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An exploration into the classroom management of science teachers.
Jeffrey J. Stanger
Undergraduate student in BSc (Chemistry with Physics) and DipEd concurrently,
Macquarie University, Sydney, New South Wales 2109, Australia.
One of the most important skills possessed by effective teachers is that of classroom management. These skills are considered by Lang et al. (1994) as by far the most important aspect of a teacher’s training and they state that effective classroom management starts with effective lesson preparation. Classroom management is largely concerned with discipline strategies, but other aspects are also of vital importance. The definition developed by Conrath (1986) for classroom management includes the organization and planning of students’ space, time and materials so that instruction and learning activities can take place effectively. Alternatively, effective classroom management was divided into four main categories in the studies of Evertson & Emmer (1982) and Sanford (1984). These four categories are: classroom procedures and rules, student work procedures, managing student behaviour and organizing instruction. It is clear from these examples that classroom management is much more than a collection of strategies for discipline and involves many aspects of a teacher’s professional expertise.
Teachers’ varying approaches to classroom management are reflected in differing levels of effectiveness. For example, a well-prepared teacher has a much greater chance of achieving effective lesson management. In the discussion of Lang et al. (1994), different approaches to discipline are said to range from intimidation to total permissiveness. They advise that such extremes should be avoided and in forming these individual approaches, teachers should include monitoring and enforcing reasonable classroom rules, procedures and routines. Effective teaching is more than discipline alone and classroom management has been closely linked to the achievement and engagement of high school science students (McGarity & Butts, 1984). Both this study and the discussion of Lang et al. indicate that teachers should strive to develop effective classroom management techniques and that this will have a significant impact on their educational effectiveness.
Classroom management can take up a considerable amount of a teacher’s time. This time is generally focused on keeping the students on task and ensuring that the task is effective. One reason why these things do not happen naturally is because students’ motivations do not match those of the teacher. A study by Allen (1986, as cited by Lang et al., 1994) indicated that students tend to have two major classroom goals, to “socialize” and “pass the course”. From this it is evident that a student’s desire to socialize may lead to disruptive and off task behaviour. The findings of Lang et al. indicate that students will learn best from teachers that combine positive reinforcement with preventative discipline, effective management, and interesting instruction. In light of this information, effective management and instruction must allow students to socialize whilst learning interesting content. The amount of time spent on discipline may therefore be minimized with an appropriate form of classroom management.
The use of effective classroom management will be most effective when applied consistently throughout a pupil’s schooling and should therefore be implemented school wide, if not system wide. At Balmain High School there has been a school wide approach to classroom management for some time. This approach was implemented through the adoption of the Glasser system. As discussed by Lang et al. (1994), this system is based on the ideas of Dr William Glasser’s "reality therapy". This approach focuses on the present behaviour and changing it for the better. Misbehaviour is viewed as result of a bad choice on the part of the student, the teacher provides consequences (positive and negative) to help promote good decision making on the student's part and over time, the student comes to accept responsibility for his/her own behaviour. The ten step approach outlined in appendix B is a sequentially implemented system. This system has been studied by Englehardt (1983) and proved effective over previous and competing models when implemented school wide. Not only does it address the behavioural aspects of classroom management, it also provides a general framework for the classroom environment and instructional techniques.
Since classroom management is clearly such a pivotal component of effective instruction it was chosen as the subject of this study. Due to the practical activities undertaken by the science teacher, more skill is required in some aspects of classroom management and therefore it is of greater importance. I have found the issue of discipline and class management to be the most challenging aspect of teaching and have endeavoured to learn as much as possible in order to improve. This paper is intended to explore the role of classroom management in the teaching practice of the science teacher and incorporates investigation through observation, interviews and prior research.
The investigation into classroom management used in this study was carried out over a period of approximately four months. It involved observation of many lessons over that time, in which notes were taken. At the end of this period a post-lesson interview was conducted and a transcript of this interview is included in appendix A. The questions used in this interview were formulated from observations, practical experience and some initial research into classroom management. The interview questions were designed to uncover the thoughts and classroom management practices of the teacher in question.
