You can imagine that with almost 20 years of classroom teaching experience I have seen many challenging behaviors in some of my students. Over the years, I turned to colleagues and administrators, professional reading, and personal experience to try and work through these issues. Two books that have been very helpful are Difficult Behavior in Early Childhood: Positive Discipline for PreK-3 Classrooms and Beyond and Challenging Behavior in Young Children: Understanding, Preventing, and Responding Effectively.
I expect that some of what I am about to share will be what you already do, while other ideas will be strategies and tips you have heard about or used to do and have moved away from. In some cases, the ideas may be new to you or you may have never considered the impact they have on classroom management and behavior. Regardless of whether the ideas I am about to share affirm you for what you are already doing, push you to go back to something you used to do, or move you forward to try something new, I hope this post will help you prevent challenging behaviors in your students through classroom setup, routines and transitions, and teaching strategies.
THE PHYSICAL SPACE
In his book, Caring Spaces, Learning Places, Jim Greenman wrote "Space speaks to each of us." For example: consider a restaurant, a library, or baseball field-- each of these spaces lets you know exactly what behavior is expected there. The same is true for a classroom.
The overall layout of the classroom, the arrangement of the furniture, and the use of wall space will determine if students feel comfortable or apprehensive, calm or out of control, inclusive or elitist, social or threatening. It is most definitely easier to change the physical space of a classroom than to change student behavior, but ironically, altering the space can change behavior.
Young children with challenging behaviors oftentimes have trouble functioning in a physical space permeated with rules and restrictions. While all children need some limits, too many set limits may make matters worse. Eventually, young children will stop listening (which can be dangerous in the case of an emergency), therefore it makes sense to organize the room so that children can move freely and without constant redirection or guidance.
As you arrange and organize things in your classroom. consider the empty space. Too much open space encourages running, chasing, and chaos. Use low shelves and other furniture pieces to separate large spaces into uncluttered, well-organized areas. Mark boundaries clearly and lay out well-defined paths from one location to another.
There are different lines of thought concerning seat assignments. While it is oftentimes a best practice to let students make decisions and have choice, in their book, The First Days of School, Harry and Rosemary Wong suggest preparing seat assignments for students. This allows you to mix up students who are close friends, promote social skills, and empower diverse talents and intelligences to emerge. For those students who are easily distracted, you can cut down on the stimulation around the room by placing them away from windows and high traffic areas such as doors, the trash can, the sink, and the bathroom.
Rather than taping names down to the table, use velcro so they can be easily moved.
The materials, games, center activities, and books you choose have an effect on your student's behavior. To engage students, consider their interests, abilities, culture, and developmental levels. Materials that are too difficult can easily turn into simple figures such as a gun or sword. Competitive games and games that require a lot of waiting can encourage aggressive behavior. Tactile experiences with play doh, sand, and water can help a child to relax and move through difficult stretches and materials such as parachutes and group projects can incite cooperation.
Classroom noise can make it difficult for some children to hear, focus, talk quietly with others, and settle conflict peacefully. As you move through the room during the day, pay attention to the noise and hubbub. Possible suggestions for reducing stimulation: turn music off, leave some areas of wall space blank, put away some of the materials, decrease clutter, organize children's artwork by color, and dim the lights by turning one off or using lamps throughout the classroom.
ROUTINES AND TRANSITIONS
A Daily Schedule
Help your students settle into learning through predictability, consistent expectations, and a daily schedule. Post the schedule to help children remember and refer to it throughout the day.
Develop and teach procedures to establish predictability. Procedures and routines are the grease that make the classroom run smoothly. Teaching procedures can cover everything from entering the room in the morning to packing up to leave in the afternoon, attending to personal needs, transitions, participation in teacher-led activities, working in small groups and at centers, getting help, and handling materials and equipment.
Introduce only a few procedures at a time. Start with those students need first such as entering the classroom, using the restroom, putting their backpack away, etc.
