashes a quick review question through the main computer. Student view the question in their clicker screen and input their answers. The question is related to the content being taught; hence the system allows the teachers to elicit student feedback in real-time. In a split of a second, the teacher views how many students understood a concept. He also gets a glimpse of how many of them find the concept difficult. This information is projected either in table or graph format.

Unsophisticated alternative

What if a school does not have the money to invest in expensive gadgets like the clickers? Good news! There is an alternative to clickers. Although the effect of the two may vary significantly, they accomplish the same purpose.

The turn-to-your-neighbour strategy is an unsophisticated way of eliciting feedback from students to gauge their understanding at any given time during instruction. The teacher simply builds the procedure into a lesson at different intervals in the course of instruction. Students are asked to review a concept with another student in the classroom, usually the one seated next to him. It must be emphasized that students share their understanding about what is being taught in their own words – and not merely reflect what is given on the board or textbook. This also helps them to personalize knowledge, which enhances assimilation.

From time to time, the teacher could ask students to work with someone he has not greeted for the day, or someone who was born in the same month, etc. – obviously, this would consume more time.  The key is to be creative, without taking away much instructional time.

Advantages

The advantages of the above-mentioned approaches are many. While using clickers provides visual evidence of student understanding, turn-to-your-neighbour method allows for active participation of students, in relatively comfortable environment, to explore and gauge their own understanding of contents discussed.

Both strategies could be used as powerful diagnostic tools to instantly improve teaching. In other words, teachers could apply corrective measures to move in the right direction in their own teaching while a lesson is in progress (real-time evidence-based instruction). The diagnostic nature of these approaches makes them effective damage-control measures.

Students feel safe and more willing to communicate how much and how well they are learning when asked to provide feedback through these two strategies. These methods are non-threatening and allow students to explore their own comfort zone and stretch it gradually. Without such an aid, more than ninety-five percent of students in a typical classroom do not provide any kind of feedback about their learning. Most of them do so because of emotional reasons – fear of being wrong and unappreciated.

Both clickers and turn-to-your-neighbour could be easily built into lessons as they do not take much time to implement. However, both elicit the kind of feedback that would enhance teaching and make everyone in the classroom happier.