The main subject of the lesson observations and that of the post-lesson interview was a female science teacher at Balmain High School in her first year of teaching. The lesson observations were of her and her year seven science classes. This teacher was chosen for observation because my master teacher rarely taught any lessons on the days I was there. This choice was also made since there are only four periods in the school day at Balmain High leaving less chance for observation of my master teacher. The results that follow are based upon the post-lesson interview, review of past research and lesson observations. These lesson observations include those of the subject, observations made while teaching and observations of other teachers at Balmain High School.
Through the responses to the post-lesson interview the teacher indicated that she learned the most about classroom management “in the school placements”. She elaborated further in saying “classroom management skills definitely develop through experience”. This is comforting information for a student teacher and agrees with my current experience. It is clear that she views classroom management as a vital part of her teaching practice. This is most evident from her response regarding the impact of classroom management on her teaching that “it is the first and foremost thing on your mind as you walk into a class”. The teacher interviewed identified classroom management to be “mainly about discipline” but also acknowledged a component related to the “management or organization to facilitate learning”. This indicates that she has a concept of classroom management that is supported by research and reflects its broad implications. She also indicated that “the number of students on task and how easy it is to gain a whole classes attention after a student centered activity” is a good measure of your classroom management effectiveness. This view is consistent with that of Marsh (2000) who also indicates that effective instruction is not possible without effective management. In observations of her lessons it was evident, through the significant number of children “on task” that her classes were well planned and therefore effective.
Considering the broad definition of classroom management established previously, it was observed over many lessons that variation in the quality of lesson planning and content lead to a variation in effectiveness of classroom management. One example of this variation in quality was observed in a lesson by a teacher other than the main subject of this paper. In this lesson a significant amount of copying from the textbook was expected of the students. Their behaviour became gradually worse as time progressed since they obviously did not enjoy the task and found it boring. This is a situation where more appropriate lesson preparation and planning would have facilitated improved student behaviour and therefore highlights the connection between lesson preparation and classroom management.
As identified previously, classroom procedures and behaviour management constitute a large portion of classroom management. In line with this the teacher interviewed indicated that “establishing a routine at the start of the lesson to settle and focus the students”, “warning students who are being disruptive of the consequences if their behaviour continues” and “carrying out the Glasser system” were typical of her classroom management. Within the classroom, consistent routines were observed such as a consistent opening of lessons and associated procedures. Behaviour management techniques such as a good use of voice, pupils’ names, pauses and movement within the classroom were all observed. From observations of her classes, her interview responses and study of research it appears that her classroom management is of a high standard. This must certainly be, in part, a product of the Glasser system in place at Balmain High School since it addresses many factors impeding on classroom management.
The Glasser system was indicated by the interviewee as an effective tool but identified both its strong and weak points. The negative aspects identified was that “in the majority of the classes you would need more than one ‘castle’” and “at times it is difficult to decide when or who should be moved to the ‘castle’”. The ‘castle’ is the name given to the classroom withdrawal area used in step seven of Glasser’s ten step plan (Appendix B). These aspects were evident in the classes of several different teachers where an inconsistent application of the ‘castle’ was applied. The positive aspect identified was that “it takes the teacher out of the position of having to punish students for their actions”. This aspect was observed on several occasions in several teachers’ classrooms, where the head science teacher removed a highly disruptive child from the classroom and contacted their parents. This involvement of the parents appeared to remove some of the difficulties imposed on the teacher in enforcing discipline by removing the pupil’s associations of punishment from their teacher. This may help to maintain a positive student teacher relationship, provide more effective behaviour modification and inflict less stress on the teachers involved. Despite some inconsistencies, a school wide approach appeared to facilitate more consistent behaviour between classes.
The role of the science teacher is unique in comparison with that of teachers in other subjects. Science teachers are required to perform many additional management tasks due to the large laboratory component of science lessons. Osborne and Freyberg (1985) indicate that this is due to considerations such as safety, which can come into direct conflict with the instinctive desires of an excited pupil. Doyle (1979, as cited by Conrath, 1986) suggests that laboratory activities are more difficult than traditional classroom activities for securing cooperation from a large number of students. It is further suggested by Conrath (1986) that ineffective classroom managers will be reluctant to undertake laboratory activities. These unique demands on the science teacher were acknowledged by the interviewed teacher in saying “there are different degrees of classroom management within the theory part of a lesson and the practical part”. This was most definitely noticed in classroom observations where some students used to extra freedom of a practical exercise to stray off-task, and in some cases exhibit inappropriate behaviour.
