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EFFECTIVE

CLASSROOM DISCIPLINE

Copyright
2005

williamgladdenfoundation.org

All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be sold, by any process or
technique, without the express consent of the publisher.

INTRODUCTION
Effective classroom discipline is an essential part of the educational process. Both
teachers and students either suffer or profit from the relative effectiveness of classroom
discipline. Effective classroom discipline enhances teaching and learning, while its
absence hampers the educational process.

Another essential part of the educational process involves socialization of children. Like
the family, what happens within the classroom serves as an example to children of how
people conduct themselves and the potential consequences of their actions. Classrooms
that have clearly defined rules, and are consistent in their enforcement, have few
discipline problems.

The classroom models society. What happens within it should accurately reflect what
takes places in the real world. Students must learn that there are certain rules to follow
and ways to behave. The rules serve to help students understand what is (and what will
be) expected of them. Students who learn this important lesson tend to function well in
the classroom and in society.

Conversely, classrooms that lack a system of clearly defined rules can be very confusing,
because students cannot know how to conduct themselves. This is especially true of
students who lack adequate training and discipline a home.

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Effective classroom discipline is not some mystery or difficult approach to controlling


behavior. Instead, it is rather straightforward. Effective classroom discipline builds upon
the concept that it is possible to PREVENT most behavioral problems by establishing
and maintaining clearly defined rules that are enforced in a consistent manner.

However, the rules and their enforcement need not be punitive, harsh or threatening.
There is no room for fear of discomfort within the classroom. Rather, by developing a
sensitive but firm approach, effective classroom discipline can be a positive educational
experience. Children respond to praise far better than criticism.

Although the following information can benefit all educators, it will prove especially
useful to classroom teachers and teacher aids involved in elementary school education.

Waln K. Brown, Ph.D.


Amy R. Vigilante, Ph.D.
William Gladden Foundation

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TABLE OF CONTENTS
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
What Is Effective Classroom Discipline?............................................................................5
Where Does Effective Classroom Discipline Begin?..........................................................5
When Does Effective Classroom Discipline Begin?...........................................................5
How Do Teachers Establish Effective Classroom Discipline?............................................5
Does Effective Classroom Discipline Make Learning A Negative Experience?................6
How Does Effective Classroom Discipline Make learning A Positive Experience?..........6
How Does One Teach Students The Rules?.......................................................................6
How Do Students Learn The Reasons For Rules?..............................................................6
How Does One Enforce The Rules?...................................................................................7
How Does The Use Of Rewards Promote Effective Classroom Discipline?......................7
How Does The Use Of Consequences Promote Effective Classroom Discipline?.............7
How Can Contingency Contracting Promote Effective Classroom Discipline?.................7
How Can Effective Classroom Discipline Prevent Behavior Problems?............................8
What Kind Of Environment Promotes Effective Classroom Discipline?...........................8
How Does Organization Affect Discipline?.......................................................................8
How Can Clear Directions Affect Classroom Discipline?..................................................8
How Important Is Visibility In Effective Classroom Discipline?.......................................9
How Should The Classroom Look?....................................................................................9
How Can Varying Student Activities Affect Classroom Discipline?.................................9
Does Effective Classroom Discipline Completely
Get Rid Of Student Behavior Problems?.......................................................................9
ESTABLISHING AND MAINTAINING EFFECTIVE
CLASSROOM DISCIPLINE....10
WAYS TEACHERS CAN PREVENT DISCIPLINE PROBLEMS......12
OTHER FACTORS THAT CAUSE STUDENT
DISCIPLINE PROBLEMS.......13
FAMILY PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED WITH JUVENILE THEFT....................14
RULES OF CLASSROOM CONDUCT..15
SOURCES OF HELP AND INFORMATION ABOUT SCHOOL DISCIPLINE...16

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WHAT IS EFFECTIVE CLASSROOM DISCIPLINE?


