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What are some of the effective techniques to manage the primary students?



This paper reports on some of the effective techniques to manage the primary students, especially the disruptive students. Studies show that maladaptive aggressive behavior occurring in the elementary school is a good predictor of the maladaptive behavior later in life. As the classroom management skills are important to primary school teachers, this paper focuses on primary students only. It is found that there are environmental factors including the physical setting of a classroom and the display, which are discussed in Section 2. Behavioral factors include how teachers and students behave, which are discussed in Section3. Section 4 introduces an approach, which incorporates the characteristics we found in Section 2 and 3 best deal with the primary students. Section 5 concludes that the best way to manage the primary students is to implement the established rules firmly and consistently. Teachers should send a firm message and give direct and specific instruction to primary students.


1. Introduction

Horton (1996) describes the behavior of the students in her classroom as follows.

             On a bitterly cold morning when I announced that recess was to be held inside. John became whiny, asking,

             "Why?  I want to go outside!" In a fit of anger, he kicked chairs and tables on his way to his locker, where he

              spent the remainder of recess banging his head against the wall.


Quinton was working diligently on a picture. Another child at his table told him his picture was ¡§stupid.¡¨ Quinton responded, "You're all jerks! I doesn't like anybody in this class. It sucks! Then he left the classroom without my knowledge and spent fifteen minutes in a neighboring classroom. Other children are reluctant to initiate contact with Quinton for fear of provoking such outbursts.


Rafael needed a pencil to write in his journal. He was unable to find one, and out of frustration he grabbed a pencil away from a classmate. The other student stood up to get his pencil back, and Rafael started running around the classroom wildly bumping into other students and furniture, yelling, ¡§ It's my pencil!¡¨ The other student confronted him, "saying, ¡§ It's my pencil. I need it back.¡¨ Rafael cocked back his fist, threatening to punch his classmate. (p.282, paragraph 2-4)

The above shows how aggressive disruptive behavior can happen in a classroom. This is a common phenomenon and requires the teacher to manage the disruptive behavior skillfully.

In America, the 16th Annual Gallup Poll of the public¡¦s attitudes towards public schools found student discipline to be the number one problem American teachers are facing (Greer-Chase et al., 2002).  Barbatta (1990) points out that the variety of problems presented by students with behavior disorders make classroom management an even more difficult task for all the teachers. Eggleton (2001) explained the difficulty was due to different variables. Say, there are usually twenty-five students in a class. Every student will respond differently to different management techniques but the teachers have to respond quickly, without thinking too much. That¡¦s why the task is difficult for teachers.

According to Greeer-Chase et al. (2002), research overwhelmingly shows that maladaptive aggressive behaviors occurring in the elementary school classroom can be a good predictor of the maladaptive behaviors later in life, such as antisocial behavior, criminality and heavy intravenous drug use. It is clear that the school discipline problems extend far beyond the classroom and may have a serious impact on the society. Convincing evidence proved that ¡§an early classroom social context marked by high levels of aggression leads to poor developmental outcomes for children are already highly aggressive.¡¨ ( Kellam et al., 1998 cited in Greer-Chase et al. 2002)

In order to deal with this danger, violent behavior should be prevented at the earliest stages of schooling. Greerer-Chase points out that teachers using appropriate classroom management skills in the early grades may contribute significantly to reduce the level of aggressive behaviors in later school years. (Greer-Chase et al. 2002)

Hundreds of research and studies report on different effective techniques for dealing with disruptive students in primary school. Since classroom management skills are very important for the primary school teachers, this paper only focuses on primary students. The aim of this paper is to find out some of the effective techniques to manage the primary students, especially the disruptive students. I found that there are some environmental and behavioral factors. Section 2 reports on some of the environmental factors, such like the arrangement of classroom setting and the display. Section 3 reports on some of the behavioral factors, including the behavior of the teachers and students, which help reduce the disruptive behavior in primary school. Section 4 introduces a new approach called Red Light-Green Light, which is believed to be an effective way to maintain discipline in school. Section 5 concludes that implementing the established rules firmly and consistently is the most important element in preventing any misbehavior in primary school classroom.



2. Environmental Factor

2.1 Classroom setting

The environmental factor is discussed in two aspects. The first one is about the physical setting of the classroom and the second one is about the display of the classroom.

