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#1 JohnDClare


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Posted 05 August 2003 - 10:13 AM

Please find below the text of a paper I put round staff a while ago when we were suddenly faced with a 'monster class' one year! It is offered humbly, and I don't pretend that it is the whole story - but it helped to get us through the time, and people may find it of use.

I assume that other forum members will have lots more valuable advice and comments.

Controlling difficult classes

Where you find yourself having difficulty with a class – you need to go back to first principles. The following are ideas only, and are offered humbly. However, it strikes me that good control is based upon:

1. Teach well
Sometimes, faced with a problem class, the temptation is to fall back and back until all the tasks are undemanding, routine – and boring (and there is little wonder they get restless). Refuse to let them drive you back into poor teaching. Devise good lessons and insist on teaching them; a good lesson gives you the moral authority to demand co-operation.

2. Start every lesson in the pupils’ experience.
The first principle of teaching is: ‘Start where they are at, and take them where you want to go.’ When my lessons are going badly, it is usually because I am forgetting to start the lessons by placing the subject in the context of the pupils’ experience, and am simply pitching straight into the content – ‘Open your textbooks at . . .’
Always start by talking about a related topic that pupils know about.

3. Give the class your full attention
Be there waiting for the pupils when they arrive; and make it clear that interruptions are unwelcome. When they arrive, make it clear that they are welcome – if necessary, ACT happy! If the pupils are aware that you dislike them, what have you given them to do but spend the next hour trying to ‘get you back’?

4. Agenda
Start every lesson by telling the pupils what they will be doing – ‘You will be listening to me for the first 5 minutes, then we’re going to spend 10 minutes reading, then . . .’ etc. Keep to your promises.

5. Administration
Make sure that EVERYTHING you will use in the lesson is out and to hand. This applies, not just to the items you will need for/during the lesson, but to those things they will need in the lesson but may not bring (pen, pencil, crayons, rulers etc.). You need to think for them. Set up the lesson so that you won’t need to leave them/ turn your back on them for a moment.

6. Task Difficulty
Pupils often fuss because they do not properly understand what they have to do.
• Make sure that the work tasks you are requiring them to do are simple enough for them to do – that they can read the passage, do the writing etc.
• Make sure that they listen while you explain the task/ give them a written copy, so they know what to do!
• Why not give them two-or-three tasks of differing difficulty and let them choose which one they want to do – e.g. either do the questions, do the cloze exercise or copy page n from the textbook. Most of them will choose the boring-but-easiest task – but it is their choice, so they have no right to complain.
• [VITAL, and usually forgotten by teachers with discipline problems] Explain HOW you require them to do each task – in silence? working with a partner? etc. – and insist they work like this.

7. Concentration time and changeovers
Don’t expect a naughty, less-able class to do a task for a long time – they can’t hold their concentration. Split up the lesson into more, shorter segments than you would for a more able class. ‘Ring the changes’.
But remember that changeover times in a lesson are opportunities for disruption, so – when you change course in a lesson – have everything ready and there for the change (e.g. put the things out on their desks for the next phase while they are working on the previous phase), and make sure you explain clearly HOW they are to clear away the last activity and get ready for the next.

8. Silent Working
Build into each lesson plan a time when they will be sat doing some activity on their own in silence for a while (what they can manage, without being too ambitious). Insist on this as a crucial element and mark successful completion of this as an achievement (reward?). Make it clear that they must not even ask for help, but must sort out problems themselves – to disturb the silence in any way is to fail the task. Perhaps play some music (Mozart is supposed to be best) while they do this.

9. Social Engineering
Do not allow troublemakers to sit next to each other. Find the pupils who can work together without disrupting the lesson. Put the pupils where YOU want them in the classroom – it is your classroom – and don’t let them swarm in and choose for themselves. Do NOT move disruptive pupils to the centre front to be near you – it has no effect anyway. Put them at the fringes/back of the room, with at least one very good pupil between them and the rest of the class (‘buffer zone’). Fill the centre-front of the class with motivated, good pupils – it will change the whole climate of the classroom.
Sometimes just one or two pupils can disrupt the whole lesson. Come to an arrangement with a senior member of staff that those pupils will copy at the back of their room for a few lessons, and not come into yours at all until they are prepared to behave.
Mark out the troublemakers – not always the pupils who are giving you trouble – and isolate/deal with them.
Remember the truth, that most of the pupils at least want a quiet life, and to enjoy the lesson; those who arrive wanting trouble are a minority. Don’t let that minority sour the whole class for you.

