Putting behaviour theory into practice

By Vicky, posted
Learners’ behaviour can have a massive impact on a teacher, in a positive and negative way. At times, you can be stuck in a cycle of negativity with behaviour management. You know something needs to change, but how? It’s never too late to work on this key aspect of teaching and learning. Remember that any poor behaviour will also be affecting other learners and their access to your subject.
There are a few key theorists on this subject that have valuable insights. It’s always helpful to reflect on these theories and bring them into practice; how can you apply them in the classroom rather than leaving them in a textbook?

Betari’s box model

Betari’s box (the origin of which is unknown) proposed a model that shows how our attitudes encourage a certain response. For example, if you are rude to someone in customer services, you are likely to escalate a situation to become aggressive and dramatic. Betari’s box model explored the way that negative attitudes encourage negative responses and positive attitudes encourage positive responses. In teaching, if you are becoming increasingly frustrated with a learner, perhaps it is time to try modelling the behaviour that you would like to see. There can be an amazing change.

If you set this up at the beginning of the year, with a calm classroom environment, presenting yourself as a calm, fair yet authoritative figure, there is a very good chance that behaviour will be better. Of course, it is never too late to try to change mid-term or mid-year, with the help of ground rules, discussion and other strategies.

Glasser’s choice theory

William Glasser was an American psychiatrist.  His theory was based around ‘total behaviour’ which is made up of four components: acting, thinking, feeling and physiology. Choice theory explores how we have considerable control over acting and thinking, yet little control to choose feeling and physiology as they are deeply sub- and unconscious.  The main theory was that everything is a choice that we are making – any feeling or behaviour – it may be an unconscious choice, but it is still a choice.

In the classroom, using this theory can encourage students to make their own choices about their learning.  They can consider where they are at the moment through feedback, self and peer assessment and set their own targets.  They may be able to work out the steps they need to go through.  If students are working on a project, they will be making their own decisions constantly – encouraging them to reflect on their progress and attainment instead of always telling them what they need to do can produce well rounded, enthusiastic learners who take responsibility for themselves.

Kounin’s approach to behaviour management

Jacob Kounin observed and filmed in multiple classrooms in the early 1970s and from this was able to summarise that good classroom management is based on the behaviour of the teacher, not the students.  He proposed that if the teacher knew what they were doing, had a high level of planning and held students accountable amongst other things, the classroom would run smoothly.

A good teacher certainly makes it look easy and Kounin observed just how much planning is needed for the classroom to run well – and how many steps ahead the teacher needs to be in case of different eventualities. Of course, there may be very disruptive students where more intervention is needed, but most of the time, this skilful level of planning and plate juggling will be enough.

Canter’s behaviour theory – assertive discipline

Lee Canter came up with the very popular assertive discipline theory in the late 1970s.  This encouraged the setting of ground rules and contracts and the positive and negative consequences of good or poor behaviour.  Most behaviour policies are based on this – the detentions and other sanctions for being constantly late, disrespectful etc and awards/rewards for good behaviour.  The teacher is in control in an assertive way, not an aggressive way and the students know exactly where the limits and boundaries are.

Of course, in reality, there will be multiple theories being put into practice in every classroom, every day.  If we take the key elements out of each of these theories, we can simplify behaviour management to careful planning, modelling of appropriate behaviour, setting ground rules and adhering to them and the most important one of all – being consistent.  Anything new that you try out as a teacher may well not have impact straight away – give it time, be consistent and set out your expectations clearly.

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