According to a research done by Doyle (1986), it is found that the physical setting of the classroom affects students¡¦ attitudes and conducts and finally affects students¡¦ behavior and learning. (cited in Nakamura, 2000) This result is further supported by the finding of Proshansky and Wolfe (1974) as the finding clearly states that the classroom setting has both direct and indirect impacts on student learning. (cited in Nakamura, 2000) Nakamura (2000) strongly believes that the arrangement of students¡¦ desk determines how much interaction teachers and students can have, in which interaction is essential to both teachers and students. Due to different learning activities and students changing continuously, Nakamura (2000) points out that different kinds of interaction is needed and thus ¡§there is no such thing as the perfect classroom setup.¡¨ (p.250, paragraph 4)Therefore, teachers are suggested to change the classroom setting according to their needs in order to reduce the discipline problems.

Another survey done by Taitz (1996) indicates that the physical arrangement of a classroom is important in creating a tone of the class. The arrangement decides how much students can interact with each other. The result shows that a more interactive but less teacher-dominated type of environment becomes a trend. Teachers tend to move away the traditional classroom setting, where there are rows of desks facing a teacher¡¦s desk. The survey reveals that almost all of them arranged student desks in clusters. It is believed that the setting will help solve the classroom management problems by directing children¡¦s attention and lowering the chance for the students to move around the room.



Display refers to how display of the picture on the wall helps manage the class.

Pointon and Kershner (2000) found that all three teachers being interviewed believed display is important as a focus of learning. The study reports that the display gets children¡¦s attention and teaches them see beyond the decorative aspects of displays by showing the photographs involving the class activities on the wall. Once the attention is caught, the class is easier to control.

Besides, one of the primary teachers stressed that students must have a focus so that the class is in control but freedom and flexibility should be given to the students. The aim is telling the students they are able to control themselves but not just the teachers. Recent investigations point out that pupils know that teachers have the right to impose requirements but preferred autonomy. Therefore, developing children¡¦s autonomy is regarded as an important element in organizing the classroom. (Pointon & Kershner, 2000)

Developing children¡¦s autonomy implies that they are the one to control themselves, but not just the teachers. As students can control their behavior, students should be the one to take responsibility of their own behavior. This is related to the behavioral factor and thus leads to another discussion in Section 3.


3. Behavioral factor---What do teachers have to do?

Behavioral factor refers to how teachers and students should behave in order to create a healthy classroom management. An effective discipline can reduce or even prevent the disruptive behavior in primary school classroom. Therefore, teachers play an essential role in creating a healthy learning environment for students because rules need to be implemented consistently.


3.1 Enforcing established rules and expectations

Herschell et al. (2002) provides ten strategies for the teachers to deal with the disruptive students after carrying out a test targeting at the children from two to twelve years old. One of the effective strategies is to maintain behavioral expectations. It is believed that many children use disruptive behavior to test the limit of the teachers. They tend to test how flexible the rules are. The children first violate a minor rule until the consequence is finally provided. The test reveals that the misbehavior is less likely to occur if a consequence is imposed at an early stage. Herschell mentioned, ¡§ If you give them an inch, they will take a mile.¡¨  That¡¦s why she believes ¡§[holding] firm on the established rules and expectations¡¨ are important to deal with the disruptive behavior in classroom.

Similarly, Nakamura (2000) states that students would challenge certain rules because they want to test whether the demands and expectations will be enforced or the rules can be renegotiated. He suggests that teachers should send a firm message to the students. That means both the words and actions say ¡§stop¡¨. It is important for teachers to remain firm with the limit when students try to negotiate the rules. Teachers could explain the rules to the students after the consequences are applied because this is the time students try to test their teachers. Thus, Nakamura stresses that words must be consistent with actions.

Several studies also indicate that rules should be implemented consistently. According to a report done by the Elton Committee, rules should be applied consistently and the number of rules should be kept to a minimum (reported by Merrett and Jones 1994). A report written by Eggleton (2001) stresses that ¡§teachers and administrators need to be fair, firm and consistent when dealing with the students.¡¨ (p.11 paragraph 3)

In a study done by Taitz (1996), a teacher stresses that she ¡§must remember to remain consistent.¡¨ She believes consistency is the essential element in classroom management. The additional comments made by the other teachers include the importance of consistency. This shows that teachers consider consistency an important factor on classroom management.

Basualdo (1980) reports on approach shown to be successful in preventing and dealing with disruptive students in the classroom. Basualdo reminds the teachers of the most important factor for a successful classroom management is to implement and follow the rules consistently, regardless of what techniques have been chosen, though

teachers or prospective teachers are suggested to find out the approach best suits their personality.


3.2 Delivery of instruction

How the teachers deliver the instruction affects the communication between the teachers and students and thus influences the effectiveness of the classroom management.