10. Threats and bribes
With older/more able naughty classes, in the lessons immediately before break, lunchtime and home time, you can make it clear that, IF the class disrupts/delays your agenda, they WILL spend the time doing what you said. But they will do it in their time at break/ lunch/ after school. ‘I will have 1 hour’s work from you.’ But I generally don’t think the punishment route works as well as one would like, and I certainly don’t advise spending 10 minutes extra with the class you have problems with.
a. If you do give them a punishment (e.g. 5 minutes extra work), write a big ‘5’ on the board and explain that they can win that time back with good behaviour. If you have any sense and opportunity, you will make sure that they have done so by the end of the lesson. And even if they haven’t, find an excuse (e.g. ‘SOME of you have been marvellous, and I don’t see why good pupils should suffer for the few naughty ones’) to go and get your break!
b. I prefer the positive approach. With difficult classes, propose up-front something that they like at the end of the lesson (to watch 10 minutes of a film, have a quiz, play a game etc.). Every minute they delay the other items on your lesson agenda, of course, comes off their ‘nice time’ at the end – with, perhaps the same opportunity to ‘win back’ the time with good behaviour.

11. ‘Autumn Leaves’
‘Going wild’ with a naughty class is usually a mistake. Do not greet them with a tirade. Do not try to bully them into submission (you will stack up problems for yourself when they are older and bigger than you). Demand obedience, but be fair. Be assertive. Be calm and calming. Generally, let them settle like autumn leaves.

12. Divide and Rule
Fall out with a whole class rarely, and with caution. You cannot beat 30 pupils who are out to get you. If you have to get cross, do so with individuals, and make it clear – this is a nice class, with potential, but the lessons are being ruined for everybody by (at the most 4) named individuals. As the teacher, you will have to discipline those individuals for the benefit of the rest of the class. Some children find the teacher getting cross upsetting – always apologise to them for having to get cross with the other pupils.

13. Persistence
It is not necessary to win all the time, every lesson. But next lesson, walk in, and yet again demand proper behaviour. Don’t relax your standards. Don’t give up – a pupil who last lesson took you on and beat you, may not have the stomach for another battle. 90% of successful teaching is sheer damned, obstinate persistence.
The only failure is to stop trying – they are the sad staff. A teacher addressing discipline problems is doing what any teacher should, and what every teacher has to.

#2 Dan Lyndon

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Posted 05 August 2003 - 10:39 AM

I think that this is an excellent summary john and have posted it onto the SMT at my school. I teach in an inner city school in 'challenging circumstances' in London and we have had our fair share of 'monster classes'. I am so glad that you placed good teaching at the top of your list. I strongly believe that this is a teacher's most effective 'weapon' in the classroom even when it is really hard to keep dragging yourself off the floor after another round of pointless argument and shouting. Also it is really important to know that all teachers, regardless of age, experience etc have difficulties with some pupils / classes. The most effective teachers are those that reflect on their practice and learn from their mistakes We have had several INSETs this year on behaviour management and a few interesting points came out of them (in no particular order of importance):

- try to intercept bad behaviour before it reaches a flash / crisis point. This will involve a wide range of strategies including verbal and non verbal responses, moving pupils, reward / sanction etc.
- If the situation blows up it is actually too late to do anything about it other than let the situation cool down (ie remove the student if necessary)
- be proactive rather than passsive - it is your classroom after all, make sure you reclaim it, if necessary.
- use a variety of learning styles so that as many students as possible can be engaged in the lesson - poor behaviour often stems from lack of engagement.
- make your classroom an efective learning environment - see the thread about classroom decor for some handy hints: http://www.schoolhis...?showtopic=1619
and use pupil work as much as possible.
- Also make sure that the room is well ventilated - not too hot in the summer, not too cold in the winter (easier said than done in the victorian schools like mine!)
- BE POSITIVE and ENTHUSIASTIC - you love your subject that is why you chose to teach it, inspire your students with your passion and enthusiasm.

Edited by Dan Lyndon, 05 August 2003 - 10:43 AM.

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#3 Dan Moorhouse

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Posted 05 August 2003 - 11:03 AM

A very good list of suggestions John. Likewise,as a Year leader, one of my roles at school is to offer advice to staff about ways in which poor behaviour can be overcome. In addition to these splendid ideas I'll add the following thoughts, some of which overlap with John's sentiments:

Make expectations clear on day one. If you've got a set of school rules explain your interpretation of them at the beginning of the first lesson. if possible provide an example of expected behaviours - for example, we have a school rule that states that 'when working in groups only the people in your group should be able to hear you.' I get a group to literally act this out to the rest of the class. We can then discuss the reasons for this rule and the positive outcomes that will be gained from following it.

