3 Easy Classroom Discipline Tips Your Students Desperately Want You to Use
Are you struggling with classroom discipline?
Have you read reams of classroom management articles & tried them only to be greeted by the sweet sound of your student's creative use of the 'F' word?
Yeap. We've been there too. Don't worry, you are not alone.
You might think that your students are allergic to any form of classroom discipline & they are all mini Che Gueveras ready to declare your classroom a 'republic.'
But in this blogpost, I argue that your students want you to handle classroom management in a different way. May I humbly suggest that you are looking at the classroom discipline the wrong way round?
In this blogpost you will learn:
1) Why the 'old skool' methods of classroom discipline will not work on our 21st Century students.
2) How our society's declining attention span means that our pupils give us less time than ever.
And most importantly...
3) 3 easy tips that will improve your classroom discipline and do wonders for your students' engagement.
Are you ready? Let's go.
Steve Jobs Killed Classroom Discipline
On Tuesday 9th January 2007, when Steve Jobs glided on the Macworld Conference stage, he held up a device that changed the world: the 1st iPhone. But at the same time, Jobs opened Pandora's Box for ill-discipline in classrooms around the globe.
We are the first generation of teachers in our 200,000 modern human history that are competing for our students' hearts and minds with a five-inch by three-inch flashing box that now dictates most of our lives.
For the greatness of teachers like Socrates, Plato, Sir Isaac Newton or Richard Feynman, I don’t know how they would cope with the constant ping, ping, ping of their students' mobile phone devices and Snapchat stories. Cheers, Steve.
From experience, around 70% of the problems in the classroom have involved a mobile phone. When you are teaching your students, you are fighting for their attention and chances are that 90% of the time, we have already lost that battle.
Your students, especially if they are teenagers, are dealing with all that teenagy stuff: trying to figure themselves out, thinking about their latest crush, wanting to fit in with the ‘cool crew,’ wondering whether to buy 'chicken and chips' on the way home and so on.
Shouting at them & demanding their attention in this day & age will not work. No matter how cool you think you are, you will never beat BTS, Beyonce or Kim Kardashian - & they can see them at the click of a button.
Shorter Attention Spans Means Less Classroom Discipline
The Independent Newspaper published an interesting article reporting that the average British adult can only concentrate for fourteen minutes at a time.
According to their report, this got even worse if the meeting was more complex stating that "finance-related meetings or conversations only keep our attention for 10 minutes3."
Our attention spans are getting shorter.
If as adults we find it hard to concentrate for ten minutes, how much harder will it be to get our young people to concentrate for at least an hour?
When dealing with your students, you will find that there will be peaks and troughs in their attention and you must make sure that you use these ‘windows’ of attention effectively. There are several factors that affect the size of the windows.
The time of day - In the mornings we are at our most refreshed and alert, meaning that we can concentrate for longer periods of time. But as the day wears on, we get tired and these windows start to grow shorter. This is why traditionally behaviour tends to worsen in the afternoons.
The day of the week - If you teach students that have a full timetable, the cumulative effect of day to day lessons will wear your students down. By the time they reach Thursday or Friday, they will have their minds on the weekend rather than school.
The classroom dynamics — if you have a class full of disruptive, aggressive students, then the ability of your other students to concentrate on your tasks will be significantly reduced.
The relationships that you have with the students in the class — if you haven't built up a relationship with any of your students, you won't have the authority and mutual respect to lead the class. This is why supply teaching is so hard.
This can be a tough gig. Here are some tips that will help you to take advantage of these 'windows' of time.
1) ‘Front-load’ Your Lessons
In Music Production, there is a technique called “Front-loading” where the song will start off with the chorus or the hook such as Bob Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff” or Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood.” The reason being that this helps grab the listener’s attention straight away.
Likewise, with your lessons, do your main activities as soon as possible especially if they are the ones that are the most labour intensive. Your students' willpower will be at its peak at the beginning of the lesson and this will help keep them engaged.
Researchers have noted how willpower is directly related to the glucose that you had in your bloodstream which provides energy to your body and once that dropped, attention dropped too.