Research has consistently marked that effective instruction contributes to better leaning environment (Killion, 1996 cited in Eggleton, 2001). Evidence showed that students behave better throughout the year when expectations are established and clearly stated at the beginning of the school year. (I will include the reference later)

This finding is further proved by Hereschell et al. (2002) as the test shows that giving effectively stated instructions can prevent disruptive behavior. The test reveals direct commands should be made rather than indirect commands because direct commands tell the child what to do.  It is suggested that telling the child what to do is better than what not to do. Besides, specific instruction should be given one at a time but not trying to give multiple commands because the child is unable to process a series of instructions.

The way teachers send the message influences the effectiveness of the classroom management. Another strategy suggested by Herschell et al. (2002) is to provide frequent labeled praise in order to prevent misbehavior. She points out that labeled praise provides specific description of the desirable behavior and tells the child exactly what you like about his or her behavior. The child is more likely to repeat the behavior because the child wants to get adult attention. She cited an example of a child who always fidgets and the ¡§examiner¡¨ can direct the child to a specific behavior by praising the child for sitting still.


4. ¡§Red Light-Green Light¡¨

Barbatta (1990) introduces a new approach called ¡§Red Light-Green Light¡¨. It is a classwide management system offering young students a system with consistent and frequent consequences for their behaviors. Pivileges and consequences will be applied almost immediately throughout the school day. It is believed young students are able to identify the results of their behaviors through this system. Barbatta (1990) stresses that this approach has been implemented successfully for many years and is proved to be an effective way to maintain classroom discipline.


4.1 How to implement ¡§Red Light-Green Light"?

According to Barbatta(1990), four steps are required to take in order to carry out the operation successfully. First, classroom rules are needed to develop after discussing with the students at the first school week. With teacher¡¦s guidance and prompts, students are able to generate appropriate and specific classroom rules, such as raising hand to get teacher¡¦s attention, ignore off-task behavior). Then, students were asked to help draw a chart displaying all the rules.

Second, classroom expectations, which referred to the specific rules for an activity during the day, are developed. He cited an example for the ¡§good school behavior¡¨ when students are in line. Expectations like staying in a straight line, no talking and keeping hands to oneself will be developed. Before the activity started, one of the students has to read the expectations.

Third, students are taught to give helpful hints and positive comments to the peer. These skills can be taught through modeling, role-play, prompting and feedback reinforced by teachers. This enables students to involve in the classroom behavior management continually.

At last, setting up the earning and losing daily points for the developed classroom rules. Minor behavior problems require deductions of 1 mark while major behavior problems such as stealing and physical aggression result in deductions of more points. The teacher will go to each student¡¦s desk and add up all the points after each time block. Then, a suitable colored marker should be put on the students¡¦ point sheet. ¡¥The students then manipulated a laminated  ¡§traffic light¡¨ that is taped to his/her desk by placing the appropriate colored circle in the available slot. 

Students are able to earn a status with the required number of points. There are three levels of privileges: ¡§Green Light status¡¨ allows students to have the most privileges,  ¡§Yellow Light status¡¨ is given less privileges and ¡§Red Light status¡¨ requires more sanctions.


4.2  How does it help maintain the discipline in school?

Barbatta believes this approach provides lots of benefits to both students and teachers. Students can participate in the classroom behavior management by giving feedback to the peers. Students¡¦ own problem behavior can be reduced when they act as the behavior change agents for their peers.  Specific and frequent feedback for their behavior will be provided so that students are able to identify the proper classroom behavior. The approach also gives them a chance to have a ¡§fresh start¡¨ every day, with no relationship of what they have done the previous day. Teachers can benefit from the approach because the system is easy to develop and implement. This system can be modified from time to time according to the special needs of the class.

5. Conclusion

Both environmental and behavioral factors contribute to effective classroom management but it seems that the behavioral factors plays an essential role. Research and studies reveal that carrying out the established rules firmly and consistently is the most effective strategy to deal with the misbehavior in primary school. It implies that teacher, the one who enforces the rules, do play a much more important role to deal with or prevent the misbehavior in primary school.

For environmental factor, the physical setting was found to have a direct and indirect impact on student learning (Proshansky and Wolfe, 1974 cited in Nakamura, 2000). If the setting enables students to have interaction with teachers and students, students tend to be highly involved in the classroom activities. When students have high motivation in learning, students are more likely to concentrate on the required task in lesson. As a result, the disruption and discipline problems are less likely to happen.

However, the above situation is true for some of the activities. Teachers have to change the setting according to their needs because different activities require different kinds of interaction. It implies that teacher have to play an active role to change the physical setting to enhance learning and thus reduce discipline problems.