Before starting a new activity, always teach any procedures that go with it.
Review procedures regularly and post procedures along with visual cues.
Children are motivated and empowered when they can make meaningful choices about the way they spend their time. If you build choice into your program and give children the opportunity to make their own decisions, they don't need inappropriate ways to seek power and independence.
Children who feel anxious when no one is directing them will manage better if you reduce their choices and remind them to ask for help.
Too many materials can breed confusion, but too few can create conflict. One possible solution is to provide duplicates of popular activities and materials.
For those students who have trouble sitting still during group time, offer them the choice of quietly leaving the carpet and reading a book, drawing, or doing a puzzle instead. Make sure to create a procedure for leaving and returning.
Consider students' learning preferences such as do they prefer bright or soft light, quiet or noisy surroundings, moving around or sitting down, working alone or with others, using sight, sound, or touch to understand material. Intelligence preferences also impact learning. According to Howard Gardner (1983), different minds work in different ways, so some students will fit into conventional methods such as linguistic or logical-mathematical, while others will fit into others such as musical, spatial, kinesthetic, naturalistic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and existential.
The Importance of Play
Play is fundamental to learning and essential to children's cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being. Be sure to set aside enough time for children to play. Teach with themes that will extend the content of their play. Choose props and materials that encourage children to develop their play skills.
Working in Groups
In small groups, young children can work together to achieve a common goal. Working in groups can also increase motivation, engagement, and academic achievement.
Peer Tutoring- Older students can help younger students or children who are the same age can take turns teaching each other.
Partner Learning- Young children can work in pairs to practice skills, complete academic tasks, follow routines, and practice their social skills.
Cooperative Learning Groups- Children can work in small heterogeneous groups on multidimensional, open-ended tasks.
Get the Going
Motivation is key. Research has shown that the motivated brain operates better and signals faster. Your students will be more motivated when they have choice and when the task is challenging, achievable, interesting and meaningful to their lives.
Children's prior knowledge or schema is the starting point for new learning. Therefore, it is important to activate and work with that knowledge. KWL and schema charts are great tools for taking students' learning deeper.
From the Chalk Talk post Turtle Time- Creating a Schema Chart
Expect the Best
Have high expectations for your students, because your expectations for each student will influence what and how you teach. Your students will internalize your expectations and comply with them.
Give it Over
Give students a say in what they will learn. Marzano (2003) suggests letting students set goals for themselves at the beginning of each unit or theme of study.
Break it Up
Give instructions to students in small, manageable pieces. Provide concrete examples, visual cues, demonstrations, and sequence cards that list and illustrate each step. Give instructions in a clear and direct manner, using positive language.
Mix it Up
Variety will give an lesson a little spice. According to Jensen (2005), young children can pay attention for only about 5-8 minutes, so plan to frequently switch gears. Schedule your most demanding lessons during the time of day when engagement is highest. Place preferred activities such as centers or recess after demanding ones. Slow down to teach harder concepts and speed up to teach easier ones. Alternate tedious tasks with more exciting ones and alternate simple demands with difficult ones.
Shake it Up
Push your tolerance for the wiggles as far as you can. Resist using whole-group instruction for lengthy periods of time. Make movement and active participation an integral part of your program. Some suggestions include moving furniture, joining and leaving groups, using centers, partners, and small groups, acting out stories and concepts, and turning lessons into games.
Wait it Out
In order to gain control over students who continuously speak without raising their hand, ignore shout outs, but when the child raises his/her hand, call on him/her immediately. Help children learn to wait by using a timer that ticks or an egg timer that shows time passing. Research has shown that waiting at least 3 seconds for a reply or an answer will elicit longer responses.
Out in the Open
According to Jensen (2005), by allowing the brain to relax, recess enhances learning and helps children handle stress and conflict. If your recess time is nonexistent or limited or its a rainy day, extend the music, movement, and break time in your classroom.