Education: What does it take to keep control of a class?: Don't start an argument, keep your eye on the ball

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The Independent Online
ONE OF the more irritating aspects of daily classroom life for the secondary school teacher is the pupil who persists in answering back - the one who always has 10 good reasons for calling out, for putting his feet on the desk, for leaving his seat for the tenth time, and who wants to waste time arguing about it.

Bill Rogers, an education consultant specialising in classroom management, believes that the most effective way of dealing with this in the short term, when the rest of the class is watching, is to refuse to be drawn into the argument.

The teacher should concentrate instead on the 'primary behaviour' - the disruptive behaviour that infringes a classroom rule, for example if the child gets up without permission - and should attempt to ignore the 'secondary behaviour'.

In the following example, Ken has left his seat in the classroom, taken a sleazy magazine out of his bag and, behind the teacher's back, gone to the back of the class to sit next to Dave and snigger over it.

Teacher A and Teacher B attempt to tackle the situation:

Teacher A (marching over and glaring at the magazine): 'Ken, what do you think you're doing?'

Ken: 'Just getting a pencil. You got a problem with that?'

Teacher A: 'Yes, I have] You are a liar, you were not getting a pencil . . .'

Ken: 'I was - why pick on me, you don't pick on the girls?' (folds his arms contemptuously)

Teacher A: 'Who the hell do you think you're talking to] I do not pick on you] Now get back to your seat this instant or you can get out of my room]'

Ken: 'Why should I?' (more folded arms and dumb insolence follow)

Here, Teacher A concentrates too much on the secondary behaviour and battle lines are drawn. The primary issue - the fact that Ken is out of his seat and not working - is, in effect, ignored. Teacher B adopts a different strategy:

Teacher B (firmly, but non- confrontationally): 'Ken, what are you doing?'

Ken: 'Just getting a pencil. You got a problem with that?'

Teacher B: 'You're out of your seat, reading a comic. What are you supposed to be doing?' (reasserting her authority).

Ken: 'Told you I'm getting a pencil - what are you picking on me for?'

Teacher B: 'What are you supposed to be doing?' (again reasserting her authority).

Ken: 'I'm supposed to be doing my work]'

Teacher B: 'OK, back to your seat and do it. Thanks, Ken.'

She moves away, and returns her attention to the rest of the class. Ken eventually slouches back to his seat and sulks, hoping to gain more attention. She ignores this and does not go back to Ken until he finally picks up his pen five minutes before the bell.

Teacher B: 'How's it going then, Ken?'

If necessary, Teacher B might ask Ken to stay behind at the end of the lesson to discuss

his behaviour, but when in

class she gives minimal, or no, attention to his secondary behaviour.

Extracted from 'Dealing with Procrastination' by Bill Rogers, Topic 2, NFER-Nelson publishers, North Way, Andover, Hampshire SP10 5BE.

(Photograph omitted)