Large class sizes make classroom management every teacher’s most
important task. For busy parents under pressure, it can also be difficult
to manage time effectively. The stress can often lead to frustration and
result in a negative verbal relationship with children. In order to get
the situation under control, parents and teachers resort to threats, yelling
and demeaning comments that constitute negative reinforcement. These methods
can be effective in gaining control, but they have a very detrimental
effect on children. Negative reinforcement never nurtures the kind of
behaviour you are looking for. It’s a Band Aid solution that alienates
children, making them more difficult to control in the future.
Positive reinforcement rewards children who behave in a way that you expect
them to. Positive reinforcement also rewards children for accomplishments
or new skills that they have acquired. Positive reinforcement can take
many forms and its best to find one that suits your class or child best.
It can take the form of praise, extra time for relaxation or bonus activities
as well as prestige e.g. electing a student of the week. Younger students
like special attention from an adult as a reward while older students
tend to prefer greater access to activities. Ask your students what they
would like as a reward and, if they perform all of their classroom activities
well, they can enjoy chatting with friends or less homework.
In classroom situations, the teacher elects to reinforce at an individual
or group level. Individual reinforcements reward students who excel and
may encourage others to follow suite. Group rewards are offered when all
students in the class complete the prescribed work and behave well. This
method has the added advantage of harnessing peer pressure which older
students are particularly influenced by.
Positive reinforcement takes time to establish. Teachers and parents must
create an environment in which it is more advantageous for the child to
act in a positive way. Systems and expectations must be drawn up carefully
and rewards outlined. When students perform well, they must be consistently
rewarded in order for the behaviour to be reinforced.
When teaching a class of unruly teenagers who were underachievers, I found
classroom management almost impossible. I would spend all the class time
simply keeping the peace, leaving little time for teaching. Students rarely
did assigned tasks and were so used to punishments that they no longer
responded to them. Instead, I instituted a kind of currency were they
were rewarded with Monopoly money for completed assignments or good behaviour.
With their classroom currency, they could purchase time to chat with friends,
longer breaks, texting, library and computer time.
Soon the students were competing for notes and learning fiscal responsibility
at the same time. The system underwent several updates as desirable activities
increased in cost and less desirable activities decreased. It was hard
work to keep the books and ensure that everyone had earned the money they
brought to school, but it was far easier than managing an unruly class.