They noted that "willpower, like a muscle, becomes fatigued from overuse but can also be strengthened over the long term2.” This way if they do start to falter later in the lesson, you have completed the most important activities and you can rest a little easier.
2) Work Hard In Short Bursts
For all the reasons explained above, getting some of your students to work for one hour fully focused may be unrealistic and they may start to protest as soon as you present that prospect to them!
If that is the case get them to work in short intense bursts followed by a short break. The best way to do this is by using the well-regarded “Pomodoro Technique.”
This technique was developed by Productivity Expert and Consultant Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The word ‘pomodoro’ is Italian for ‘tomato’ and this describes the tomato-shaped cooking timers that are still extremely popular today.
It's simple: Get your students to work for twenty-five minutes on a well-defined task and then afterwards, give them a five-minute break.
Set the timer and display it somewhere that they can see it and in that time, there shouldn’t be any talking or distractions. Although twenty-five minutes isn't a huge window, if done regularly, will help your students build focus and willpower over time.
Other benefits include greater resiliency to stress and time pressure. Dr Barbara Oakley writes in her book “A Mind For Numbers”
“if you learn under mild stress, you can handle greater stress more easily… if you get used to figuring things out under a mild time crunch, you are less likely to choke later, when you are in a high-pressure test-taking situation3.”
If you teach the same group of students over the year and they are preparing for important exams, make the work intervals longer and longer to simulate the conditions in an exam. That way they are less likely to feel anxious in the real thing.
With the breaks, they can either be lighter activities or they can stop completely altogether. From experience, lighter activities often work better as students that stop completely find it harder to start again when the time comes.
These breaks could be quick quizzes, talking to a partner or group work. The aim here is to get their focus off the hard task to give them a chance to refresh their minds. Experiment and see what works for you.
3) Incentivise Your Lessons
If you have students who have worked very hard, producing all the work that they have asked to do and they have been really positive all lesson, make sure that you reward them.
You must make sure you reward them based more on their effort rather than their ability. This will encourage the learners who struggle in your subject to keep on persevering and shows that you are acknowledging their deeds. This will help you build mutual respect.
Make sure that the rewards are age-appropriate and will be of benefit to your students. Offering a “Gold Star” to a moody sixteen year old for good work will probably earn you their contempt rather than admiration so be mindful of their preferences.
Once you have got to know your students, you will be able to figure out what the right rewards in the right situations will be.
From experience, what works really well across the age ranges in ‘free time.’ Let your students know that if they complete all their tasks to a good standard, they can get some time to do their own activities either at the end of the lesson or at a future date.
This will give them something to aim for & will encourage them to stay motivated. This is especially important after they have completed an important assessment or after an exam period. Some of them will be spent - give them time to breathe.
Where you can, try to allocate times where your students can just chill. Remember, for most of our children, they are expected to be fully focused for 4 - 5 hours a day. They are humans, not robots & we should be sensitive enough to their needs.
I hope that you enjoyed this post! But this only scratches the surface...
I believe that we are living through one of the most remarkable periods in Human History. The COVID pandemic is just the beginning & things will never return to normal.
Our students are called 'Generation Z' - & they have a front-row ticket to these radical changes in our world. The 'old-skool' ways of teaching are done. Give yourself an edge when you teach Generation Z.
Teachers, my aims with this eBook are simple:
1) To give you the Bird's Eye view of how these revolutionary times shape our students' worldviews and attitudes.
2) And give you practical, hands-on, tips, tricks & solutions to keep your students engaged, inspired & behaving a little better in your classrooms… Physically or virtually!
Add your email to the subscription box below & get your free eBook in under 60 seconds!
You know the Nike quote "Just Do It."
Karl from actionheroteacher.com
1. Emma Elsworthy. 2017. Average British attention span is 14 minutes, research finds. The Independant [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/attention-span-average-british-person-tuned-in-concentration-mobile-phone-a8131156.html
2. Baumeister, R. & Tierney, J, 2012. Willpower: Why Self-Control is The Secret to Success. 1st ed. Great Britain: Penguin. Page 1
3. 25. Oakley, B., 2014. A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra). 1st ed. United States of America: Penguin Group. Page 103