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Help! Loud Class

Strategies for ending bickering in the classroom

Leslie Asks:

I’ve been a math teacher for nine years in a diverse middle school with 35 percent FARM [Free And Reduced-price Meals] and many homeless students. This is my first year of difficulty managing a class. I can’t get them to stop talking and bickering. I’ve changed seating, called home, invited parents to sit in, given students classroom “jobs,” bribed them, given them detention. I’m exhausted. I have yelled (never works), whispered, completely quit talking. My most recent strategy was to put the students who want to learn up front, and the loud students in the back—wrong, now they play hangman and goof off even more! I need strategies!

WEST: I am a strong advocate of using POSITIVE behavior modifications over negative. There is a time for both, but I accent the positive more.

I use a stars-and-checks system. I give stars for answering questions, being on task, being the first ones ready to go. They live and breathe stars! They can use them at a student store.

Checks lead to consequences. Two checks equal 10 minutes’ detention, but can be erased by two stars. Each day is a fresh start. Checks are erased, stars are kept.

Research shows the best (and cheapest!) positive incentive is social praise. “I really appreciate how Betty has her book ready to go!”

A good resource is

BARBARA: Have you tried putting them in groups and awarding group points? Works like a charm for me. Once a week, the group with the most points wins a prize.

CAROLYN: Has anyone read Beyond Discipline by Alphie Kohn, or Recognition Without Rewards by Cameron and Tate? They say rewards actually create discipline problems. Save your prize money. Read these books.

JO: Class management starts with keeping them busy every minute. Their hands must be moving on interesting and rigorous assignments, mostly writing: reports, journals, questions about stories.

KATHRYN: You teach MATH and they are homeless! They probably can’t see why they have to do math at all!

Bring their world inside your lessons. How many cans do you need to collect to buy your own bike with the five-cent recycling fee? Get checkbooks from a bank. Show them how to enter everything they purchase for a week. They need to see that if you learn math, you can go anywhere and not be taken for granted.

Bring food into the equation: Show them how to make fractions with English muffins, and make them work before they eat. Buy big, beautiful, sugary donuts as a Friday treat.

Oh, and throw all that good food in the garbage if they can’t behave, because that’s where disrespect belongs!

KAREN: It's not the candy or being strict that matters to kids who go online to the jail website to see their father or mother. What they care about is  finding a way out. Find stories to show them that even the best-of-the-best, like Oprah or Maya Angelou, had to work hard to get where they are, and even with horrific pasts, they still made it. Ron: Brainstorm with your students how noise should be handled. Take the role of enforcer off your back and put it on them. When disruptions occur, encourage them to remind offenders of the rules. My students police themselves, leaving me more time and energy to teach.



NEA’s classroom management advice column.

A year ago, we launched an online classroom management advice forum because so often, this is the most frustrating part of the job. Kate Ortiz, a teacher and classroom management expert from Chariton, Iowa, responds to every question within 24 hours. But Kate is only one of many who contribute suggestions, tell stories, and get into debates. We’ll print a taste of these discussions in NEA Today.

See the full forum, post your own problem (create a new topic), and get help!

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