Simple strategies, great results!

Teachers do not always need to employ elaborate classroom management techniques to keep students focused on learning tasks. Alternatively, teacher should consider using a variety of simple strategies (some educators call these strategies classroom procedures) during the course of their lessons.

These uncomplicated classroom procedures could be creatively sprinkled around throughout instructional period to break monotony and enhance the level of interest students have for the subject-matter being learned. At the same time, the procedures demand that students are constantly held responsible for their own learning through elevated sense of awareness of the learning process and its outcomes.

The two most popularly known, easy-to-use classroom procedures are turn-to-your-neighbor and pair-of-pairs.

Turn-to-your-neighbor

This classroom procedure is the easiest to implement, yet yields powerful results in terms of providing students with structured opportunities to consolidate their comprehension of a concept or idea. It could be used as many times as one thinks is appropriate – and in as many context as one could imagine.

For instance, when conducting a typical full-day workshop, I use this method at least three to four times, spread over different learning blocks; e.g. after having introduced and briefly elaborated on the concept of “Teacher Efficacy” I ask teachers to turn-to-their-neighbor and verbally share their understanding of the term (in their own words) to the person seated to the left, right, front, or behind him/her, in addition to providing personal illustrations and/or examples as evidence of mastery of the new concept.

Although the class gets noisy, everyone is given an opportunity to display mastery of the new concept. This elevates pupil’s sense of control and confidence over the subject in a progressive, step-by-step manner, within the context of a safe learning environment (students tend to listen to each other without being judgmental).

In a deeper, psychological sense, this exercise builds up the self-image of each student – as opposed to what happens when a teacher picks a representative sample of the class to gauge if a concept has been understood. Often, teachers tend to pick students who he/she knows have understood the new concept, in which case, the informal assessment results are unrepresentative of the larger and of no value, educationally.

Pair-of-Pairs

To encourage construction or creation of new ideas based on existing knowledge, teachers could use the pair-of-pairs classroom procedure. This method encourages students to stretch their imagination and generate as many creative ideas as possible without feeling threatened or having to feel like he/she is in competition with others.

For example, a teacher could ask students to create a list with a partner (usually someone seated in close proximity); e.g. “list down what would happen to the social and physical environment if multinational companies in Bangkok do not operate within the framework of corporate social responsibility”. As a follow-up, the teacher encourages students to think of and write down as many points as they can.

Once a pair completes the list, the teacher asks this pair to merge the list with another pair (one pair of students joins another pair). The combined list is obviously longer. However, students are asked to carefully examine items in the list to avoid duplication. Students are also required to have logical and/or intuitive reasons for why a particular point/answer is considered as valid in their group.

To make it more “thinking” oriented, teachers could ask students to rank their points, for example from the most effective to least effective, most common to least common, most dangerous to least dangerous, or most practical to least practical. This additional element would require engagement in higher order thinking skills, which serve as an effective interest booster.

Students could be asked to present their refined, well-thought-of list with the rest of the class and be exposed to constructive criticism for mutually-beneficial exchange of ideas.

The ”I” message

Most teachers know that being firm yet loving toward students is not as easy as it sounds or taught in teacher training programs. The two acts are inherently paradoxical. Attempting to do both at the same time may communicate inconsistency and lead to further confusion in students. If not careful, teachers may give the impression that it is okay to be “moody” and be driven by impulses. This is not what “being firm yet loving” all about.

Most teachers are aware of this idea. Unfortunately, they complete teacher training without having had a role model (ideally his/her own teacher trainer) who demonstrated how this is done successfully. Often, teachers who know the idea attempt to use it, only to find out that they haven’t got a clue how it is done in real life, in actual classroom situations.

Source of answers

To really understand what it means to be firm yet loving, we need to carefully study research findings in the area of child psychology. It also helps to examine literature on effective parenting and appropriately transfer this knowledge to classroom settings.

The Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Children’s Bureau released a research paper in 2006 emphasizing the importance of fathers’ role in children’s psychological well-being and academic success. According to the authors who were commissioned to write on the topic, effective fathering requires that a father consistently plays the role of a strict disciplinarian, and at the same time, be calm and in control of his own emotion (i.e., anger and frustrations) and body language (i.e. his hands) in the process of disciplining his children. They added that “fathers who scream at their children, who pound tables, or who strike their children are destined to fail as effective disciplinarians.”

Further, it was noticed that fathers who modeled a lack of control over his emotion and behavior in the process of disciplining lost their children’s respect.

On the flip side of the coin, Dr. Arnon Bentovim, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, says that loving alone is not enough. He argues that children’s sense of security is boosted when parents consistently discipline them. Some single parents use permissiveness in an attempt to make up for the loss of the other parent. However, according to Helen, the editor of Consistent Parenting website, “permissiveness appears to have more negative than positive effects, with children often being impulsive, aggressive and lacking in independence and in personal responsibility.”  Both authors agree that insecurity is the direct outcome of the lack of firmness in parenting and failure of parents in setting behavioral and social-emotional boundaries.

A practical “starter”

One way to start learning to be firm yet loving is by practicing the use of “I” messages in the classroom. This is a behavior influencing technique wherein a teacher gets to clearly and concretely communicate how he feels about a student’s behavior, without losing control over his emotion and/or behavior. An example of an “I” message is: “When you talk excessively in the class (student’s behavior), I feel frustrated (teacher’s feeling) because I cannot focus on the lesson being taught and other students in the class (reason).

Because the teacher is given the opportunity to express his feeling about the student’s misbehavior and justify the same with a logical reason, he tends to be in control of his inner psychological state and its consequential behavior. The “I” message helps teachers to understand and feel (for real) the meaning of the concept of being firm, yet loving.

As such, “I” messages are good starters in the journey to becoming a firm yet loving teacher.