Make it clear that there will be rewards for good behaviour. These will usually take the form of school based rewards systems but it's always worthwhile adding your own in to suit the needs of any particular group. for lower attaining classes for example the reward might be playing a game for the last 5-10 minutes of a lesson. These work best if the students can suggest the rewards.

Have student input into the classroom expectations. My school is very keen on 'Full Value Contracts'. Basically these are agreements that students make with teachers about the way that they will work in any given context. Picking half a dozen points that they believe are important often makes it easier for a teacher to get the students to stick to the rules - afterall, they've created them!

Be firm but fair. Try to give more positives than negatives.

Have a clear system of communicating positives, and negatives, to parents. My system is along the lines of:

Merits as and when I can give them.
A note in several planners every lesson.
A minimum of one student has a positive letter sent home each week - our Learning mentors process these.
Pick up the phone and tell parents how imprerssed I am with their son / daughter.

Having lots of clear objectives to work towards is helpful. These can build inot the dept assessment policy and / or Record of Achievement. A simple certificate of achievement every half term can act as a good motivational tool.

Be Orgainsied - John's said it once but it's worth saying again. Most, though sadly not all, disruptions can be ironed out through careful planning.

#4 alison denton

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Posted 05 August 2003 - 03:54 PM

lots of brilliant advice - I'm going to copy this thread to use as prompts with my PGCE trainees when they get into difficulty.

I would add one or two extras:

1. Always use language which expects pupil compliance instead of reprimanding: eg. instead of 'stop messing around and get on with some work!', try 'Be ready to feed back your answer in 3 minutes, because I'm going to ask your pair/group first.'

2. Where you have to reprimand for safety's sake for example, be sure to give the pupil a face-saving way out. Never use sarcasm or put-downs.

3. try to ignore most low-level disruption which is aimed at winding you up. It is not a victory to them if they can't succeed in getting to you. Judge whether you need to react at all, as well as how to react if intervention seems necessary. Engage on your terms, not those of the disruptive elements.

4. Out of class support is VITAL - you need somewhere to send a really troublesome kid (or someone you can call on to fetch them). People near you are best to start with, but SMT MUST take their full share of responsibility seriously on this one (i know it is annoying when Mr./Mrs. X always sends pupils out for not having pens etc., but the answer is not to deny the rest of the staff the support they should be entitled to)

5. remember in every class it really is only a handful of pupils who are the REAL problem, others follow or are entertained by them. Identify the ones you really do need to deal with, and deal with them. Don't be intimidated; call in support, be reasonable and fair. The bottom line is that the behaviour of a few cannot be allowed to jeopardise the education of the many, or indeed your sanity. You do have a right to get on with your job when at work.

6. Always separate the behaviour from the pupil, and let them know this. It is the behaviour that is wrong. The pupil can be redeemed.

#5 Eve



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Posted 06 August 2003 - 06:26 PM

What an excellent thread!
I teach primary children who have been excluded and we have found that those children who are most demanding (almost all of ours!!) respond really well when you show you like them. Whenever we have an awful, really challenging child we make a BIG effort to use a 'pet' name to make them feel special, or make a special effort to be really nice to them. This raises their self-esteem and they start being nice back.
I don't know if it would work with older kids (ours only go up to 12) but it's like magic with ours.
Mind you all the other tips you've given are important too.


#6 Richard Drew

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Posted 08 August 2003 - 04:16 PM

lots of brilliant advice - I'm going to copy this thread to use as prompts with my PGCE trainees when they get into difficulty.

got to the bottom of John's posting and did the same, nw i have read this, i'll keep it for myself!!!!!!

fabolous thread John, thanks very much :flowers: :flowers: :flowers:
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#7 Stephen Drew

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Posted 26 August 2003 - 10:06 AM

I think that seating plans and desk organisation is one of the keys to a successful classroom. I often find that teachers in my school who are having lots of trouble have no sense of organisation to their classroom. They just let the kids sit wherever they like, and even move from lesson to lesson. Now of course I am sure that for some people such a method works perfectly well and they would not see any need to organise or plan their seating arrangements, but I am totally the opposite to that.

I have my classroom in a horseshoe of desks all around the edge, with three in the middle to make up the numbers. I find this my most successful arrangement as it allows me easy access to all of the class without having to be behind any students. It also means that no student has any need to turn around at any time, and they can all see each other as they talk to the class.

I also seating plan all of my classes using the following criteria:


Students know they will sit where I put them and I change this every half term or so in order to keep things fresh. I also leave photocopies of my seating plans when I leave cover lessons - works a treat!

