Wednesday, August 30, 2006

today : I try to teach kids in the inner city

Here is an explanatory report I wrote a couple of years ago for a visiting student teacher who was observing a lesson of mine.

Behaviour Management strategies Year 9 set 4 English

Teacher : Mr S Dog. Tuesday Lesson 5.


I have three objectives with this class
1.The baseline is to get through the lesson without incident.
2.To encourage confident working and learning.
3.To improve general classroom behaviour over time.

The Students - Background

This group is totally composed of students who range in special needs from 'school action' to 'Stage 5' statemented. They have very poor skills in a number of areas.

4.Social Skills

I have decided to disapply them from the Year 9 National Curriculum for the first few weeks of the year. They need coaching and reinforcement of basic skills and expectations. I am gradually introducing NC content into their lessons as the weeks go on.

The group has a mixture of students I know well and students I have only taught this year. Background knowledge is very useful when deciding on behaviour strategies.

An example of this is Z------. I taught him throughout Year 7 and know his tendency to express frustration through misbehaviour. I also know his older brother U----- well and I am using U------ to report home on Z's positive improvements.

B----- is also an excellent example of how an ongoing relationship with a student can benefit current behaviour. I taught him in year 7 and have helped him, in a pastoral sense, many times throughout year 8 when I didn't teach him.

I also taught I------- in Year 7 and am familiar with his foibles.

I don't think, in this kind of group, I can underestimate the value of building positive relationships with the students over time. Trust is an issue that affects behaviour.

Particular focus on Students

There are two students in the group who have extreme special needs. Their behaviour can be unpredictable and very disruptive. I make an extra effort to give them targets for behaviour. They can earn rewards easily and can make 'mistakes' with impunity - providing they demonstrate improvements.

B------- is a statemented student who came from another school. He has many of the symptoms of mild autism, as well as having an unpredictable, sociopathic side to his character. Incidents of random violence characterise his behaviour. When he does lash out it is often inappropriately extreme. I usually leave B------ to his own devices, as he does not accept help well and can become very stressed when told what to do. About half the time he will attempt the task given. Sometimes he will go off on a tangent of his own which I will support. An example of this is when he drew a hugely detailed diagram of the September 11th plane crashes. It was a very inappropriate but impressively focussed piece of work. B------ is especially difficult because he responds to both praise and criticism in an unpredictable manner. If he wanders off from the classroom I will rarely pursue him. He often comes back under his own steam. I see it as an achievement for him to attend lessons, as he is very prone to truancy.

K------ is also very difficult. He too came from another school and is almost always on the verge of refusing to attend and cooperate. Like B------- he is prone to violence as an inappropriate response. K------ is an attention seeker and is forever trying to recruit co-conspirators when he is in the mood to misbehave. He is aware of the need to make a good impression and is scared of his family knowing how he behaves in school, which you can sometimes use against him to keep him calm. Although beware, as he sometimes loses it if you mention his parents. He ios a hefty and tall 14 year old and when he goes berserk it can be pretty scary. Do not try to physically intervene. Just let whatever situation play itself out. It appears to me that he is physically abused at home and poor reports from school might be the excuse his Dad uses to beat him

Time of Day/Week

This is a crucial element in choice of task, strategies and approach. This was a morning lesson, which is where the main part of learning occurs. In general, this kind of set 4 does not learn new skills well after lunch.

They become mentally tired, yet have stuffed their faces with starchy, sugary food and chemical laden drinks at lunchtime.
Issues both within the group and outside lessons ferment during the day and can explode into violence under pressure in an afternoon.

Generally, learning tasks are planned for a morning, consolidation tasks are placed in an afternoon, fun and less taxing tasks are placed in Thursday and Friday afternoons. Their lifestyle means that by Friday they have done four days work and had four days of very late nights.


This kind of group responds to regimentation. At this stage of the year they will get rewarded for having their equipment or getting their planners out. I always follow certain rules. For example, no one leaves the class at the end until everyone is tidy and quiet.


I use placement as a reward/sanction. Most of the time I allow the students to form their own seating arrangements with their friends and then only move them if behaviour is affecting their work.


The class has very poor concentration skills. Therefore choice of task is essential to maintaining order. There is a balance between work that the students can complete and work that challenges them to learn and improve.

The three-part lesson is essential as a model for planning. However, there is a need for flexibility and backup plans at all times. A short starter can last one minute or fifteen. A starter time also gives me time to assess the mood of the class and buy some time to adjust the planning of the lesson. A task often runs out of steam after only a few minutes and needs to be replaced. Whilst following the three-part model some lessons end up having nine or ten parts. With this class plenary sessions are almost impossible to conduct at the end of the lesson. I often shift the plenary into the next lesson as a recap starter.

Objectives are kept very simple. At this stage of the year the marking focus is Presentation, and is an ongoing project. I encourage students to assess their own and each other's work when dealing with such issues. This empowers them to monitor their own achievement and improvement.

It is often the case that a very low ability group will have a lack of skills in all areas. There are many students of this type who cannot, for example, use a ruler or tie their shoelaces. Therefore if you can combine an English skill with some other kind of general skill there is value in it.

In this case the class was learning prepositional words and phrases. But I was also drawing clocks and reinforcing the basic skill of telling the time. I know that five of the students in the class struggled with this basic skill in year 7 and could do with practice.