When asked to identify the most interesting and challenging aspects of classroom management the interviewed teacher responded that “classroom management depends on a number of factors such as the time of the day, the age of the students and their motivation levels” and “it is something that you continually work at to get it right’. The lesson previous to the interview took place in the last period on a Friday and was therefore identified by the teacher as non-typical in terms of classroom management. When asked why this lesson was non-typical the response was that “students will be more unsettled and tired so you may not get a lot of work from them”. This statement was found to be the same as those of Zuckerman (2000) and observations of the teacher’s lessons at varying times of the day and week. This variation in students’ behaviour was also personally experienced in the classroom and is now taken into consideration when planning lessons.
Initially, the fact that the main teacher in this study was only in her first year may seem a limitation. It is not clear if this may or may not have affected the outcome of this study. Although she is relatively inexperienced compared to the master teacher, her classroom practices are not as internalised as a master teacher. This most likely means that she is able to articulate her methods and ideas better. The fact that she had less than one year more of practical experience than myself may also mean that she was able to relate better to the experience of the trainee teacher.
Classroom management has been shown to be an extremely important part of a teacher’s professional expertise. It involves a large range of teacher skills and considerations that can be grouped in to four categories. These categories are classroom procedures and rules, student work procedures, managing student behaviour and organizing instruction. Through my practical experience I can relate well with these concepts forming a part of classroom management. This is because I can appreciate the effects that each category has on my class, but this appreciation could only come with experience. Since classroom management is so closely associated to effective teaching it is therefore important that student teachers develop these skills in order to become competent professionals.
One reason for classroom management being such a concern of the school teacher is because children’s motivations lead to behaviour that is not conducive to an effective learning environment. A good example is their desire to socialize, which in some children will lead to disruptive behaviour. This was observed, to some degree, in the lessons of all teachers and especially lessons that involved an experiment. With an understanding of the underlying motivations of students a teacher can use these to their advantage, as motivations in classroom activities.
It is surely a goal of all educational institutions to provide an effective and quality education for all students. Effective instruction cannot be achieved without the appropriate learning environment and classroom management is the key to this environment. The school wide application of the Glasser system and its’ ten step approach to behaviour modification at Balmain High School is obviously effective in addressing major classroom management issues. This structured and student centered approach to discipline allows more effective resolution of behavioural problems and therefore gives valuable class time back to instruction. As teachers we must develop and adopt such approaches in order to be competent educators and collaborators in our pupils learning.
The science classroom presents unique challenges in terms of classroom management that are not seen in other subject areas. Although the same general management issues exist in science teaching it is the emphasis that must be placed on individual issues that varies. When conducting and observing practical lessons a heightened sense of awareness is observed. This is because you know that there is danger in the laboratory and that students, in the relative freedom of a practical class, may display inappropriate behaviour. In classroom observations this was observed as a greater emphasis of clear instructions and physical involvement of the teacher.
Practical experience is considered the main way which teachers learn classroom management skills. Practicing teachers and educational researchers alike holds this view. Measures of effective classroom management that can be applied in teaching were identified as the students’ time on task and their performance. Although classroom management was identified as something that requires constant work and is affected by many variables, practical measures of effectiveness can be used to optimise technique. This flexible approach is essential because of variations in the demands of classroom management. These variations are caused by factors such as the time of the day or week, age of the pupil or individual motivation. During lessons involving different classes and at different times of the week these factors can be observed to affect the lesson outcomes. These factors considered, a teachers classroom management must vary from lesson to lesson and class to class to be most effective.
Through interview responses, observed techniques and in comparison with the relevant literature the teacher who was the primary subject of this study appeared to have an excellent perspective of this aspect of their classroom teaching. Not only did she acknowledge the main aspects of classroom management but she also demonstrated a high level of effectiveness as a consequence.
