Teaching basic classroom skills early is a simple and essential way to instil good behaviour principles in students, explains Dave Stott in this issue of Behaviour Matters

In the case of a disruptive Year 7 or Year 8 pupil, who finds it almost impossible to enter a room without causing chaos and upset, it is very likely that if you track back their history through primary school you will discover that they were never actually taught basic classroom skills, such as how to enter a room, begin work, ask for help, and so on.

Year on year, each class teacher may well have made an assumption that the previous year’s teacher had taught the group all the basic and essential classroom skills. As a result, the typically disruptive pupil usually receives constant reminders and consequences for his or her actions, but no clear direct teaching. The problem continues and may develop into a major behaviour difficulty, affecting the whole class or tutor group by the time the pupil is going through to secondary school.

Basic classroom skills need to be taught in just the same manner as any other part of the school curriculum. They need to be highlighted throughout each year/phase of the pupil’s school life, clearly taught, practised and regularly referred to. Remember just how long it takes some pupils to master their reading and numeracy skills: it can be an ongoing struggle with initial letter sounds, blends, etc. In the same way, some pupils will struggle with even the most basic classroom behaviour skills unless they are given clear teaching, checked on their understanding, regular practice and effective praise when they do manage to get things right.

As the new school year begins to gather momentum and students slowly become familiar with your expectations of their behaviour in the classroom, it is probably the best time of the year to teach and/or and practice all these simple but essential classroom skills. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that all your new pupils have been taught these skills, and that they can all put them into practice faultlessly. Some will still be struggling to cope. Admittedly, there will be some who know perfectly well how to behave, but simply choose not to. For these pupils, you will need to use your own management skills and refer to your classroom and school behaviour policies. But all your new pupils will benefit from you clearly teaching your rules and expectations from the outset.

Practical tips
The first step in teaching basic classroom behaviour is to identify what you consider to be the essential skills. These may include:

• Entering and leaving the room• Beginning written or practical work• How to ask for help or to seek your attention• What to do when their work is finished

• Taking joint responsibility for the overall appearance of the work area (picking up litter, clearing away books, paper and equipment).

These may seem simple skills that all pupils should have mastered way before they move on to secondary school. This may or may not be the case, but it is worth checking because they are essential skills that, if not understood and practised, will be the source of disruption throughout all key stages.

Try to treat each skill you are teaching in exactly the same manner as the material on your curriculum. Identify the key areas and work out the essential components that the pupil needs to both understand and master. Go through each of the components or stages of the skill with the pupils (both as a class, and individually where necessary) and check for their understanding at each step. Once the stages have been clearly understood, give them plenty of opportunity to practise the skill, rewarding with appropriate praise when they get it right. Regularly refer to the skill and have visual reminders around your teaching area.

A typical outline plan for teaching a basic classroom skill may look something like this:

Skill: Responding appropriately when the teacher requests your attention.
Teacher: ‘When I want you to stop work and listen to me I will clap my hands and say, “Thanks, folks.” I would then like you to put down your pens/pencils, stop work, no talking, look at me and listen.’

After giving your clear instructions, now check for understanding:

‘John, what am I going to do to attract your attention?’‘Paul, what do I want you to do? Mark, what else?’‘OK, any questions?’‘Right, let’s practise that. Start work again/talk to your neighbour, etc.’‘Thanks, folks!’

‘Good, well done, everyone on that table has stopped and they are looking at me!’

Once you have identified the basic classroom skills you want the pupils to master, take some time to compile a staged teaching plan similar to the above, with each of the basic skills you have listed. Be prepared for some pupils to show reluctance…

‘We’ve done this!’
‘That’s not how Miss XX did things last year!’

…and have a ready answer to such protests.

It is worthwhile spending time on the basics at this early stage of the school year. You and your pupils will reap the benefits as the year progresses.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in September 2008

About the author: Dave Stott has 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher. He has worked in mainstream and special schools, and Local Authority behaviour support services. Dave is now a writer, consultant and trainer.