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Andrea M. Hill

Theory on Classroom Management

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Classrooms in the United States have become a mosaic of cultures, ethnicities, experiences and beliefs, a social shift that effective educators must fully embrace.  The classroom environment must be a community where students feel certain their personalities, opinions and convictions are respected.  Without this level of comfort, students will not be able to focus on the academic learning tasks at hand.  It is imperative to foster an environment where each student feels safe both physically and emotionally.  By implementing effective classroom management procedures to organize students, space, materials and time, teachers can create a predictable environment where students are secure and discipline is unavoidable. 

     Students are the center of the learning environment; emphasizing this from the very beginning will create students more open to learning.  Education is an adventure, an experience in which students must be active learners.  By encouraging students to share prior knowledge and build upon it, they will realize the role they play in their own education.  Knowledge must not be poured onto students, nor should a teacher force rote memorization of facts.  Instead, teachers must facilitate as the students embark upon their educational journey.  I firmly believe in teaching for mastery by challenging students’ prior perceptions, forcing them to analyze current thought, and advocating the creation of personal theories and beliefs based upon facts.

     Management of students centers around clearly communicating needs and expectations.  On the first day of school, student and teacher expectations should be formulated through a democratic process.  Classroom management theorist Forrest Gathercoal outlines this approach in Judicious Discipline, describing that it creates a forum for students and teachers to relate to one another, simultaneously teaching them about their responsibility toward each other.  Gathercoal also emphasizes motivation and encouragement, principal elements for a successful classroom.[1] 

     Further management of students comes from immediately addressing misbehaviors, redirecting that behavior and avoiding power struggles.  Immediacy is a necessity in managing a classroom.  It will aid in drawing a firm line between what will and will not be tolerated.  Non-verbal communication is key in efficiently handling these disruptions, helping to avoid interference with time spent on learning.  For instance, if the procedure is in place from the beginning, students will respond to a quick glance, stare, raise of the eyebrows or hand in the air. Creating and practicing procedures makes all of the difference in preserving classroom time. 

     Redirecting behavior takes telling a student he or she is wrong a step further.  Instead of solely being reprimanded, a student should know what he or she should be doing instead.  Their improper behavior should be transmitted into correct actions.  Behavior is shaped by consequences, especially immediate consequences.  According to B.F. Skinner, behavior modification and positive reinforcement works best in the early stages of classroom environment development.  Constantly praising and rewarding students will reinforce positive behavior.[2]  Thomas Gordon holds that effective discipline “cannot be achieved through rewards and punishments”; however, it can be used as a management technique to promote proper behavior and prevent negative behavior.[3]    

     Utilizing classroom space to monitor students also prevents potential disruptions.  Constantly walking around the room, assisting students, providing positive feedback and correcting errors can curb negative behavior.  Many disruptions arise because students either do not understand the task at hand or are uninterested in it.  Establishing a presence in all areas of the room –not just the front— will help students feel comfortable asking for assistance when needed.  Monitoring also helps the teacher observe the types of activities students are interested and excel in.  This promotes the active engagement of students and requires the teacher to create lessons geared at motivating students to learn.

     Successful classroom management also requires effective organization of classroom space.  Too often teachers overlook the physical arrangement of the classroom as a management tool both for the prevention of unwanted behavior and the promotion of a healthy learning environment where procedures can be executed efficiently.  Management of space begins with creating an effective seating arrangement, which encourages learning and limits behavioral problems.  Dr. Harry K. Wong differentiates seating arrangements and seating assignments saying that the former are arranged to coincide with the task designed while the latter are assigned to maximize learning and classroom management.[4]  For instance, for group work, creating a seating arrangement with the desks in clusters would maximize production and minimize wasted time on arranging groups.  No one form of seating arrangement should be permanently used; arrangement is dependent on the activity.  Most importantly, the classroom should be arranged to promote safety, with high traffic areas kept clear.

     Posting procedures, expectations, inspirational quotes and pertinent school and community information will create a colorful, warm, stimulating environment conducive to learning.  Managing materials and keeping supplies neat and organized not only promotes safety but decreases time wasted on searching for materials.  All student grades, computer files and lesson plans should be ordered in a confidential, teacher-only, accessible area.  Proper organization prevents the misplacement of supplies and resources, essential to a well-managed environment. 

     The last element of an effectively managed classroom is the organization of time.  Learning comes from proper allocation of time in a classroom.  This allocated time can be broken down into instructional time, engaged time and academic learning time.  Academic learning time is the time given to students for learning.[5]  An effective teacher manages the classroom to maximize academic learning time and minimize time wasted on activities such as taking attendance and getting students on task.  Instead, students should be immediately engaged in a learning activity.  In a predictable, well-managed environment, the students know to begin work as soon as they enter the classroom.  Often referred to as a “Bell Ringer”, activities or work should be posted for students to begin as they settle into class.  Attendance can be taken while students are working.  

     Posting a daily agenda works wonders in organizing time.  Students spend time focused on the current activity instead of anxiously worrying about what will happen next.  Agendas also help students to know exactly what will be expected of them for the day and what materials they will need so they too can be organized.  Organizing students, space, materials and time and implementing procedures, setting clear expectations, promoting student-centered learning and honoring diversity will create a successful well-managed learning environment.     

     My classroom management philosophy is much more complex than the constraints of a three level approach.  In a sense, I blend aspects of low, medium and high methodologies; however, my philosophy should not be categorized.  This management philosophy has been shaped by researching various theorists, observing actual classroom interaction, and having critical conversations with both veteran and pre-service teachers.

 


[1] Gathercoal, F.  (1990). Judicious discipline (2nd ed.). Davis, CA: Caddo Gap Press.

[2] Skinner, B.F. (1971). Beyond freedom and dignity. New York: Knopf.

[3] Burden, P. (2003). Classroom management: Creating a successful learning community.. (2nd ed.). NJ: Courier Westford.

[4] Wong, H and R. (2001). The first days of school.  CA: Wong Publications  

[5] Wong, H and R. (2001). The first days of school.  CA: Wong Publications

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