The potential impact of this research on my classroom teaching is significant. Classroom management is shown to be effective in enhancing learning and therefore it should be a major focus of my teacher training. Although the planning aspects of classroom management have been covered so far in my teacher training I feel that there is not enough instruction in behaviour management. This view is also shared by some of my fellow students. I feel that I have been lucky to be placed in a school that has provided me with experiences that other students may not have had. The Glasser system has allowed me to establish a routine discipline strategy relatively quickly. This has allowed me to concentrate more on improving my instruction since less time is spent on discipline.
The improvement of my classroom management skills would be greatly assisted by incorporating the findings of this research into my considerations when teaching. As a result of this research I intend to explore and implement management strategies that are appropriate for each classroom situation. For example, these strategies include appropriate instruction accounting for the needs of class, more focus on activities that are meaningful to the students and group activities that facilitate some socialization, hence being enjoyable.
Classroom management forms such a large part of my teaching practice that I could never hope to explore it all in this report. Spending the time to research and write this report has enabled me to come to a clearer understanding of what classroom management is and some of the issues involved. I have no doubt the major implication of this research is that I will be able to form more informed opinions on classroom management in the future. Although these skills are ultimately learnt through experience, it is through conscious acknowledgement and application that I will become a more effective teacher.
Balmain High School (1996). Balmain High Discipline Document. Available at:
alex.edfac.usyd.edu.au/LocalResource/ schooldocs/balmain.html [2002, June 1].
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Instruction. Toronto. Harcourt Brace & Co.
Marsh, C. (2000) Handbook for Beginning Teachers. (2nd Ed.) Sydney: Longman Publishing.
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Behaviour, Student Engagement and Student Achievement of Middle and High School Science
students of Varying Aptitude. Journal of Research in Science Teaching. 21 (1), 55-61.
Osborne, R., & Freyberg, P. (1985). Learning in Science. The implications of Children’s Science. London.
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This transcript is based on the specific style suggested in Gilbert et al. (1981), where full stops are used to indicate pauses and each full stop equates to approximately one second.
I: Good afternoon . the questions I am about to ask you are based on the lesson I watched on Friday and previous lessons I observed throughout the year . I am trying to come to a clearer understanding of classroom management through research, observation and questioning . I will combine your responses with my observations and research to write an essay and I will give you a copy . Your responses will be kept anonymous in my assignment and will only be seen by my lecturer and myself.
I: Was the lesson I observed on Friday a fairly typical lesson in terms of classroom management?
I: Given that you are more experienced than I am at classroom management and that Friday’s lesson was not typical, what do you think I can learn from the lesson on Friday?
T: Last period on a Friday afternoon will mean that students will be more unsettled and tired so you may not get a lot of work from them.
I: Ok . what would you say were the typical aspects of your classroom management?
T: Um … establishing a routine at the start of the lesson to settle and focus the students .. warning students who are being disruptive of the consequences if their behaviour continues … and .. carrying out the Glasser system.
I: Ok .. what is your opinion of the Glasser system used at Balmain high?
T: ..The Glasser system if followed works well.
I: Ok … could you please identify the most effective and most ineffective aspects of the Glasser system at Balmain high?
T: . The most effective aspect is that it takes the teacher out of the position of having to punish students for their actions … the ineffective aspects of the Glasser system are that in the majority of the classes you would need more than one castle and .. at times it is difficult to decide when or who should be moved to the castle.
I: …. How does the Glasser system enhance or detract from your classroom management?
T: Um ... I find it a hard system to follow for every disruptive student and until you have carried out all the steps . like giving a warning followed by another warning and moving them to the castle you cannot seek assistance from those members of staff with more authority like the head of department . the deputy etc.
I: .Ok ..What proportion of your classroom management do you think is discipline?
T: Um … I think that classroom management is mostly about discipline.
I: . Ok .. What other
things apart from discipline do you think classroom management
T: .. Well I think classroom management is mainly about discipline and then about management or organization to facilitate learning.
I: .. How do you think classroom management in science lessons differs from other subject areas?
T: There are different degrees of classroom management within the theory part of a lesson and the practical part.
I: Ok .. What aspect of your teacher training was responsible for your classroom management skills?
T: I think I learned most of my classroom management skills in the school placements.