Effective classroom discipline 1) structures the classroom and the learning activities that
take place in it in ways that prevent behavior problems and 2) sets precise behavioral
expectations for students. It handles student discipline problems in ways that do not
detract from the learning process or interfere with the functioning of the classroom.
Effective classroom discipline creates a positive educational environment in ways that
enhance student learning and social growth.

WHERE DOES EFFECTIVE CLASSROOM DISCIPLINE BEGIN?


Classroom discipline is part of a larger system of rules, regulations and policies that
govern the classroom, and exist on federal, state, district and local school levels. All of
these directly affect the handling of discipline problems. Effective classroom discipline
is a natural outgrowth of planning, preparation and prevention that begins with the
teachers, faculty and administrators of the school.

WHEN DOES EFFECTIVE CLASSROOM DISCIPLINE BEGIN?


Effective classroom discipline is part of the planning process that begins prior to the start
of each school year and is put into effect the first day of class, when teacher outline to
students what will be expected of them. Furthermore, it is especially important for
teachers in the early grades to practice effective classroom discipline. The rules of
conduct they establish (or fail to initiate) will greatly influence how their students behave
in other classrooms and in later grades.

HOW DO TEACHERS ESTABLISH EFFECTIVE CLASSROOM DISCIPLINE?


Teachers need to establish a position of authority from the first day of class. They must
learn to analyze discipline problems accurately, and then deal with them quickly, fairly
and in a consistent manner. This requires decisive action. Students need to know that
teachers will respond to rule violations and in what ways their misconduct will be
handled. Being inconsistent or arbitrary is detrimental to effective classroom discipline.

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DOES EFFECTIVE CLASSROOM DISCIPLINE MAKE LEARNING A


NEGATIVE EXPERIENCE?
To the contrary, children need to know what is expected of them and what to expect of
others. Although their responses may belie this truth, in reality knowing what they are
supposed to do provides children with a sense of security. Effective classroom discipline
makes learning a positive experience by defining and enforcing rules of conduct.
Conversely, when classroom discipline is ineffective or punitive, it can make learning a
negative experience.

HOW DOES EFFECTIVE CLASSROOM DISCIPLINE MAKE LEARNING A


POSITIVE EXPERIENCE?
Learning to follow rules is an important part of the total educational experience.
Children must learn self-management and self-control, if they are to function successfully
in school and in society. Furthermore, mastering self-discipline provides a sense of selfconfidence and personal pride that result in improved self-esteem. Effective classroom
discipline creates a structured educational environment in which students learn both
social competencies and academic skills.

HOW DOES ONE TEACH STUDENTS THE RULES?


The best approach is to communicate the rules in a variety of ways. This is because
students have diverse learning styles. For example, some students learn best by hearing,
other by seeing, and still others by doing. Therefore, post the rules in writing and
discuss, review, illustrate and even dramatize them, thereby accommodating various
learning styles.

HOW DO STUDENTS LEARN THE REASONS FOR RULES?


Teach the reasons for rules to students in ways that stimulate them to think about, discuss
and apply them to their own experiences. For example, ask the class to consider the
reasons for respecting other people and their property. Then ask the students to explain
how it feels to be treated with respect and disrespect. Most children learn to understand
the reasons for rules by personalizing them. Furthermore, having students help make the
rules is another way for them to learn the reasons for rules. Children are less likely to
break rules that they have helped establish.
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HOW DOES ONE ENFORCE THE RULES?


