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Dr. Ken Shore's
Classroom Problem Solver

Creativity Flourishes
In the Structured Classroom

Teachers of special subjects such as music, art and physical education need to give careful consideration to discipline in their classroom. If you're afraid that structure will stifle creativity, you need to reconsider that notion. Structure and limits are important educational tools that give rise to a climate in which creativity can emerge.


Make sure students understand that your class is not play time. Students might view your class as a time to have fun, not as a time to work. If so, quickly disabuse them of that notion. Tell them you hope they have a good time in your class, but you expect them to work hard, pay attention, and behave appropriately.

Post the rules used by the regular classroom teacher. Although gathering and posting various teachers' rules will take time, that time is well spent if it results in an increase in student cooperation. Following the same rules they follow in their regular classroom will provide students with continuity and reinforce the idea that you expect the same behavior in your classroom as they exhibit in their regular classroom.

Enlist the help of the regular classroom teacher. If a student acts out in your classroom, have a talk with his regular classroom teacher. Find out if the student exhibits similar problems in her regular classroom and how the teacher handles her. You might want to ask what strategies are effective with the student; which strategies should be avoided; what incentives motivate the student; which classmates she should or should not sit next to; and whether you should know any particular information about her background or home life.

Write down students' misbehaviors. Make sure the misbehaving student sees you writing. If she asks what you are doing -- and perhaps even if she doesn't ask -- tell her you're recording what she is saying and doing so you have an accurate record of her behavior to show her classroom teacher and her parents.

Consider removing a misbehaving student from an activity. If you have taken steps to quiet a disruptive student and she continues to misbehave and interfere with your lesson, you might exclude her from the class activity. If she enjoys the activity, giving her a "time out" might be enough to gain her cooperation. Have the student sit out for a set period, and then allow her to return if she is quiet and well behaved while in time out. If she continues to disrupt the class while in time out or if she resumes the misbehavior after returning to the activity, consider sending her to the office.

Inform the student's parents of the misbehavior. If feasible, invite the parents of a misbehaving student to meet with you; otherwise, speak with them on the phone. If you are able to meet with the parents, encourage them to tell the child in your presence that they disapprove of her behavior and expect her to follow your rules. Another option for contacting parents is to have the student phone them in your presence and describe to them her classroom behavior. Her discomfort about doing that might serve to deter future misbehavior. Don't forget to contact the student's parents when she behaves appropriately.

Figure out a system for cleaning up. Having an efficient clean-up system -- an especially important issue for art teachers -- will help decrease discipline problems. Try various approaches and see which works best for you. If your classroom has tables, consider assigning one student to clean up each table, alternating the job each week. As another alternative, identify the various clean-up jobs and assign one or two students to each job, again alternating the jobs so each child participates in the clean up. You also might try offering a reward to the students at the table or in the class that cleans up the best. Whatever system you use, make sure students have time to finish cleaning before the period ends.


About Ken Shore

Dr. Kenneth Shore is a psychologist and chair of a child study team for the Hamilton, New Jersey Public Schools. He has written five books, including Special Kids Problem Solver and Elementary Teacher's Discipline Problem Solver.

Click to read a complete bio.