The official website of educator & arts patron Jack C Richards

Classroom discipline

Question:

submitted by Douglas MacQueen, Cambodia

What advice can you give about classroom discipline?

Dr Richards Responds:

Nobody can learn effectively in a class that is rowdy, where students come and go as they please, where the teacher sometimes arrives late, where students pay little attention to what the teacher is trying to say or do, use their cell phones or send text messages during the lesson or insist on using their mother tongue in class as much as possible rather than making any attempt to use English among themselves. A well-behaved class respects an understanding of the spoken and unspoken rules that govern the norms of acceptable classroom behavior. These “rules” may differ with students from different cultural backgrounds, so it is important that the teacher and students agree on what the rules for acceptable behavior are early in a course. Experts recommend that norms for acceptable classroom behavior need to be established early on with a new group of students and suggest that in order for the teacher to be able to exercise his or her authority in the classroom it is important to be consistent, to be fair, and to avoid direct confrontation. In this way an atmosphere of mutual trust can be established and maintained. When a disruptive form of behavior does occur (such as when a student continues to speak to another student while the teacher is talking), experienced teachers often respond in a humorous way (e.g. with a humorous gesture) rather than by expressing anger. In some classes there may be one or two students whose behavior is sometimes disruptive. An overenthusiastic student may dominate questions or answers, a student may not co-operate during group work, or there may be a student who distracts those around him or her.  Group pressure is the best response in these situations. If norms of acceptable behavior have been agreed upon, the teacher can  gesture to another student to remind the disruptive person of appropriate classroom behavior.

Dornyei  in his excellent book on motivation gives the following example of a set of class rules.

For the students:

  • Let’s not be late for class.
  • Always write your homework.
  • Once a term you can “pass”, i.e. say that you have not prepared.
  • In small group work only the L2 can be used.
  • If you miss a class, make up for it and ask for the homework.

For the teacher

  • The class should finish on time.
  • Homework and tests should be marked within a week.
  • Always give advance notice of a test

For everybody

  • Let’s try and listen to each other.
  • Let’s help each other.
  • Let’s respect each other’s ideas and values.
  • It’s OK to make mistakes; they are learning points.
  • Let’s not make fun of each other’s weaknesses.
  • We must avoid hurting each other, verbally or physically.