How do other people organise their classrooms and what good / bad practice can we all share as we get ready for the new term. :teacher:
"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts." - Bertrand Russell

#8 Richard Drew

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Posted 26 August 2003 - 01:21 PM

my classroom is very traditional i think. i have 4 columns of double desks arranged in 4 rows, making a square of 32 desks, with aisles wide enough for me to circulate in between each double desk.

i do a lot of pair discussion, brainstorming, problem solving etc so this works very well for me.

the pairs are boy/girl - not so much for behaviour (although partly for this) but for 'learning styles' purposes, to encourage more decisiveness in girls, more collaboration in boys etc. i also seek to place pairs of varying abilities together.

thus when i double the pairs up for group work i usually have a group with all four of the key learning styles together, and the full range of abilities.

however, i don't rotate them as much as i should, that is a resolution for he new year ahead.
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#9 larochelle



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Posted 26 August 2003 - 04:50 PM

want to contribute something useful to this but don't know how to! I've always had my classroom as Richard describes, but am sorely tempted by the horseshoe, which is what I preferred as a student...are there any snags I should be aware of before I take the plunge?

#10 Stephen Drew

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Posted 26 August 2003 - 05:11 PM

There are quite a few snags, all of which are to do with classroom control and discipline. However this can be overcome by the benefits and influence I think it has on the dynamic of the classroom.

The biggest potential downside of the horsehoe layout is that all the kids can see it each other (which is of course one of its biggest positives as well :blink: ). Threfore the scope for talking and being off task with any of your friends in another part of the room is greater. Students have no need to turn around to talk, so the temptation can be greater for some classes.

However I think this can be overcome by the fact that the layout allows you to be the centre of attention at any time for the class. You can walk up and down and around the centre space, helping lots of students both with their work and their need to stay on task in your lesson.

I think it does need carefully thought out seating plans to work so that the chatterboxes and disrupters are as far apart as possible.

Overall though I think the positives outweigh the negatives by far and can easily be overcome with almost any class.
"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts." - Bertrand Russell

#11 A Finemess

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Posted 26 August 2003 - 07:22 PM

How you organise your room is to some extent immaterial I think. The key is that you organise it! Every student or young teacher I have anything to do with, I pass that simple message on. Successful teachers are not authoritarian but they give off cues that show that they have authority. Putting kids in their place, literally, is the first step. It lets them know that you are in charge, reinforces the point that they are not in school for social purposes but to learn and makes it easier to learn their names.

I agree with Stephen that teachers who fail to undertake this simple task often have problems with class management .

I place my kids boy/ girl around a plan which resembles two letter E s, one being the mirror of the other. This leaves a space in the middle in which I can "perform" and one at the front for desk (on the left) and whiteboard.
“All men dream; but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act out otheir dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”.(T.E. Lawrence)
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#12 clairereds


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Posted 26 August 2003 - 07:45 PM

I am also quite traditional. Seperate tables all in rows facing me. Kids sit boy/ girl. I tell students that when they enter my class it is like coming into my home. Therefore I tell them where to sit and this can change at any time. However on special occcasions they get to work in groups tables all around the class. When we do roleplay the room gets organised by the kidS

Quick Plan

------------- ----------------- ----------------- -----------------

------------- ----------------- ----------------- ----------------

------------- ----------------- -------------------- -----------------

-------------- -------------------- -------------------

(my desk)

___________ _____________


( ____________________)


Edited by clairereds, 26 August 2003 - 07:47 PM.

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#13 Helen S

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Posted 26 August 2003 - 09:10 PM

The issue of seating is playing on my mind a little at the moment with term drawing closer.............

As far as I can gather the person whose job I'm taking over did not use a seating plan. I don't think she needed to, being in control after 4 years.

How therefore am I to approach this with year 9 for example?

Also............do people use seating plans at KS4?

Helen :hehe:
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#14 A Finemess

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Posted 26 August 2003 - 09:18 PM

See above! If they're in your room, they sit where you tell 'em, regardless of age etc. Do that from day 1 and they'll get the message.
“All men dream; but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act out otheir dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”.(T.E. Lawrence)
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#15 Stephen Drew

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Posted 26 August 2003 - 09:44 PM

Get the class lists before they enter the room.

Sit down with and draw up YOUR seating plan.

Let them in the room one by one and tell them exactly where to sit. Do not let them in the room until they play ball.

If you lose the first 20 minutes or so of your first Year 9 lesson of the year because of this, so be it. That will be 20 minutes that reaps you massive rewards later on as the year goes on.

I know it sounds old fashioned and authoritarian, but I firmly believe that it is your classroom and that you have to set the guidelines, standards and ethos - the kids have to learn to live with it.
"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts." - Bertrand Russell

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