Reinforcement of the rules is critical to effective classroom discipline. Most new
teachers learn the hard way that students will test to see what they can and cannot get
away with. This testing can be between one student and the teacher, or the entire class
and the teacher. Upon clearly defining the rules of classroom conduct, enforce them in a
consistent manner using established rewards and consequences. The use of rewards and
consequences is fundamental to effective classroom discipline.
HOW DOES THE USE OF REWARDS PROMOTE EFFECTIVE CLASSROOM
DISCIPLINE?
There is more to educating children than teaching the 3Rs. Children also must learn how
to conduct themselves in school and in society. Since the basis of social order depends
largely on rules, rewards and consequences, so, too, should classroom discipline.
Rewards are positive reinforcers, used to recognize proper behaviors such as
completing assigned tasks or exhibiting good classroom conduct. Rewards teach children
the potential benefits of obeying the rules.
HOW DOES THE USE OF CONSEQUENCES PROMOTE EFFECTIVE
CLASSROOM DISCIPLINE?
Consequences also promote effective classroom discipline. They are negative
reinforcers, used to recognize improper behaviors such as refusing to complete assigned
tasks or displaying poor classroom conduct. Consequences teach students the potential
costs of breaking the rules. However, the primary purpose of using consequences is not
to punish; rather, like the use of rewards, it is to modify behavior. Classrooms that
have clearly defined and consistently enforced rules of conduct tend to lower the need for
consequences and raise the use of rewards in promoting discipline.
HOW CAN CONTINGENCY CONTRACTING PROMOTE EFFECTIVE
CLASSROOM DISCIPLINE?
Rules, rewards and consequences should emphasize what is supposed to take place in
the classroom. This means focusing on the positive in an attempt to eliminate the
negative. The purpose of contingency contracting is to accomplish these goals. The
teacher and student agree on a behavior to modify and the rules for successful completion
of the task. For example, a contract may state that the student will spend 20 minutes each
day practicing the alphabet. The reward contingency may be that if the student does
successfully complete the contract, she gets extra time in the art center. Conversely, the
consequence contingency might be that if the student does not successfully complete the
contract, she gets less time in the art center. The purpose of a contingency contract is not
to punish students for shortcomings; rather, it is to help them realize the benefits or
obeying rules and accomplishing goals.
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HOW CAN EFFECTIVE CLASSROOM DISCIPLINE PREVENT BEHAVIOR


PROBLEMS?
Effective classroom discipline is firmly rooted in the belief that an ounce of prevention
is worth a pound of cure. Rules, rewards and consequences are an important part of this
belief. Nonetheless, behavior problems will still arise. Creating a classroom
environment that is structured, organized and meets student needs prevents many such
problems.

WHAT KIND OF ENVIRONMENT PROMOTES EFFECTIVE CLASSROOM


DISCIPLINE?
The classroom environment should allow students to feel comfortable and relaxed, but
also should be structured and task-oriented. Idle time and undirected activity can disrupt
the learning process and produce discipline problems. Keep students busy. They also
should be involved in maintaining the classroom through activities such as putting things
back where they belong, cleaning up after themselves and keeping tack of materials,.
This instills a sense of individual and group responsibility that can lead to self-discipline.

HOW DOES ORGANIZATION AFFECT DISCIPLINE?


The physical organization of the classroom plays an important role in effective classroom
discipline. Organized classrooms give students (especially young children) a sense of
order, security and predictability. They know where classroom materials belong, where
their various learning activities take place and where they are supposed to be. Likewise,
organized activities reduce the potential for discipline problems. In organized
classrooms, directions are given (and materials distributed) in systematic ways, and
activities are written on the board and then discussed. Promote questioning so that
students know what is expected and are equipped to complete the activity successfully.

HOW CAN CLEAR DIRECTIONS AFFECT CLASSROOM DISCIPLINE?


