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Supporting Positive At-Home Behaviors Among Elementary Students

REL Pacific
Meagan Taylor
July 13, 2020

Female student studying at home with books and papers spread out over her desk

Imagine a child sitting at a table. The table is covered with math worksheets and books, pencils and crayons, and the child is busily taking the paper off their crayons. Or perhaps the child is asking for a snack for the third time in an hour, or staring off into space, or throwing their materials on the floor. Many teachers understand the catalyst for these types of behaviors in the classroom, and how to redirect students; however, the COVID-19 pandemic has suddenly shifted classroom learning to the home and has required parents and other caregivers to take on the role of teacher and behavior manager. In many homes, this rapid shift in roles and a new learning environment for students has led to frustration and possible learning loss. Although it's not always obvious, learning and behavior are connected. A student's ability to stay focused, persevere, and avoid distractions directly affects his or her ability to understand concepts and complete assignments. Fortunately, there are strategies that parents and caregivers can leverage to support student learning while children are learning remotely (whether because of a pandemic, natural disaster, or traumatic experience).

Practicing effective behavior management strategies require time, patience, and an understanding of reasons why students act out, which could range from missing a meal, mimicking observed behaviors (whether from within the family, from their peers, or as seen in the media), or chronic stress or trauma. In a learning environment, employing effective behavior management strategies requires the teacher, or parent/caregiver, to understand that misbehavior can signal something else.1 For example, children experiencing stress or trauma may act out because they lack the vocabulary to communicate their thoughts, emotions, or needs. Children who are embarrassed because they don't understand their work may avoid doing it because they are unable to express their frustration. Effective behavior management requires that a teacher, parent, or other caregiver be able to reframe misbehavior and proactively support student learning of positive behaviors rather than reactively punishing negative behaviors.2

Behavior support strategies are not a one-size-fits-all approach because every child is different 3 —their needs are different, the things that motivate them are different, and their background experiences are different. This means that the way a parent or caregiver confronts behavior concerns must be different, even for children within the same household. A student sitting at a table peeling wrappers off crayons may be exhibiting these behaviors to avoid doing work that is difficult for them. Parents/caregivers or teachers who do not recognize the motivating factors for misbehavior may react by ignoring or engaging with their child to change this behavior; however, depending on the child's personality, this might encourage the behavior to continue. Research suggests that moving through the following behavior strategies in order will lead to increased academic achievement4 and will help 80–90 percent of students successfully learn in a home or school environment.5

Behavior Strategy 1: Maintain a positive learning environment. Students learn best in an environment that is positive and set up for their success. Here are some tips to create this environment at home:

  • Create a specific physical space for study that allows your student to focus.
  • Find, organize, and set up materials so they are easy to reach without your student having to leave their study area.
  • Initiate conversations about the student's current situation, allowing the student to ask questions and share their feelings.
  • Offer your student choices whenever possible: the schedule for the day, what they want to learn about, what pencil they want to use, etc.
  • Create an environment where it is understood that mistakes are the essence of learning.6 Help students understand that we learn more from mistakes than from getting the right answer because mistakes provide opportunities to connect what we know and don't know.

Behavior Strategy 2: Set and reinforce expectations to create an orderly environment where learning can occur. Students work best in an environment that is well-defined in terms of dos and don'ts.7 8 In order to support student learning, parents and caregivers can:

  • Create a specific physical space for study that allows your student to focus.
  • Set three to five simple rules, in collaboration with your student, that set expectations for behavior.9
  • Explain procedures so that students know what to do, and when and how to do it. Procedures are the structures that help a learning environment run smoothly. These could include things like where to get extra paper or how to ask for help.
  • Teach procedures using concrete language, following these four steps: define, demonstrate, practice, and refine.10
  • Reinforce rules and procedures with reminders and positive reinforcement that motivates your student to be persistent in their learning.11

Behavior Strategy 3: Consistency is key. Successful student learning hinges on consistently and fairly following through on behavior expectations.12 Consistency can help students become independent and self-motivated learners. Ideas for creating and maintaining consistency that parents and caregivers can implement include 8In order to support student learning, parents and caregivers can: :

  • Set predictable events, activities, and routines for the day. Be sure to include your student in the decision making.13
  • Regularly walk around the room or near your student to communicate that you are “aware” of your student.14
  • Use frequent verbal praise that is specific and descriptive.
  • Use clear consequences when unacceptable behavior occurs.15
  • Use positive redirecting before using negative reminders or reprimands.16

Behavior Strategy 4: Make the academic content accessible to students. Taking the time upfront to explain a task, effective strategies for completing it, and directions can help a student feel successful and stay motivated. Parents and caregivers support students in this when they:

  • Give clear directions for a task so students know what is expected of them. Unclear directions can lead to frustration, off-task behavior, and acting out.17
  • Begin a task by giving the student something to be curious about or to work for.18
  • Break tasks into manageable segments for students.
  • Allow children to change tasks and come back to frustrating ones when they have given it their best effort for a reasonable amount of time.19

Behavior Strategy 5: Teach and reinforce new behaviors when it is necessary. Sometimes new behaviors may need to be introduced to the student in order to support a better learning environment. These ideas may help address some challenging behavior situations:

  • When possible, adjust or change things that might trigger a behavior. Triggers could include the schedule/time of day, location, subject matter, a transition, the length or pace of the work, the materials, the final product, the next activity, and/or the learning environment your student is in.20 Offering your student a voice and a choice in these changes may also support a behavior change.21
  • Motivation gives direction and helps the student choose a particular behavior.22 If a problematic behavior is occurring, it may be necessary to observe for one to two weeks in order to determine the motivation for that behavior. Motivations typically include the student wanting to get something or get out of doing something.
  • Once you identify the motivations for the behavior, your student can be taught a new behavior (for example, appropriate attention-seeking strategies, social skills, problem-solving, and/or self-management) using steps such as explaining the behavior, breaking down the steps, modeling the behavior, and offering opportunities for practice.23
  • Determine the consequences (positive and negative) that will be effective for your student.24 Offer immediate praise or rewards that encourage the new behavior.25 Have these gradually diminish over time as the behavior becomes the common expectation.
  • After a change is implemented, know that there will be setbacks. Observing, tracking, and adjusting with patience is key.26 Generally, behavior interventions take a month to have a lasting effect and require one or two small, systematic changes at a time; however, the right change will show results much sooner.27
  • If more support is needed, reaching out to a child's teacher may be a next step as they can share ideas specific to a student in a learning environment.

