Distracting or disruptive student behavior eats up time and is probably what teachers blame the most for keeping us from reaching our instructional goals. If we get those students in line and doing what we want, all the fabulous learning and achievement will just happen!
Of course this is easier said than done.
Most of us start the year with many plans and a lot of energy for establishing and maintaining classroom expectations, routines, and procedures. We set aside time during the first days of school to make sure we are perfectly clear about how we want students to behave, where materials “live,” how we begin and end rehearsal time. Then we’re off and running, hoping that our instructions have acted like a key signature, providing the necessary information to guide the year’s behavior. However, our students’ behavior needs conducting throughout the year just like their playing does. Even after implementing clear rules and procedures, sometimes the students miss rhythms or neglect accidentals. To maintain our behavior management, teachers need to prepare, practice patience, and provide prizes.
Classroom management focuses on what we want students to do, but teachers must thoroughly prepare to ensure effective student behavior. Establish rules and consequences based on the ages and developmental abilities of your students. Share these with students at the beginning, including what rules and expectations you have for yourself as their teacher. Consequences should crescendo in intensity, moving from simple warning to parental or administrative involvement, at each point demonstrating respect for the student and offering opportunity for a shift toward desired behavior.
Consider how to point out and emphasize natural consequences and when to explain the logical consequence you employ. For example, if a middle school trombone player doesn’t have his stand and chair ready prior to rehearsal starting, the natural consequence is that he stands for that rehearsal. A logical consequence: he becomes responsible (for a specified period of time) for setting chairs and stands for the section. Potentially, this added responsibility may garner the student the same sense of recognition and gratification that the previous off-task socializing was giving him.
While we know our rules, consequences, routines, and procedures, we need to assure that students know them. Treat this information in the same way you would other new content: check for understanding, both in terms of cognition and practice.
You can use a modified Frayer Model approach to make sure students understand class policies. Frayer Models have long been used by English teachers to teach vocabulary, and you can adapt the exercise by substituting classroom expectations for vocabulary words. Have students create (large or small) posters for each rule or routine by writing the rule or routine in the center of the page and then create four quadrants around it. Use the quadrants to:
- Define the purpose or “why” of the rule or routine
- State what the rule or routine is NOT
- Draw a picture or symbol of the rule
- List or diagram the consequences of not following the rule or routine.
If this exercise is completed in small groups on larger paper, you have student-created anchor charts for the classroom:
If completed individually, you have a “writing across the curriculum” student sample to share as evidence of your amazing instructional abilities and buy-in to that campus initiative. For a deeper look at how Frayer Models can help with learning, visit AdLit.org.
We also need students to show us that they understand. After your direct explanation of rules and routines, model each. Think out loud as you physically move through the routine and then have a student or small group of students physically move through the routine. Finally, give all students the opportunity to engage in the activity of the routine.
For example, move a stand to its place on the rack as you explain that stands belong on the rack at the end of class, then have one section put away their stands before having the entire class put their stands on the rack. Like learning new fingerings, we need students to go beyond recognizing the note on the staff; we need to see them hold the instrument and place the fingers accurately.
Perhaps the most critical component of preparing for effective student behavior, however, is instructional planning. Nothing will “control” students better than a well-engineered unit and lesson plans. Consider:
- Are students learning the right thing?
- Do student have the underlying knowledge and skills to learn this new material?
- Is the lesson appropriately challenging?
- What are the learning goals?
- Do students know WHAT they are learning, WHY they are learning it, HOW they are being measured?
- Do I regularly mention our learning goals throughout the lesson?
- How am I responding to students’ results?
- How does the lesson progress?
- Do I start with direction instruction? Move to modeling? Whole group practice? Independent practice?
- How does the lesson plan provide intervention for students who don’t get it right away or accelerate learning for students who excel?
