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Classroom Management Strategies for Difficult Students

Surveys of graduates of education schools and colleges indicate that the #1 area of concern of new educators is their feelings of inadequacy in managing classrooms.

Despite clinical experiences, student teaching, and other observations in classroom settings, this problem has persisted for decades. There is no magic elixir that will confer skill in this area of professional responsibility. We only wish there were.

Classroom management and management of child conduct are skills that educators acquire and hone over time. These skills almost never "jell" until after a minimum of few years of teaching experience. To be sure, effective teaching requires considerable skill in managing the myriad of tasks and situations that occur in the classroom each day. Skills such as effective classroom management are central to teaching and require "common sense," consistency, a sense of fairness, and courage.

These skills also require that educators understand in more than one way the psychological and developmental levels of their difficult students. The skills associated with effective classroom management are only acquired with practice, feedback, and a willingness to learn from mistakes. Sadly, this is often easier said than done. Certainly, a part of this problem is that there is no practical way for education students to "practice" their nascent skills outside of actually going into a classroom setting. The learning curve is steep, indeed.

As previously mentioned, personal experience and research indicate that many beginning educators have difficulty effectively managing their classrooms. While there is no one best solution for every problem or classroom setting, the following principles, drawn from a number of sources, might help. Classroom educators with many years of experience have contributed to an understanding of what works and what doesn't work in managing classrooms and the behavior of difficult students. The following information represents some of the things that good classroom educators do to maintain an atmosphere that enhances learning. It is written in straightforward, non-preachy language, and will not drive you to distraction with its length. I think most students appreciate that. With that in mind, I truly hope this information is useful to you.

4 Fundamental Factors—

1. Know what you want and what you don't want.
2. Show and tell your difficult students what you want.
3. When you get something else, act quickly and appropriately.
4. When you get what you want, acknowledge (not praise) it.


While good room arrangement is not a guarantee of good behavior, poor planning in this area can create conditions that lead to problems.

• The teacher must be able to observe all children at all times and to monitor work and behavior. The teacher should also be able to see the door from his or her desk.

• Frequently used areas of the room and traffic lanes should be unobstructed and easily accessible.

• Difficult students should be able to see the teacher and presentation area without undue turning or movement.

• Commonly used classroom materials, e.g., books, attendance pads, absence permits, and student reference materials should be readily available.

• Some degree of decoration will help add to the attractiveness of the room.


• Do not develop classroom rules you are unwilling to enforce.

• Rules and procedures are the most common explicit expectations. A small number of general rules that emphasize appropriate behavior may be helpful. Rules should be posted in the classroom. Compliance with the rules should be monitored constantly

• School-Wide Regulations...particularly safety procedures...should be explained carefully.

• Educators should identify expectations for child behavior and communicate those expectations to difficult students periodically.

• Because desirable child behavior may vary depending on the activity, explicit expectations for the following procedures are helpful in creating a smoothly functioning classroom:

1. Beginning and ending the period, including attendance procedures and what difficult students may or may not do during these times.
2. How children are to answer questions - for example, no student answer will be recognized unless he raises his hand and is called upon to answer by the teacher.
3. Independent group work such as laboratory activities or smaller group projects.
4. Seatwork
5. Teacher-Led Instruction
6. Use of materials and equipment such as the pencil sharpener, storage areas, supplies, and special equipment.

Remember, good discipline is much more likely to occur if the classroom setting and activities are structured or arranged to enhance cooperative behavior.


- The focus is on academic tasks and learning as the central purpose of child effort, rather than on good behavior for its own sake.
- Difficult students must be held accountable for their work.
- Effective teacher-led instruction is free of: Ambiguous and vague terms; Unclear sequencing; Interruptions


- Address instruction and assignments to challenge academic achievement while continuing to assure individual student success.

- Effective classroom managers practice skills that minimize misbehavior.

- Monitor difficult students carefully and frequently so that misbehavior is detected early before it involves many children or becomes a serious disruption.

- Most inappropriate behavior in classrooms that is not seriously disruptive and can be managed by relatively simple procedures that prevent escalation.

- Act to stop inappropriate behavior so as not to interrupt the instructional activity or to call excessive attention to the child by practicing the following un-obstructive strategies:

1. Redirecting the child to appropriate behavior by stating what the child should be doing; citing the applicable procedure or rule. Example: "Please, look at the overhead projector and read the first line with me, I need to see everyone's eyes looking here."
2. Moving close to the offending child, making eye contact and giving a nonverbal signal to stop the offensive behavior.
3. More serious, disruptive behaviors such as fighting, continuous interruption of lessons, possession of drugs and stealing require direct action according to school board rule.
4. Calling a child's name or giving a short verbal instruction to stop behavior.

Assertive Discipline has been used by many schools, and is an effective way to manage behavior.


- Consistency in the application of consequences is the key factor in classroom management.
- Frequent use of punishment is associated with poor classroom management and generally should be avoided.
- In classrooms, the most prevalent positive consequences are intrinsic student satisfaction resulting from success, accomplishment, good grades, social approval and recognition.
- Milder punishments are often as effective as more intense forms and do not arouse as much negative emotion.
- Misbehavior is less likely to recur if a child makes a commitment to avoid the action and to engage in more desirable alternative behaviors.
- Children must be aware of the connection between tasks and grades.
- When used, negative consequences or punishment should be related logically to the misbehavior.


- Correct repeated patterns or mistakes.
- Don't assume they understand something just because it seems simple to you. Simplify, boil down.
- Even when they have lost their accent, they often misunderstand common words and phrases.
- Good E.S.O.L. strategies are good teaching strategies.
- It is easy to misunderstand body language and certain behaviors. For example, eye contact, spitting, chalk eating, etc.
- They are not stupid and they can hear what is being said.. They just don't necessarily understand the language or culture, yet.
- They come from a variety of backgrounds, even in the same country. For example schooled, unschooled, Americanized, etc.


Effective Praise:

1. Attributes student success to effort and ability, implying that similar successes can be expected in the future.
2. Encourages difficult students to appreciate their accomplishments for the effort they expend and their personal gratification.
3. Helps difficult students to better appreciate their thinking, problem-solving and performance.
4. Is delivered contingently upon student performance of desirable behaviors or genuine accomplishment.
5. Is expressed sincerely, showing spontaneity, variety and other non-verbal signs of credibility.
6. Is given for genuine effort, progress, or accomplishment, which is judged according to standards appropriate to individuals.
7. Provides information to difficult students about their competence or the value of their accomplishments.
8. Specifies the praiseworthy aspects of the child's accomplishments.

Ineffective Praise:

1. Attributes student success to ability alone or to external factors such as luck or easy task.
2. Encourages difficult students to succeed for external reasons -- to please the teacher, win a competition or reward, etc.
3. Is delivered randomly and indiscriminately without specific attention to genuine accomplishment.
4. Is expressed blandly without feeling or animation, and relying on stock, perfunctory phrases.
5. Is general or global, not specifying the success.
6. Is given based on comparisons with others and without regard to the effort expended or significance of the accomplishment of an individual.
7. Orients difficult students toward comparing themselves with others.
8. Provides no meaningful information to the children about their accomplishments.

 Classroom Discipline 101

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