Parents and caregivers know their child better than anyone. They know what motivates them and causes them to shut down. However, when the role of a parent or caregiver changes to include the role of teacher, knowing and using the most effective behavior management strategies can help support this shift. The strategies listed in this blog offer a foundation for parents and caregivers, and their students, to build positive relationships, and offer students a better environment for progressing academically while learning at home. Although implementing these strategies will require time and effort up front, they may help your student be more successful now and in the future.

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Footnotes:

1 Evertson, C. M., & Weinstein, C. S. (Eds.). (2011). Handbook of classroom management: Research, practice, and contemporary issues. Oxfordshire, England: Routledge.

2 Sieberer-Nagler, K. (2016). Effective classroom-management & positive teaching. English Language Teaching, 9(1), 163–172. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1087130.pdf

3 Evertson, C. M., & Weinstein, C. S. (Eds.). (2011). Handbook of classroom management: Research, practice, and contemporary issues. Oxfordshire, England: Routledge.

4 Huth, R. (2015). A strategy for classroom management success. Journal on Best Teaching Practices, 2(2), 4–6. http://teachingonpurpose.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Huth-R.-2015.-A-Strategy-for-Classroom-Management-Success.pdf

5 Owen, S. (2016). Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (https://www.pbis.org/)

6 Sieberer-Nagler, K. (2016). Effective classroom-management & positive teaching. English Language Teaching, 9(1), 163–172. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1087130.pdf

7 Albrecht, N. J., (2019). Wong, H. K., Wong, R. T., & Seroyer, C. (2005). The first days of school: How to be an effective teacher. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications.

8 Sieberer-Nagler, K. (2016). Effective Classroom-Management & Positive Teaching. English Language Teaching, 9(1), 163–172. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1087130.pdf

9 Chandra, R. (2015). Classroom management for effective teaching. International Journal of Education and Psychological Research, 4(4), 13–15. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/313889949_Classroom_ Management_for_Effective_Teaching

10 Forlini, G., Williams, E., & Brinkman, A. (2014). Help teachers engage students: Action tools for administrators. New York, NY: Routledge.

11 Evertson, C. M. (1994). Classroom management for elementary teachers. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon, A Division of Simon & Schuster.

12 Kern, L., & Clemens, N. H. (2007). Antecedent strategies to promote appropriate classroom behavior. Psychology in the Schools, 44(1), 65–75. https://doi.org/10.1002/pits.20206

13 Atkins, M. (2018). Behavior management strategies for the elementary school setting (Unpublished thesis). St. John Fisher College, New York. https://fisherpub.sjfc.edu/education_ETD_masters/363/

14 Sieberer-Nagler, K. (2016). Effective classroom-management & positive teaching. English Language Teaching, 9(1), 163–172. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1087130.pdf

15 Marzano, R. J., & Marzano, J. S. (2003). The key to classroom management. Educational Leadership, 61(1), 6–13. http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept03/vol61/num01/The-Key-to-Classroom-Management.aspx

16 Kern, L., & Clemens, N. H. (2007). Antecedent strategies to promote appropriate classroom behavior. Psychology in the Schools, 44(1), 65–75. https://doi.org/10.1002/pits.20206

17 Atkins, M. (2018). Behavior management strategies for the elementary school setting (Unpublished thesis). St. John Fisher College, New York. https://fisherpub.sjfc.edu/education_ETD_masters/363/

18 Goodwin, B. (2018). Out of curiosity: Restoring the power of hungry minds for better schools, workplaces, and lives. Denver, CO: McREL International.

19 Huth, R. (2015). A Strategy for classroom management success. Journal on Best Teaching Practices, 2(2), 4–6. Retrieved from: http://teachingonpurpose.org/journal/a-strategy-for-classroom-management-success/

20 Marzano, R. J., & Marzano, J. S. (2003). The key to classroom management. Educational Leadership, 61(1), 6–13. http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept03/vol61/num01/The-Key-to-Classroom-Management.aspx

21 Epstein, M., Atkins, M., Cullinan, D., Kutash, K., and 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. https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/PracticeGuide/4

22 Sieberer-Nagler, K. (2016). Effective classroom-management & positive teaching. English Language Teaching, 9(1), 163–172. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1087130.pdf

23 Forlini, G., Williams, E., & Brinkman, A. (2014). Help teachers engage students: Action tools for administrators. New York, NY: Routledge.

24 Foley, D. (2009). Six classroom management tips every teacher can use. Washington, DC: National Education Association. https://www.tes.com/news/six-classroom-management-tips-every-teacher-can-use

25 Sieberer-Nagler, K. (2016). Effective classroom-management & positive teaching. English Language Teaching, 9(1), 163–172. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1087130.pdf

26 Huth, R. (2015). A Strategy for classroom management success. Journal on Best Teaching Practices, 2(2), 4–6. Retrieved from: http://teachingonpurpose.org/journal/a-strategy-for-classroom-management-success/

27 Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (https://www.pbis.org/)