Students who do not understand what they are supposed to do can become frustrated,
intimidated or angry. Many are reluctant to admit they do not fully comprehend
directions. Furthermore, some students may not realize that they are not grasping
something. This lack of understanding directions can lead to learning problems and rule
violations. It is therefore imperative that teachers clearly present directions and seek to
clarify them according to the needs of each student.
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HOW IMPORTANT IS VISIBILITY IN EFFECTIVE CLASSROOM


DISCIPLINE?
Classrooms arranged to provide optimal visibility for teachers and students reduce the
potential for discipline problems. Teachers must be able to see all students at all times.
Therefore, teachers should be in a position that allows full view of the classroom and the
students. Moving about the classroom is one way to keep all students in full view.
However, student visibility also is very important and deserves careful consideration.
Students must be able to see the teacher, blackboards, displays, presentations, charts and
classroom activities easily. Some teachers rearrange assigned seating periodically to help
keep students fresh and focused.
HOW SHOULD THE CLASSROOM LOOK?
The physical appearance of the classroom should represent its occupants and the learning
activities that take place in it. Present murals, bulletin boards, artwork, posters, student
projects and papers in attractive and educational ways. Present student work in a fair,
equal and consistent manner. Label names of students on their desks, books, artwork,
projects, papers and supplies. This personalized approach helps students feel like they
are an important part of the classroom and special individuals. Students with positive
self-esteem are less inclined to exhibit behavior problems.
HOW CAN VARYING STUDENT ACTIVITIES AFFECT CLASSROOM
DISCIPLINE?
Varying learning activities is fundamental to effective classroom discipline. This is
because students can become bored and frustrated when forced to repeat activities. Bored
students tend to exhibit their frustrations through disruptive behaviors. Furthermore, take
the students different learning modes and styles into account by varying learning
activities. Remember, some students learn from hands-on experience. In addition,
varying activities (even changing the scenery) helps keep students involved, interested
and motivated. Variety is, indeed, the spice of life, and helps cultivate enthusiasm for
learning. Students who are happy with the learning process tend to be cooperative.
DOES EFFECTIVE CLASSROOM DISCIPLINE COMPLETELY GET RID OF
STUDENT BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS?
Effective classroom discipline does not completely get rid of student behavior problems.
Teachers must remember that childhood is fraught with phases and stages. All children
experience difficult times in their development. They also may suffer from problems at
home, social pressures, physical handicaps, learning disabilities and myriad other
difficulties. However, effective classroom discipline can reduce the potential for student
behavior problems and provide a structure for maintaining order within the classroom. It
also can provide a strong support system for children with behavioral problems.
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ESTABLISHING AND MAINTAINING


EFFECTIVE CLASSROOM DISCIPLINE
In many ways, establishing effective classroom discipline is like building with blocks.
Each block must firmly support the others, to establish and maintain a strong structure.
What follows is a method for establishing and maintaining effective classroom discipline.

MAINTAINING
ORDER

ENFORCING
RULES

ORGANIZING
PHYSICAL STRUCTURE

COMMUNICATION

CLEARLY DEFINED
RULES

REWARDS AND
CONSEQUENCES

DEVELOP CLEARLY DEFINED RULES The first step in establishing effective


classroom discipline involves developing clearly defined rules of conduct. The rules
should be sensible, fair, uncomplicated and easy to understand. They also should seek to
be unambiguous and to eliminate exceptions. However, be careful not to impose too
many rules. Too many rules tend to inhibit creativity and are difficult to enforce.
DETERMINE REWARDS AND CONSEQUENCES Upon defining the rules of
classroom conduct, support them with rewards and consequences. Like the rules,
rewards and consequences also should be clearly defined, sensible, fair, uncomplicated
and unambiguous. Rewards should serve as positive reinforcement for obeying the
rules. Consequences should not be punitive; rather, they should attempt to modify ruleviolating behaviors.
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COMMUNICATE THE RULES Communicate the rules in a variety of ways in order


to accommodate the various learning styles of the students. Orally explain the rules, as
well as posting them in writing, discussing, illustrating and periodically reviewing them.
Furthermore, teach the reasons for the rules in ways that stimulate students to think about,
discuss and apply them to their own experiences.

EXPLAIN THE REWARDS AND CONSEQUENCES Students should know what


to expect when they obey or break the rules. For example, students who exhibit
appropriate behavior may gold stars. Conversely, students who break the rules may lose
privileges. Thoroughly explain, discuss and review the reasons for the rewards and
consequences.

