Dazzling Discipline

Discipline Strategies that work: Great ideas for the music classroom, or for any classroom!

Today, I am very excited to blog about discipline strategies!

A couple disclosures before I offer discipline strategies: I work in a school district with very supportive parents and overall, well-behaved kids. However, there are still behavior problems, and I believe that many of the strategies that I will share (and that others will share) could work with a variety of populations. Although I am speaking from my experience as a music teacher, I think these strategies are universal and could work in any classroom, at any grade level.

Here goes!

#1: Quick-paced, jam-packed lesson plans

In a recent blog post, I discussed my process for writing lesson plans. This is my number one strategy for fostering on-track and engaged behavior–to create quick-paced, jam-packed lesson plans. I endeavor with each lesson plan to create thirty-five minutes of learning that involves fun, engaging, interactive activities, so that students don't even think about misbehaving. Sometimes, as we have all experienced, kids are just bored and act out because they would rather be somewhere else. So I don't give them that choice! We go quickly from one activity to the next, with smooth transitions and exciting activities and games.

One of the best pieces of teaching advice I received in college. One of my professors told us to ALWAYS have all your materials ready. I think this is tied to having that quick pacing. I don't want to have to search for a prop or puppet or flashcards while the students are sitting in my room, because that one minute I spend looking for whatever I need is one minute students can misbehave! (I wrote about organizational tubs to keep all my materials in a central location; read about that here. These have been very helpful in keeping my materials handy so my pacing remains quick!)

If I notice my students starting to misbehave or seem off task, the first question I ask myself is whether there is something in the lesson plan and in my teaching that could be improved.

#2: Rewarding good behavior

I have found a few ways of rewarding good behavior that really seem to work. Of course, students should behave for the sake of behaving, but having a tangible prize or reward can definitely build motivation! My school has a school-wide system called “Wild Ways Certificates,” which are handed out when students are Wondering, Imagining, Learning, and Discovering, or simply doing something nice for someone else! When they receive those slips, they get to take a trip to the office and drop them into a big bin. Then, each morning, our principal pulls several slips from the bin, calls those students down to the office, and they get a coin to use to get a prize (much like a toy vending machine at Kroger.) Students are always VERY excited about that possibility! I have at times handed this out class-wide at the end of the lesson if I notice kids have been really outstanding, but I don't tell them beforehand that's what I will do. It's nice to have an unexpected reward that they really deserved because they were behaving for the sake of behaving!

I also choose a star student at the end of every music class. That student is someone who has exhibited wonderful behavior the entire music class. I keep track of the students I choose and try to rotate around the class as much as I can. (And for those students for whom behavior is a struggle, I try to catch them on a good day!) When they are chosen, they come up to my SMART board and roll the die (you can search SMART notebook for interactive dice.) I assign prizes for each number. Here is an example of the file:

I've also had “play the tubano,” “play the thunder tube,” “play the gong,” “reward certificate,” and “stamp on hand” as rewards. My prize box is full of little trinkets from Target, Wal-mart, and Oriental Trading. This could also work without a SMART board, by using an actual die or foam die.

 You could also use a spinner on the SMART board, like this:

The great thing about this is you can choose whatever you want, or your students can help choose rewards, AND you can change up the rewards whenever you want! Students really look forward to receiving star student and monitor their behavior in order to get it!

I also saw this idea on Pinterest about choosing a “Secret Superhero,” and I thought this might be another way of choosing a star student; if they behave well, that student could become the star student. Click the picture below to read more!

#3: Consequences

This seems like common sense, but we have all had weak moments as teachers (and if you have children, as parents) in which we do not follow through and the consequences don't happen. If you follow through and offer consequences for negative and positive behavior, students will know you are trustworthy. A few strategies that I've used to help students monitor their behavior:

*Move seats: My students in K-1 sit in a circle without assigned seats (we move around so much, it doesn't usually seem worth it to assign seats) and my students in 2-5 are in assigned seats in rows. In any grade, if there is a behavior problem, I move their seat, or I sit next to them. This often helps those students who are a bit off-task.

*Take away the game: We've all been there…we're playing a fun game like “We are dancing,” and the class gets CRAZY excited and really noisy. I give the class a warning, telling them that if the behavior doesn't get better, we won't play the game. Then, if it doesn't get better, we sit down and stop the game. Are kids disappointed? Yes, especially if they were about to be the wolf. But I have to make sure I follow through with the consequences. I often have a conversation with them at this point…why did I stop the game? What could we have done better? The next time we play the game, I remind them what happened last time, and 9 times out of 10 their behavior is way better!

*Following through with individual students: If I tell a student, “One more warning and then a time out,” then I make sure I do that! Otherwise, he/she may believe I don't mean business. I have a “thinking chair” that students go to, and when they are ready and have thought about their behavior, they can go to the “ready chair.”

#4: Leave them wanting more!

I first heard these four words as it relates to games from Julie Swank in Kodaly Level I. The words really resonated with me. Before I had Level I, if we were playing a singing game, I had everyone in the class get a turn…just to be fair. Well, by turn 15 or so you can see the kids getting tired of it, and the kids who have to wait until the very end are impatient. She said to only give a few students turns, to leave them wanting more, because then next time you play the game, you won't hear groans of exasperation because they know they're in for 20 minutes of a game just so everyone can get a turn. Better yet, you can fit more into a lesson AND kids will behave better! If you're worried about fairness, you could keep track of which students got a turn in each lesson and each class and refer to that next time they play the game.

#5: Listen

My last piece of advice is to listen…to individual students, and to the entire class.

By listening to individual students, I mean to really hear what they are saying when you asked them why they did something. It can be easy to pigeonhole kids as disruptive or behavior problems. We as educators need to dig deeper than that and listen to them–about why they did what they did, about what exactly happened, about what is going on in their lives. If we make a snap judgment out of exasperation for their past behavior, we are not honoring them as individuals. Let them talk and really listen. Instead of reacting in anger, take a deep breath, ask them what they could have done better, and really listen to them. They will appreciate that you listened and let them talk, and hopefully, they will think of this the next time they were in your class.

By listening to the entire class, I mean to honor the dynamics of each class. We have all had classes that are wonderful, and some classes that are a bit challenging. In the past, I realize I have treated every class the same, trying to fit those square-pegged classes into the round class hole. This past year, I had a fifth grade class with interesting dynamics. Kids wanted to talk A LOT, ask questions A LOT, and argue with each other. I never got through my entire lesson with this class and was always so frustrated. Why wouldn't they behave like everyone else?

Because they were different. And I needed to honor that.

So with this class, I slowed my pace. I listened to what they needed. I answered their questions (within reason…when they asked me a zillion questions about how I met Mr. Miracle I had to stop the conversation after a while so we could get back to music!) I let them talk more when working in groups. I accepted that we wouldn't get through everything. And you know what happened?

I began to look forward to their class, because at last, I had listened to them, honored their class dynamics, and accepted that they were different and that was okay. They learned just as much as every other class; their path was just a bit different!

Those are my tried-and-true discipline strategies! Happy teaching!

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