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Classroom Discipline Still Not a Science

By Walt Gardner — August 24, 2016 1 min read
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Classroom observations remain the most heavily weighted factor in evaluating teachers. One of the criticisms of that strategy is that it is highly subjective. That’s why a new study from the University of Missouri College of Education warrants serious consideration, albeit not wholesale acceptance (“The Brief Student-Teacher Classroom Interaction Observation: Using Dynamic Indicators of Behaviors in the Classroom to Predict Outcomes and Inform Practice,” University of Missouri News Bureau, Aug. 8).

Using the Brief Student-Teacher Classroom Interaction Observation model to evaluate 53 teachers and 896 students in K-3 classrooms, researchers found that negative comments from teachers for unacceptable behavior tend to be counterproductive. They say such comments encourage students to repeat the behavior to get the teacher’s attention. Conversely, positive comments for good behavior encourage students to repeat the behavior for the same reason.

I think the issue, however, is more nuanced than it appears. It’s how teachers address improper behavior that is the key factor. Sarcastic or demeaning remarks have no place in the classroom. They may temporarily extinguish the behavior, but they leave scars. On the other hand, overlooking the behavior is equally harmful because it sends the message that anything goes. The study in question involved children in K-3. Certainly in that young age group children are extremely vulnerable.

I doubt that any study can ever totally devise a way to evaluate a foolproof way to discipline students. The personality of teachers is the key factor. I’ve seen teachers who treat their students as if they were in boot camp without doing any damage to the egos of their students. That’s because their personalities were otherwise so engaging that their students understood and accepted the good intentions of their teachers. Any set of principles can be violated and still produce beneficial effects when teachers are respected by their students.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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