Are you spending as much class time squelching skirmishes and fighting for students' attention as you are on fractions and essays? The book Rules in School can help you regain instructional time by developing class rules and consequences for infractions at the start of the year.
Few topics generate as much discussion among educators today as classroom management. Faced with more content to cover and more tests to measure what is learned, using class time for discipline seems like a detour in the race to prepare for high-stakes tests.
Taking the time to set ground rules early in the year can result in more time for learning and less stress for everyone. And, according to the authors of Rules in School, a book published through the Northeast Foundation for Children (NEFC) in Greenfield, Massachusetts, the task is easier than you might think. NEFC is the primary resource on the Responsive Classroom approach to teaching. The Responsive Classroom philosophy focuses on meshing academic and social learning. Rules and Logical Consequences are one of the six core elements of the Responsive Classroom approach.
Mary Beth Forton, director of publications for the NEFC, and one of the book's authors, talked with Education World about how Rules in School can help teachers.
Education World: At whom is the book Rules in School targeted?
Mary Beth Forton: Rules in School was written by a group of K-8 teachers for K-8 teachers. With hundreds of books available on classroom discipline, what makes this one unique is that it offers practical techniques for helping students develop self-discipline. This approach to discipline is part of the Responsive Classroom approach to teaching, which has been used successfully in urban, rural, and suburban schools nationwide.
Rules in School offers K-8 teachers step-by-step guidelines for
EW: About how much time should teachers set aside for developing and practicing class rules at the beginning of the year?
Forton: We suggest teachers take time over the course of the first six weeks of school to create and practice class rules. How much time an individual teacher spends on that each day depends on the age of the students and the needs of the group. Typically, teachers will devote 20 to 40 minutes of each day during the first few weeks of school to establish and practice the rules. After that, the amount of time will vary depending on how smoothly or not-so-smoothly things are going. Some classes will need to continue to work on it in a focused way throughout the year. Others will need only refreshers at critical times, such as after returning from vacations and when tension is high as it often is in the late spring, for example.
EW: What do teachers say is the hardest part of developing and following rules?
Forton: I think one of the biggest concerns teachers have about using this approach to discipline is the amount of time it takes during the early weeks of school to create the rules with students and then teach them to follow them. Teachers today are under enormous pressure to cover a certain academic curriculum. Because of that pressure, they often are tempted to skip over the critical step of creating a safe and caring climate for learning. Often that backfires when teachers must spend an enormous amount of time throughout the year addressing behavior problems that could have been prevented or ameliorated.
Over and over, teachers using this approach find that taking the time to teach the rules in the early weeks of school is an investment that is richly repaid
EW: How can teachers help children understand the difference between logical consequences and punishment?
Forton: That distinction is a critical one for teachers and students to understand if this approach to discipline is to be effective.
Teachers often ask us, "What exactly is the difference between logical consequences and punishment?" The short answer is "everything." The long answer is that unlike punishment, logical consequences are respectful of the student, relevant to the mistake, and reasonable for the teacher to implement and the student to carry out. Logical consequences also help students recognize the effects of their actions and fix any problems caused by their actions.
Many teachers articulate those distinctions when introducing logical consequences to students. Although the teacher might not use the term "logical consequence," s/he conveys the spirit behind the approach to rule breaking. For example, a teacher might say, "We're all working on following our rules. But because we're human, we'll all make mistakes from time to time. In this classroom, when students make mistakes and break the rules, it will be my job to help them fix any problems that result and to learn from their mistakes. One way I'll be doing this is by using something called logical consequences."
Depending on the age of the students, the teacher might then go on to explain the three R's of logical consequences -- respectful, reasonable, and relevant -- and some types of logical consequences -- "you break it, you fix it," loss of privilege, or time away. The exact words a teacher uses in those conversations will vary, but there are three key points that should be made:
Finally, if a teacher uses logical consequences fairly, consistently, and calmly, students will quickly come to understand through direct experience the difference between logical consequences and punishment.
EW: What are the differences between the rule-setting process in middle-school grades and in elementary grades?
Forton: The process for creating rules with middle schoolers is very similar to the one used with elementary grade students. Perhaps even more so than with younger students, middle schoolers benefit from knowing the purpose behind the rules and having a hand in creating the rules they'll be expected to live by.
Two big differences do arise when using this approach with middle schoolers. One has to do with logistics. Because students typically move through five to seven periods a day, with a different teacher for each class, the question of where the rules are created is more complicated in middle schools. Teachers have addressed this issue in three ways: 1) Students and teachers create rules with their homeroom or advisory group; the rules are later used to make school-wide rules; 2) Students and teachers create rules in their homeroom or advisory group; the rules are later used to create team rules; or 3) Students and teachers create rules for individual classes.
The other difference has to do with what Kathy Brady, author of the grades 6-8 chapter in Rules in School, refers to as adolescent "cool." She writes, "During the middle-school years, children become more self-conscious, more consumed with questions about identity, and more defensive. For that reason, it's especially important that teachers in those grades establish a climate of trust in the classroom before ever asking students to share their hopes and dreams."
EW: How does creating and following rules benefit the learning process?
Forton: When teachers allow children time in the early weeks of school to think about and generate rules for the classroom and then to practice following these rules, children pay far more attention to rules. It sounds almost too simple to be true, but it is. When children see the context of rules -- that rules help us accomplish our goals -- and understand exactly what it means to follow the rules, they become more invested in the rules. Children have a far greater capacity to internalize and respect rules they help to create than rules that are handed down to them.
When children follow the rules they've helped create, more time is available for learning. Chip Wood, one of the coauthors of Rules in School says it this way: "Year after year, I see the impact this approach has on children's behavior and learning. In classrooms and schools using this approach, students see rules as positive outgrowths of their hopes and dreams. Rules become what make good things happen, rather than just what stop the bad things from happening. Students in these classrooms see that rules help create a trustworthy space -- a safe climate for taking the risks necessary for learning."
Just as teachers don't expect children to enter school knowing how to read and write, teachers using this approach don't make assumptions about the social skills children bring to school. Some children come to school with highly developed social skills and many years of experience being part of a larger group. Others need to start from square one. When, due to time constraints, teachers skip over the critical step of setting the stage for learning, students, teachers, and the learning suffer.
This e-interview with Mary Beth Forton is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.
Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Copyright © 2005 Education World