Ultimately, we don’t want to spend time tracking negative behavior or doling out consequences. We want to reinforce positive behavior and have motivated students. To reinforce positive behavior, teachers often provide tangible or more visible rewards. Points accumulating toward prizes or privileges or class/group rewards provide obvious reinforcement but soon lose value with students because the reward becomes expected or routine. Frequently these kinds of rewards also recognize “good enough” behavior as opposed to “best” behavior. Randomly instituting external rewards will provide motivation and a “game” atmosphere, while keeping the emphasis on higher-level examples of student behavior.
Positive behavior is best reinforced with recognition from the teacher and peer respect. Teachers can narrate aloud positive behaviors, stating specific and reproducible actions by “on-task” students. For example, recognize a student who is marking his music by saying, “Leo has his pencil and is marking the crescendo at measure 35.” With this narration, other students are reminded they should have a pencil ready, should be making notes on their music, what they should be marking, and where they should be marking it. Leo receives positive feedback, while other students get an implied reminder.
This strategy works especially well when we leave out “I like” or “I see” and instead point out multiple examples of desired behavior. Simply state what is happening (and be specific). Stand near the “good behavior,” narrate what is happening and then move to a location where the “good behavior” has yet to occur, stating another example along the way. Students will see other students emulate their behavior and take pride in the peer respect earned by being a good example.
Real motivation arrives when students are rewarded with options and opportunities. Sometimes talent—and not effort or adherence to rules and routines—rewards students in music classes, so we have to make sure that we recognize and provide opportunities based on progress and contribution, not just for being a good player. We can provide reinforcement for our less able students by recognizing achievements such as increased practice time, most days ready for rehearsal to start, or growth from “limited” to “satisfactory” level of performance.
Identify and reward non-musical yet essential attributes of students. Ask strong Language Arts students to write and proofread program notes; train non-marching band members to assist in setting up the pit; assign the super-talkative and never shy student to greet guests or emcee a concert; allow the “good with numbers” student to inventory and track concession stand products and funds (with adult supervision). All of these examples recognize the student’s contribution with increased opportunities, leading to an internalized desire to meet expectations.
One rehearsal isn’t enough for a performance, and explaining policies once at the beginning of the year won’t have a lasting effect on behavior. When the need arises or at regular intervals, revisit rules, consequences, routines, and procedures. If classes created anchor charts, literally point to these. In the same way we have students rehearse with pencils to mark reminders, we need to provide reminders about appropriate classroom behavior. And just like music, behavior requires practice. Provide practice opportunities at the beginning of each grading period by having small groups demonstrate each of the routines again. For a funny twist, have groups complete the routine or rule “wrong” and have other students point out what shouldn’t have been going on.
Sometimes, we may even need to “start over” and revise classroom rules and routines. Be patient with yourself when you recognize a routine that could be better. Admit that to students, introduce the new way, demonstrate, practice and go forward. In education, we tend to think of waiting until “next year” for improvements, but that’s being too patient. Make changes now.
Patiently track progress to show students their success at following rules and routines. Some teachers employ a posted check sheet or chart. Older students benefit from a more private but still visible method. A clipboard with short forms (or tablet with Google form available) allows students to enter what happened and why they engaged in that behavior. The teacher can add follow-up and consequences. This kind of record-keeping demonstrates respect for students while providing documentation for meaningful conversations with families, Special Education case managers, and administration.
Remember: “classroom management” does not always equal compliance from students, docile children, or clockwork-like order. Learning is messy! None of our classrooms will look or sound exactly the same way, so determine first what effective student behavior and classroom management is for your setting and students. Then manage your preparation, prizes, and patience for that goal.
As an instructional coach and dean at James Madison High School in San Antonio, Heather Sargent works primarily with literacy teachers and students, supporting academic achievement and appropriate classroom behavior.
She has worked as a trainer of teachers, curriculum developer, and instructional support coach in both public schools and through community health education organizations for over 25 years.
Perhaps more importantly, she has been a highly involved “band mom” for three of her own children, making her truly aware of what good music classroom behavior should and can be.