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Thinking about Discipline – Part 1

Teacher training and Development

Thinking about Discipline – Part 1


Having discipline problems?

Which of these learners are your learners?

Made with wordle.net – the words in the word cloud have been taken from http://www.disciplinehelp.com/

But why do students behave “badly”?

There will be many different expressions of undisciplined behaviours; teachers of adults will find they have different problems to teachers of very young learners and they, in turn, will face different issues to teachers of teenage learners.
The causes of such behaviours have been the focus of many studies and much speculation in staffrooms; in ELT, very little gets written or researched on this subject and it is a pity, because a very large percentage of the student populations taught by ELT teachers around the world, are younger pupils and teens, and much more likely than adults to be unruly!
Some of the causes mentioned in various books, blogs, etc. include power thirst, or a desire to take the control away from the teacher; anger is also mentioned, which in turn may be caused by all sorts of issues at home or at school; attention seeking, either because a pupil feels attention is owed to them or perhaps because they do not get enough attention at home; issues of confidence or self-esteem are also mentioned, poor self esteem or overconfidence which may result in undisciplined behaviours.
It seems to me then that some of the reasons that students exhibit lack of discipline are caused by their home situation, others by their own self-perception or feelings.
But, oftentimes, lack of discipline may also be caused by the school environment itself or teacher behaviours which may encourage or provoke it.
Most information sources  neglect to mention the teacher as a cause for lack of disciplne – yet students are often naughty due to

      • boredom
      • lack of interest
      • failure and more failure
      • lack of involvement
      • inability to understand or follow the class
      • the teacher’s personality
      • poor classroom management
      • etc

Oftentimes, undisciplined behaviours can be the result of an authoritarian and overstrict educational setting in which there are heavy punishments when the rules are broken – teens, especially are more likely than most age groups to rebel to such a school set up!

From Basic Grammar Worksbook 2, English Schoolbook Publications, ©Marisa Constantinides

What can teachers do?

There are two ways teachers can deal with discipline issues – proactively and reactively.
In this first post, I would like to begin with some of the proactive teacher actions, and discuss reactive action in a future one.

Plan Discipline Problems away & the Value of a Good Start

The first few days of any class are crucial for encouraging disciplined behaviours. From day one, set you class on the right track for good behaviour by being a positive role model yourself and by being on the ready to give warm praise to the slightest evidence of good behaviour!!!

Some Suggestions

  • Getting to know you activities (it’s easier to misbehave against people you don’t know) Most of the more recently produced coursebooks (if, of course, you are using one) provide a battery of such activities in the first unit. If you do not use materials which include such ideas, a quick stroll around the web with the key-words ‘getting to know you activities’ will yield hundreds of great activities, or you can create simple questionnaires yourself which will result in class posters, glogsters, wiki entries or simple class albums with everyone’s photos, achievements, hobbies and creative art work!
  • Encourage a collaborative learning environment Many teachers forget to introduce activities which train their students to do collaborative work; seating students around tables, for example, is a clear subliminal message that ‘in this class, we will be working together, in groups’; some positing thinking activities where students brainstorm and contribute ideas on the value of working together, should be a standard start of the year practice, in fact, a topic like that would make a great lesson anyway, in the age of connectivism!
  • Team building activities which will  bond the students together, give them a sense of group identity; team names appropriate to the age group; do please check out an older blog post on just this topic.
  • Disciplined behaviour is everyone’s business, not just the teacher’s. Get your students involved in collaborative projects in which they negotiate and make decisions on the rules of conduct of their class, the modus vivendi of their day-to-day existence; don’t be afraid they will go the other way; young pupils appreciate teachers with a firm (but kind) attitude (see this evidence);  don’t be afraid they will come up with bad rules. What is certain is that your students will come up with some guidelines for good behaviour and those will be the ones they will respect (because they came from themselves) and those they can deal with (because they will be what they can deal with at their age and stage of conceptual development). Just make sure you
      1. Explain the consequences of not following rules very clearly – your students may have their own ideas on this
      2. Assign Responsibilities and duties to all
      3. Ask them to list some school rules and say why these exist.
      4. Tell them to think about their English class and brainstorm rules they think are a good idea.

To start them off, elicit and feed in ideas such as:

        •    Students should try to speak English whenever they can.
        •    The teacher should be patient with the students when they make mistakes
        •    Students should show respect to each other.
        •    The teacher should make his/her lessons interesting 
  • Let them work in groups, perhaps making up five rules for the teacher and five for the students. Get the class to agree on the best rules. Make sure things you think are important are included!
  • Expected behaviour is made clear to everyone. It’s not enough to get students involved in creating the rules governing good conduct; these have to be visible, memorable, in full view and often reinforced, not though punishment, but through rewards. Get your students to make posters, glogsters, blogposts, a mission statement on the front page of their wiki; use Web 2.0 tools or apps that are age appropriate (or don’t use them – this post is not about technology really); use what is available and accessible to fulfill the principle behind the tool.
  • Use the rules & laws you have agreed on to write a student contract* – everyone should agree on the terms of this contract and sign it, teacher included!

Parent Involvement 

Finally,  although in some cases this may be difficult, do try to involve your students’ parents as well; the younger your pupils, the more important this will be!
Translate your contract into the parents’ language and if you don’t speak it, get the pupils to translate it or use Google translate and have them edit the translation (they will be much more involved!)

* The idea of signing contracts is becoming more and more common in ELT

Which of the following discipline problems do you face most often?


        • Tardiness

        •  Lack of attention

        •  Lack of participation

        •  Rowdiness

        •  No Homework

        •  Irony or sarcasm to one’s classmates

        •  Disrespectful behaviour to the teacher or classmates

        •  Physical damage or violence to one’s classmates or teacher

        •  Verbal violence to one’s classmates

How do you deal with these problems?

Please post your comments and suggestions – I would be especially interested in learning how teachers are dealing with discipline in the remote classroo


3 Responses

  1. Sophia Mavridi (@SophiaMav) says:

    Thank you for the great article, Marisa.
    Like you, I believe that involving students in the creation of the class rules rather than imposing rules on them works wonders. I particularly liked the “five rules for the teacher and five rules for the students” idea and I’ll definitely try it. Yes, if we want our students to see us as human beings and not only as those in authority (teens hate authority btw) rules should include us as well.

  2. Anastasia says:

    a great post on the issue that’s so relevant for fresh-off-the-teaching-course teachers like me!
    Indeed, some teenagers nowadays underestimate the value of colloboration, and don’t think they can achieve more as a group than by themselves (in certain learning situations).
    I guess for me the biggest challenge in my 1st year ,which is still going :), represents discipline, and your article is so helpful now, thanks!

  3. ghanem sohila says:

    novice teachers face alot of dicipline problems .each time they learn from thier little experiences

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