Education: What does it take to keep control of a class?: Reaping the rewards of team spirit: Praise, planning and helping pupils to feel they belong are the keys to keeping peace

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The Independent Online
SUSAN ASPINALL sits on the classroom floor with half a dozen children, who put up their hands as she asks them questions about the toy farm animals in front of them. Around them, other six-, seven- and eight-year-olds from the Marion Richardson Primary School, in Stepney, east London, are making posters, some are painting in the far corner, some are doing maths problems and a few are writing.

'Excuse me,' says Ms Aspinall to her group, as she gets up, crosses the room and gently directs one rather fidgety girl to work in another part of the room. The noise level rises slightly as the group on the floor waits for her to come back, but a moment later she has their attention again.

The other children move around the classroom, which is far from large, with reasonable quietness and consideration for others. Every so often, they come over to the teacher to ask a question or show her their work. 'That's brilliant, that's really lovely,' she comments about one girl's poster. 'Brian, can you get on with your work now, please,' she says to another child, calm but firm.

Her teaching is punctuated with 'Sshh, sshh.' Later, she has to attend to a minor squabble between two girls, and one boy has to be refrained from rushing about the room. 'You've been doing so well this week - don't spoil it,' she says.

Without raising her voice to the class, she manages to exude a general air of comfortableness and authority. Part of the secret of her control, she explains, is knowing all the time which children are where. She may appear relaxed, but in reality she is working extremely hard.

'It's exhausting. You have to know the children very well. There are quite a lot of strong characters in this class, who don't work when they're together. I have to make sure I keep them apart.'

She does not discourage the children from chatting as they work - 'We want them to talk, as English is a second language for many of them' - but will tell the whole class to stop for a moment if the noise becomes too much. 'They are quite responsible on the whole - something they've learnt from lower down the school.'

Apart from the odd playground scuffle over games of football, says John Ridgley, the headteacher, fighting is very rare. The most common kinds of friction are, for example, one child bumping into another and jogging their work, or taking a rubber without asking. Mr Ridgley keeps a 'Congratulations' book, entering names for good behaviour or good work, and the children also can win 'terrific', 'excellent' or 'Headteacher's award' stickers on their work.

Diane Pegg, who teaches a class of seven- and eight-year-olds, says the children respond well to routine. 'I believe it's very important that they know what your expectations are, and that you let them know what they're going to be doing each day, so that they can pace themselves.'

If she can win their trust and make them feel they belong to the class, they tend to behave better for fear of letting the class down, she says.

Using a different tone of voice in different situations is also important. Although she makes a conscious effort not to shout, if a child came to her in a bad temper and shouted, she says she might shout back. 'I might say, 'Why are you shouting at me?' They don't like teachers shouting, and it usually stops them.'

(Photograph omitted)