Display is also found to be important because it gives a focus of learning for the students (Pointon & Kershner, 2000). Primary students are less likely to stay on a task consistently throughout the school day. Display serves as an attention getter to catch all the attention at a point. Students realize that they need to face in a direction whenever the lesson starts. In the study done by Pointon and Kershner (2000), one of the teachers chose the blackboard as the display and her pupils also realize the functions of the blackboard. It proves that the display really help control the class. The teacher mentioned an interesting point that the display gives students the sense that they are controlling themselves but not just the teachers. I believe this sense is important to the students. Some of the students don¡¦t want to obey their teachers. If students believe they are controlling themselves, students tend to take responsibility of their own behavior and ultimately elicit desirable behavior. Again, the display has to be chosen by the teachers and primary students are guided to involve in the activity only. Teachers are playing an active role in managing the class.

About the behavioral factors, studies clearly show that the way teachers deliver the message and the consistency of enforcing the rules contribute to an effective classroom management. Several research and studies reveal that consistency is the most important element in dealing with the disruptive behavior because Herschell (2000) said that students are likely to test the teachers¡¦ limit. Nakamura (2000) also states that testing is the best way students used to find out whether the teachers really mean what they say. It was interesting to note that some students would like to do whatever the teachers told them not to do and then wait to see what happen. Therefore, teachers¡¦ action after the violation of rules is very important to determine what the student will do next. When students first violate the minor rules, teachers have to hold firm on the established rules and expectations. Even if the students try to negotiate the rules with the teachers, teachers have to remain consistent and clarification of certain rules should be made after the consequences are applied. Otherwise, students tend to violate another rule or even produce disruptive behavior, which may cause disruption to the normal class activity. The disruptive behavior can be prevented only if the consequences are imposed when minor misbehavior occurs.

The way of delivering the message also helps manage the class. Usually, primary students are between six and twelve years old. At this stage, the mental level of students is not well developed. Primary students are unable to process a series of commands. That¡¦s why Herschell et al. (2002) suggests teachers not to give multiple commands. The test told us that specific and direct command should be made. Teachers should tell their pupils what to do instead of what not to do. Telling them what to do directly enables students to follow the desirable behavior. If the teachers ask the students what not to do, it doesn¡¦t provide any guidelines on what the students should do next.

Specific instruction is crucial to primary students. Nakamura (2000) stated that teachers have to tell their students when and how the teachers want things to be done. He used an example of asking the class to keep the room clean to explain this point. If it¡¦s the class¡¦s responsibility to keep the room clean, but they are leaving the classroom a mess, teachers should tell exactly what the students should be done  (Nakamura, 2000).  If the teachers only tell the children to do a better job of keeping the classroom clean, the outcome is uncertain because every one interprets the meaning of  ¡§better job¡¨ differently. The meaning of ¡§better job¡¨ for the teacher is different from the students. Even my friend and I have different interpretation on one simple word. Say, I may think that the classroom is tidy once all the rubbish is cleared away but my friend may not accept this classroom because the windows are not closed. Thus, without a direct and specific message, a student¡¦s performance is usually out of teachers¡¦ expectation. Teachers are reminded that ¡§the more uncertain your terms, the more uncertain the outcome.¡¨ (Nakamura, 2000 p.240, paragraph 3) That¡¦s why specific instruction is important.

¡§Red Light-Green Light¡¨ is a classwide management system, which further supported what I have found. This system incorporates the principles best to deal with primary students because it stresses on offering young children consistent and frequent consequences for their behaviors. Teachers and students have to work together in order to carry out the programme. Again, specific school rules and expectations will be generated by students, with the guidance of teachers. It shows that specific rules and the consistency of enforcing the rules are essential for creating an effective classroom management.

To conclude, enforcing the established rules firmly and consistently is the most effective strategy to manage primary students. When minor misbehavior first occurs, consequences should be applied immediately in order to prevent any other disruptive behavior.  Teachers should send a firm message to the students by using action or consequence because action is much more powerful than words. In this way, students are convinced the teachers really mean what they say (Nakamura, 2000). Specific and direct instruction should be used to tell the students what to do. It seems that all these techniques should be supported by the teachers because teachers are the main people sending the message as well as implementing the rules. Primary students are a blank slate. Teachers have to guide their students to walk on the right track. Therefore, teachers do not only play an important role to create a learning environment, but also help the child to grow. When primary students misbehaved in the class, teachers should impose the established consequence immediately so that violent behavior can be prevented at this early stage of schoolings. Aggressive disruptive behavior is less likely to occur in later school years and maladaptive behavior is less likely to happen   later in life.



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