This skills combination can also help with confidence. If students who are not great at English can show off other talents it helps them shine in their English lesson.

If I am at the board I will make sure members of the class get a chance to use the board pen and do my job. It helps with self-esteem to do tasks in front of the whole class. Rarely does a student refuse to do this, although once B-------- stuck whiteboard pen into someone's eye.

Pace and Variety

Pace is another essential factor in all lessons. This kind of class requires lightning pace. The students begin to disrupt the minute the second they become bored, which is anytime they see a gap of about 3 seconds.

For writing tasks that involve the students doing a few practice examples I usually ask the students to complete only three or five of their own. Very few of the students can reach ten and maintain quality and concentration. Starting with a very low target is also flexible because I can then increase the number if things are going well. For Q-------, his name, the date, the objective and ONE example is an excellent result, even if it is not yet legible.

I use plenty of variety in every lesson. Extended writing is usually beyond most members of the group therefore I combine sketching, diagrams, writing and speaking and listening in almost every lesson. Often we will play a game or have some kind of fun activity at the end of a session - quizzes, parlour games etc. I wentto market and other memory games are the class's favourite, although cheating is routine. I make sure that tasks never bleed themselves out, almost always finishing up before everyone has completed the full task. This injects an artificial sense of pace. Tasks are almost always completed against the clock. Things are kept short. The units of time used are two minutes or three minutes (even if the 'three minutes' becomes ten).

Movement around the class

Lessons in this class require a lot of teacher movement. As well as using proximity as a simple device to control behaviour I try and give all the students some personal attention while they are working. This ties in with rewards and sanctions.

Rewards and Sanctions

Clearly there must be clear sanctions matched to behaviour. However, I make these lessons rewards driven. I will often give a sanction that can be turned into a reward by commitment, work and good behaviour. The students are very low in confidence and are the kind who rarely win prizes or have positive contact between school and home. A reward in this situation can be much more effective than yet another detention.

I use three main types of reward.

1.Praise. This is either directly personal or in front of the class. I make sure to praise the steady members of the group as well the very keen or potentially problematic
2. Official Praise. Notes in planners are the easiest way of doing this. Merits can also work, although the school position on the function of merits is fuzzy and they often lead nowhere. Older students work this out and see little reason for earning them. A note to parents is much more effective and encourages students and parents to use their planner.
3. Physical rewards. Chocolates and sweets, being allowed to keep a borrowed pen, pencil or ruler and sometimes even small amounts of cash are used as incentives.

An important strategy where sanctions are concerned is to not hold grudges and model kindness and forgiveness. If a student has been abusive or violent I usually talk to them at the start of the next lesson, agreeing a new start. This means that they have an equal chance of earning rewards in each lesson. This is an ideal situation for students to turn a punishment into a reward.

I also believe it is important for students to acknowledge the humanity of the staff. I will often express personal upset over poor behaviour, apologise for any mistakes I make e.g. an angry over-reaction to a situation, and show honesty at all times (although 'honesty' is pushing it - I often lie whilst acting honest. An example of this is during your observation. I told B------- and K---- that you were from the LEA and here to observe their behaviour. Hey! Whatever works!).


This is difficult to pin down. However, in all classes of this type I try to make the lesson fun. It's simple: if students don't enjoy themselves they don't learn. Therefore there are deliberate strategies that I use.
1.Silliness - everything from juggling, sticking pens in my ears, slam-dunking paper into the bin, play fighting with B------- or swapping jokes. Sometimes I will tell a joke and then the lesson will become a joke telling session where the students then join in. Little do they know that they are practising constructing narratives, speaking and listening and social skills.
2.Moving off topic to gossip and just chat with students. Again, this is a social and speaking listening skills activity. It also helps me to build positive relationships with individuals. No topic is off limits from last nights TV to why someone was excluded. The best support assistants do this a lot and consequently develop excellent personal relationships with students.
3.Rudeness. The students are allowed to be cheeky and rude in an appropriate and humorous way. I will say 'naughty' things for comic effect and allow the students to do likewise. Again, they are learning the limits of what is appropriate.
4.Banter. There is an acknowledged problem of almost constant goading and swearing amongst this lower ability group. I will trade humorous (and good-humoured) insults with the students and keep the banter level as high as possible. Students are allowed to reciprocate (e.g. draw caricatures of me or use me as examples in their work) and over time they begin learning to give and take without fighting and threatening to shag each other's Mums and Sisters.

I figure that for students who find school hard work and have problems in class, that laughter and a light atmosphere helps them deal with the rigid format of school. When it works well everyone genuinely enjoys the lessons. When it doesn't at least there are a few jokes to lighten the relentless grind of disruption and violence.


I try and create a supportive atmosphere. The best example of this is when people are reading aloud. I encourage students to help out a stumbling reader as the teacher might and empathise and show absolute respect for the reader. This is surprisingly effective. Better readers help the weaker ones rather than laugh at them.

I encourage the students to think we are the best class in the school and that we help each other Lending a pen, sharing a ruler, working together on a task - if the students can develop this it will help them in English and beyond.

Invariably these kinds of groups are my favourite. I will often tell them they are my favourite class. Apart from when the students are swearing at or punching each other this is effective as a behaviour management strategy.

n.b. When my boss decided to attack and smear me for getting ill with stress, one of the accusations made against me was that I did not have a decent knowledge of the students and did not provide appropriate lessons for them.

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