ENFORCE THE RULES Enforcing the rules is essential to establishing and


maintaining effective classroom discipline. Rules are meaningless, if not backed-up by
decisive action. Teachers must learn to accurately analyze discipline problems, and then
deal with them quickly, fairly and in a consistent manner. The use of established rewards
and consequences helps make this possible. Remember, the purpose of enforcing the
rules is not to punish students for their misconduct; it is to help them realize the rewards
of obeying the rules. Being punitive, inconsistent or arbitrary is detrimental to effective
classroom discipline.

CREATE AN ORGANIZED PHYSICAL STRUCTURE Rules, rewards and


consequences provide a psychological structure that helps to establish and maintain
classroom discipline. The physical structure of the classroom, however, also is very
important. Prevent problems by creating a structured and organized classroom
environment that meets student needs. Organized classrooms give students (especially
young children) a sense of order, security and predictability. There is truth to the maxim
A place for everything, and everything in its place.

MAINTAINING ORDER Once effective classroom discipline is established,


maintaining order is easy. Teachers who stick with the method used to establish
effective classroom discipline (although modifying it as needed) and who are consistent
in its use and application, will maintain order within their classroom.

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WAYS TEACHERS CAN PREVENT


DISCIPLINE PROBLEMS
Effective classroom discipline emphasizes PREVENTION. Although discipline
problems are bound to arise in every classroom, no matter how experienced or organized
the teacher, there are ways to reduce their frequency and severity. Planning and
preparation are central to preventing discipline problems.

Arrange the classroom to provide optimal visibility for teachers and students
Arrange the physical appearance of the classroom to represent its occupants and
the learning activities that take place in it
Assign manageable classroom activities and homework
Avoid belittling or embarrassing students
Be consistent in the treatment of students
Communicate the rules in a variety of ways
Create a classroom environment that is structured, organized and meets student
needs
Create channels for students to express their problems and opinions
Establish a clear system of rewards and consequences for specific types of
behavior
Establish a position of authority from the first day of class
Explain your rationale for rules and procedures
Find ways to build student self-esteem
Find ways to compliment and reinforce each students good behaviors every day
Give clear directions
Have clear tasks, standards and expectations of students, and explain them
repeatedly
Have students personalize the rules
Involve students in maintaining the classroom
Keep parents advised of their childrens educational and behavioral progress
Keep students busy and task-oriented; discourage idle time
Learn the specific needs, interests and competencies of each student and include
this information in the lesson plan
Maintain your own self-control at all times
Make the classroom an interesting and fun place to be
Plan for the smooth transition from one lesson to the next
Refrain from being harsh or overly critical
Refrain from punishing inappropriate student behaviors; rather, seek positive
ways to modify them
Set precise behavioral expectations for students
Use contingency contracting, when appropriate
Use laughter and humor to involve and motivate students
Vary learning activities

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DISCIPLINE PROBLEMS
Experiences outside the classroom also can cause or contribute to student discipline
problems. Students whose behavior takes a sudden or dramatic change for the worse, and
students who exhibit chronic discipline problems, may be undergoing difficult times.
Experienced teachers recognize this fact and seek to learn the root cause of the problem.
The following is a list of factors external to the classroom that can cause student
discipline problems.

