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Five Classroom Management Strategies That Work

SRI International
   Daniela Saucedo & Kori Hamilton Biagas

teacher helping middle-school student in classroom

Many of us recall being in a class and hearing our teacher call out, “one, two, three, eyes on me,” and every student knew to quiet down and face forward. We all have anecdotes from grade school of our teachers using clever strategies to get our attention and help us focus on learning. These tactics and others like it are part of classroom management, or the skills and tools teachers use to keep a classroom focused and on task. While there are many different classroom management techniques, here are five evidence-based strategies based on the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) practice guide, Reducing Behavior Problems in the Elementary School Classroom,1 and Simonsen and colleagues' systematic literature search, Evidence-based Practices in Classroom Management: Considerations for Research to Practice.2

1. Be specific when identifying a problem behavior. Consider: what is prompting the student to act out? Consider: what is reinforcing the behavior?

It is important to help students recognize when their actions are disruptive and know that they have the ability to change disruptive behavior. For example, instead of noting a student regularly exhibits disruptive behavior, keep track of what the specific behavior is and when and how often it occurs. Perhaps the student blurts out answers without raising her hand every day during whole-class instruction. Or possibly a student struggles to line up quietly when transitioning to lunch or recess. Once the teacher documents this specific information, they may attempt to understand what precedes or follows that disruptive behavior that could be contributing to or reinforcing it. When a student blurts out answers, the teacher might then think about strategies to support that student, such as reminding the whole class to raise their hands during whole-class instruction, acknowledging students who raise their hands, and not praising students who share the correct answer but do not raise their hands. When a student is struggling to line up appropriately, the teacher might allow the student to practice the appropriate behavior by assigning them the role of line leader during transitions to non-academic activities, reminding the whole class of the line and hallway expectations, and offering praise to students who line up according to expectations. Research suggests that tailoring an intervention to the distinct needs or behaviors of an individual student in a classroom is more effective than a blanket intervention. Strategies that aren't linked to a specific problem behavior can contribute to increasing the unwanted behavior, rather than decreasing or changing it.

2. Set up the classroom environment for success. Ask yourself: could the class setting be contributing to disruptive behaviors?

teacher helping elementary school student in classroom

Classroom elements that trigger disruptive or negative behavior “can result from a mismatch between the classroom setting or academic demand and students' strengths, preferences, or skills.”3 For example, students could be unfocused because they are engaged in an academically demanding activity at the very end of the day. Or, maybe the classroom isn't set up in a way that allows a teacher to smoothly walk around and monitor student engagement. Additionally, the transition time between activities could be disrupting students' attention. Finding the balance between academic demand and student environmental needs can make all the difference in a teacher's ability to successfully manage a classroom. To carry out this strategy, it's important for teachers to revisit and regularly reinforce classroom behavioral expectations, take steps to ensure that the classroom environment is not the source of problem behaviors, and vary instructional strategies to increase opportunities for success and engagement.

3. Teach and reinforce new social and behavioral skills to preserve a positive classroom climate.

Classroom and behavior management begins with setting expectations for success. When students are not meeting those expectations, correcting disruptive behavior by modeling and reinforcing positive behavior is one strategy that can lead to a more positive classroom climate. For instance, a teacher telling a student “you've been doing so well raising your hand when you want to speak, you get to take a short break and go to the water fountain” helps reward the behavior and clearly communicates what led to the reward. Teachers engaging in social and behavioral skill-building, such as showing appropriate attention-seeking methods, and reinforcement of these skills, have been shown to reduce inappropriate behaviors. To implement this recommendation, teachers should identify where a student needs explicit instruction, provide examples, practice, and feedback, and ensure reinforcers are provided for appropriate behavior and withheld for inappropriate behavior.

4. Actively engage students in tangible ways.

Differentiating instruction methods is key to engaging students' various learning styles. Research shows that when students are actively engaged in academic work, it is difficult for them to engage in disruptive behavior. As an example, a teacher could ask students to respond to questions in real-time using individual erasable boards which requires active participation and increases engagement. Teachers could also provide students with an outline of a lecture and ask them to follow along and fill in additional details as the lecture progresses. Increasing students' opportunities to respond, and providing guided notes can all help ensure active participation and reduce disruption.

5. It's hard work! Lean on colleagues and students' families for guidance and support.

Adults attending presentations

When teachers have a class of 30 plus or see more than 100 students a day, it can be challenging to understand individual student's academic and personal strengths and behavioral triggers. To get to know the needs of their students, teachers can compare notes with colleagues on classroom management strategies that have worked with specific students. Teachers can also encourage students' family members to engage in teaching and reinforcing appropriate behavior. They could ask families for strategies that work at home to help solve the problem at school. Parents, school personnel, and behavioral experts can all be great allies for managing a classroom. These relationships can help alleviate teacher stress and burnout from handling chronic or serious behavior problems.

Research on effective classroom management has come a long way since the “One, two, three, eyes on me” method! Using these five strategies, teachers can continue to make the classroom a positive and learning-focused space for all students.

Additional Resources

For more concrete examples of and detailed explanations for the above strategies, check out:

Also visit The Center for Teaching Quality for more resources and support on managing behavior.

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Footnotes:

1 Epstein, M., Atkins, M., Cullinan, D., Kutash, K., & Weaver, R. (2008). Reducing behavior problems in the elementary school classroom: A practice guide(NCEE #2008-012) . Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED502720.

2 Simonsen, B., Fairbanks, S., Briesch, A., Myers, D., & Sugai, G. (2008). Evidence-based practices in classroom management: Considerations for research to practice. Education and Treatment of Children, 31(3), 351–380. Abstract retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ798223; full text available at https://www.researchgate.net/ publication/236785368_Evidence-based_Practices_in_Classroom_Management_Considerations_for_Research_ to_Practice.

3 Epstein et al. 2008.