I: Ok .. How do you think your classroom management skills develop and what, if any, steps have you taken to improve them?
T: Classroom management skills definitely develop through experience .. to improve my classroom management skills I have asked other members of staff about how and what and what they do .. I have also observed classes of other science teachers teaching the same year.
I: . Ok .. what improvements, if any, would you like to make to classroom management?
T: Um ……. I don’t know right now . I’d need to think about it more.
I: Ok ..what indicators do you use to judge if your classroom management is effective or not?
T: The number of students on task and . how easy it is to gain a whole classes attention after a student centered activity.
I: Do different lessons in science require different classroom management?
T: . Practical tasks need to be carried out with a high level of classroom management but allowing for investigating . and .. theory lessons need a level of classroom management that is higher in some aspects like not moving around the room than in a practical lesson.
I: What do you feel is the most difficult, challenging or interesting aspect of classroom management?
T: The most challenging aspect of classroom management is that it is something that you continually work at to get it right .. and . the most interesting aspect is that classroom management depends on a number of factors such as the time of the day . the age of the students and their motivation levels.
I: Ok .. what is the cue that makes you decide to ask children to move seats in your classroom?
T: Um . If it looks like the least disruptive step towards obtaining an effective and productive learning environment for other students around them.
I: What impact does classroom management have on your teaching?
T: .. It is the first and foremost thing on your mind as you walk into a class.
I: Thankyou for your time and thoughts.
The following is a brief description of the Glasser system used at Balmain High.
William Glasser defined a specific approach for the management of disruptive students. His ten step approach suggests taking a new look at students who are disruptive and using a succession of steps depending on the response obtained. It is most important that the steps are followed in order and that they are not rushed or skipped. It is a process that will take time to implement and will mean the development of a better relationship between teacher and student.
Step 1: What Am I Doing?
Recognise what you are doing, what the student is doing and then assess the problem.
Step 2: Is it Working?
Are the strategies you're using successful? If one is not working, stop using it. (Remember what works with one student may not work with another.
Step 3: Make a Plan
If what you are doing is not working - do something different. Give recognition to students when they are not being disruptive. Do something positive, e.g. make a friendly greeting, talk about things that interest them.
Step 4: What Are You Doing?
If a student disrupts the class ask, in a normal, quiet tone of voice: "What are you doing?" - expect an answer other than "Nothing" or "I don't known. Say it sharply, quickly - not angrily or punitively.
Step 5: Is it Working? Is it against the Rules?
Ask the student "Is it against the rules?" The student must accept that rules are necessary and are to be obeyed. If the student does not admit the disruptive behaviour you declare: "This is what I saw. It is against the rules". Do not enter into an argument with the student.
Step 6: We Must Work it Out
Say and mean "We have to work it out". The behaviour cannot continue, the teacher and student must reach a solution through negotiation.
Step 7: Withdrawal
A pleasant but isolated place is designated the withdrawal area in the classroom. If the student continues to disrupt, ask the student to move to the spot where work can be continued but where the student is not a part of the class. Movement back to the body of the class is dependent upon agreement to "work it out" with the teacher
Step 8: Time -out
If disruption continues to occur the student is excluded from class to a pre- arranged area. The student must stay there until he or she decides to work out a plan to behave in an acceptable manner and give a commitment to follow through on the plan.
Step 9: Suspension
If the student continues to disrupt in the time-out room suspension in accordance with Departmental policy must take place. It is important to treat the student with courtesy and emphasise quietly and politely "You have to obey the rules we're happy to have you back when you are ready to follow the rules."
Step 10: Referral to Outside Agency
If thee are indications of serious emotional disturbance or behaviour disorders and the parents recognise the problem, the school may suggest a referral to a support service within the Department such as specialist counsellor or itinerant teacher for behaviour disorders or to a Community Agency such as a Child or Adolescent Health Service.
Balmain High School (1996). Balmain High Discipline Document. Available at: alex.edfac.usyd.edu.au/LocalResource/ schooldocs/balmain.html [2002, June 1].
Classroom Management | Home | Astronomy | Astrophotography | Science | Space Science | Astrobiology | Science Teaching | Related Links | Contact Me