Teaching Opinion

Redirect Student Behavior With I and Why

By David Ginsburg — January 31, 2014 1 min read
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I’ve previously shared tips for redirecting students so that they’re cooperative rather than combative. And they’re even more likely to be cooperative when you combine two of those tips.

Tip #1 is to use “I” statements such as “I need you to return to your seat, please” rather than “you” statements like “you need to sit down” or commands like “sit down.” Tip #2 is to give students a compelling reason to do something.

Putting these two ideas together is easy. Just tell students what you want them to do, followed by why you want them to do it. My favorite example of this is a kindergarten teacher I coached whose students knew that only one person should speak at a time because of “acoustics.”

But you don’t always need to be so clever. What matters most is that students experience you as caring, not controlling. It’s more effective, for instance, to say, “I’d like you to take notes so you can refer to them during the lab” than “write this down if you don’t want to lose points.” Or you might tell a sleepy student, “I’d like you to get a drink of water or stand in the back for a few minutes so you can participate in the discussion” rather than “wake up or I’ll write you up.”

You also don’t always need to give a specific reason, and may want to come up with a standby “why” for your classroom such as, “I need you to __________ so I can help you become a star scientist--or historian, artist, mathematician, musician, author, etc.” (Ask students to share their career goals with you, and you can personalize this--e.g., “I need you to focus so I can help you learn the math you’ll use as a veterinarian.”)

Whether or not students cooperate with you depends on what you say and how you say it. That’s why you need to use I and why when redirecting students.

Image by Ljupco Smokovski, provided by Dreamstime license

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