State very clearly what the student is doing wrong and what they have to do to put it right. Remember not to get angry or raise your voice – you don’t want to reward their behaviour with an emotional outburst and you don’t want to antagonise them. Let the consequence do the job for you as you calmly state what will happen if they continue: ‘Jonny, you’re not doing your work. You need to pick up your pen and finish your target so that you don’t have to get it finished in your own time,’ or ‘If you don’t manage to finish the work, you are going to lose five minutes of your break catching up,’ or ‘If you don’t stop throwing bits of eraser, you’ll have to spend your break clearing the entire floor.’
At this stage, once a warning has been given, students often start to complain. Don’t get drawn in by this and don’t discuss the matter further. If you engage with them at this stage they will think there is a chance that you will change your mind – and once they see an opening they will try to exploit it with more and more arguing. A brisk,‘I’ve told you what your choices are’, is all you need to say and then walk away.
Once a clear warning has been given it is important to give the student some time to process what you’ve said. The reason we do this is because it is very difficult for a student to back down in front of their peers, particularly if you are standing over them waiting for them to comply.
By backing off – walking to another part of the room or going to help another student – you take pressure off them so there is more chance of them doing the right thing:‘Jonny, I’m going to help Kieron for a minute so you can think about what choice you’re going to make while I do so. When I come back to your desk in one minute from now I need to see that you’ve made a start.’
When you explain clearly and exactly what they are doing wrong, what the consequences will be and what they must do to put it right, it’s surprising how quickly they will change their behaviour. You are still maintaining total control and managing the situation but in a manner they will see as fair.
How much more sensible is this than losing your temper, giving them lots of negative attention and confusing them with idle threats that you won’t follow up? Or worse, really losing your temper and looking a twerp in front of the rest of the class?
But we’re not finished yet. We want to acknowledge this behaviour change so there is more chance of it being repeated in future.
Assuming that Jonny has heeded your warning and is now back at work, you need to acknowledge that – this is a big step he’s just taken. Don’t fall into the trap of lecturing him about how he should follow instructions faster next time. Just give him a sincere smile and whisper some quiet one-to-one praise: ‘I’m impressed Jonny – well done. Thank you for doing as you were asked, it makes my job much easier!’ Younger students can be rewarded more formally, perhaps by getting them to place a sticker on a chart for meeting a relevant behaviour target such as ‘Follow teacher’s instructions’.
If the student doesn’t do as you’ve asked, this is the time to move on to your first consequence – and state it calmly, without emotion: ‘Okay you’ve chosen to carry on doing (insert behaviour). That’s fine. You’ll be staying in at break for five minutes. Now get on with your work so that you don’t lose any more of your time.’
Once again, give them a few moments to think and settle. If the student continues to ignore you after this, or if the behaviour resumes after a few minutes of respite, repeat steps 1 to 4 with the next consequence in your hierarchy. This is why it is crucial to have a stepped range of consequences ready to use so that you can increase the severity without losing control.