Peaceful compliance or noisy engagement?

Uncategorized Mar 13, 2020
What would you prefer to see in your classroom? Peaceful compliance or noisy engagement? 
Often, behaviour management is all about achieving peaceful compliance - that is the goal. Students completing the set work in order to avoid negative consequences. And yes, this is much better than a chaotic, off-task classroom for sure. 
I used to work in an all-girls private school, and here peaceful compliance was the norm. These girls LOVED PowerPoints and worksheets - because they knew how to comply with this. For them, it was a simple as listening, note-taking and then completing the activities. It was in their comfort zone, and it didn’t take a huge amount of effort or brain power. If you didn’t want them to talk, you asked them not to, and they complied (I know, this is the dream right?!). But you know what else it could be? BORING! And the minute that you did ask them to step outside of their comfort zone and try something different, or actually do something that required them to think for themselves, it was instant panic attacks (anxiety was quite a wide-spread problem at this school). 
I also worked at the opposite end of the spectrum in rough ‘hard to staff’ schools. Here, peaceful compliance was a distant dream, and behaviour management took up the majority of my time. I was forever dealing out negative consequences for non-compliance. The amount of paperwork I had to fill out for various ‘incidences’, yard duty slips and detentions was insane. 
What I eventually figured out was that if students were engaged and really interested in what they were doing, there were less behavioural issues (not zero, unfortunately, but significantly less). I learnt to accept a noisy classroom and allowed students some freedom to move around, as long as they were generally on-task. Another teacher walking past my classroom might of thought it looked and sounded a bit chaotic, but I was ok with that because I knew that my students were actually engaged and excited about what they were doing. 
I also learnt that whilst there may be some resistance at first to asking students to step outside of their comfort zone and try something different, they pretty quickly got used to it and became comfortable with it. Especially when I made it clear that it was OK to make mistakes, as long as they were overcoming them and learning from them. 
So how do we get students to be engaged and ‘in the zone’? Sometimes it can take a little trial and error, and what works for some students won’t work for all. It can be a little bit messy and noisy but it’s all part of the process! 
  • Build choice into your tasks - choice can be built in via the content (what they learn), the process (how they are learning it) or the product (how they will demonstrate their learning) - or all 3 if you are game! This gives students some autonomy and allows them to pursue their interests or use their unique talents. 
  • Give clear boundaries - make it clear what you expect from them and what is definitely not ok. 
  • Make it meaningful - try to situate the content within a meaningful and relevant context. 
  • Give students purpose - if they can see that their work will be impacting people or making a difference of some kind then they will be more invested in it. 
  • Allow for maximum creativity - students love it when they have a chance to be creative - but it does help to allow them some choice in the creative product (not everyone loves putting on a role play for example, but they may like to write a poem). 
  • Group work - having the opportunity to interact with their peers and exchange ideas. 
  • Gamify it - kids love being able to win or ‘level up’ and compete against each other. There are fun online quizzes like Kahoot, Quizziz and Quizlet that can help with this, or you could think about making your own game. 
  • Problem solving - give them something to solve - be it a problem, a puzzle, a riddle etc. Escape rooms are a fun idea. 
  • Peer feedback - kids care what their peers think about them. Utilise this by having them share their work with the class.
  • A wider audience - think about how you could utilise parents or the wider community in showcasing student work. You could even partner with an overseas school online so that students can be exposed to different cultures. Knowing that their work will be seen by more people than just the teacher can be very motivating. 
  • Make them accountable - for example, if students are completing a project, don’t just give them free reign and hope that they turn something in on the due date. Build in accountability throughout the task so that they have smaller, more achievable deadlines to meet along the way. 
  • Make sure that they have the support or scaffolding that is needed for skills development - if students become lost or frustrated then they may tend to give up. It’s important to check in with students regularly to see what obstacles they have come across and how they are overcoming them. Better yet, try to foresee where skills may be lacking and prepare them accordingly. For example, if they need to find their own information but don’t know how to tell if it is reliable, then you may need to do some work with them on this and provide supporting resources. 
What other ideas do you have? I would love to hear them - feel free to leave a comment! 

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