Alcohol or other drug abuse by a family member


Alcohol or other drug abuse by the student
Anxiety, fear or phobia
Chemical changes within the body (especially during puberty and adolescence)
Domestic violence
Emotional abuse or neglect
Family conflict or violence
Family crisis
Head injury
Hearing disorder
Helplessness or a sense of inability to cope
Illness in the family
Lack of friends of meaningful relationships
Learning disorder
Loss or death of a relative, friend or pet
Low self-esteem
Need for personal attention
Nervous disorder
Peer pressure
Personal setback, disappointment or embarrassment
Personality disorder
Physical abuse or neglect
Psychological or emotional problem of family member
Separation or divorce of parents
Stress
Undiagnosed health problem
Vision disorder

-13RULES OF CLASSROOM CONDUCT


Teachers (especially those in the early grades) may consider developing a list of
classroom rules that students are to know and obey. Read the list to the class, post it in
the classroom and/or give a copy to each student. Explain, discuss and personalize the
rules (and the reasons for them). Periodic reviews also prove beneficial. The following
list of rules uses positive terms and may serve as examples.

DO be considerate of others

DO be kind to others

DO be on time for school

DO be patient when the teacher or other students are speaking

DO be polite to others

DO be quiet when others are working

DO finish your assignments on time

DO follow directions

DO hang up your coat or sweater

DO keep books and other objects out of the aisles

DO keep chewing gum for after school

DO keep the classroom clean

DO keep your desk neat

DO keep your eyes on your own work

DO keep your hands to yourself

DO leave other peoples possessions alone

DO listen when the teacher is speaking

DO put materials back where they belong when you are finished using them

DO raise your hand when you have a question

DO raise your hand when you want to speak

DO speak softly

DO treat others as you would have them treat you

DO wait your turn

DO use good language, not bad words


-14REWARDS AND CONSEQUENCES THAT WORK

Rewards and consequences can help control and modify student behaviors. Apply
rewards and consequences equally and consistently among all students and associate
them with the rules of classroom conduct. Rewards teach students the potential benefits
of obeying the rules. Consequences teach students the potential costs of breaking the
rules. However, the primary purpose of using consequences is not to punish; rather, like
the use of rewards, it is to modify behavior.
REWARDS

Assisting the teacher


Being rewarded a special seat of honor
Being given special responsibilities or privileges
Being included in special events
Being named student-of-the-day, week or month
Being named to the class conduct honor roll
Caring for the class pet
Earning token prizes, treats or rewards
Receiving stars or getting a happy face drawn on schoolwork
Leading class activities
Participating in special projects
Receiving merits
Receiving special recognition
Receiving verbal or written praise and compliments
Running errands for the teacher
Taking home a positive note to parents
Tutoring other students

CONSEQUENCES

Apologizing to an individual or the entire class


Being barred from certain activities until the child behaves properly
Losing privileges or special treats

Moving the childs seat to another area of the classroom


Notifying the childs parents about misconduct
Receiving demerits
Receiving brief detention
Removing the child from activities or friends that cause behavior problems
Sending the child to the guidance counselor or principal
Taking a rest or time out from activities
Writing a report about breaking the rules
-15SOURCES OF HELP AND INFORMATION
ABOUT SCHOOL DISCIPLINE

School discipline is a very delicate topic. Educators should know and comply with all
laws, rules, regulations and policies related to school discipline. The following list
contains sources of help and information about school discipline.
LOCAL SOURCES
STATE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION Each state has somewhat different laws
and regulations regarding school discipline. Read the PUBLIC SCHOOL CODE. For
specific information, advice or help, contact your State Department of Education.
SCHOOL DISTRICT Most school districts have established their own discipline
policies. Know them BEFORE establishing your classroom rules. Contact an
administrator for specific information, advice or help.
OTHER EDUCATORS Experienced educators have usually learned much about
school discipline. Their advice and help can be especially useful to new teachers. By
exchanging information, educators can help each other improve classroom discipline.
EDUCATIONAL LITERATURE The topic of school discipline continues to receive
much attention in the literature. Read about what researchers and other educators are
finding successful.
NATIONAL SOURCES
The Master Teacher
www.disciplinehelp.com
American Federation of Teachers
www.aft.org
Pro Teacher
www.proteacher.com

National Mental Health and Education Center


www.naspcenter.org
Educators for Social Responsibility
www.esrnational.org

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