Out last issue advised on focusing on the positive aspects of student behaviour in the teaching and learning environment, without dwelling on negative behaviour. This week’s develops this theme and offers a practical activity aimed at encouraging positive behaviour

There has been much time spent, in previous Behaviour Matters ezines and in many other behaviour management resources, on encouraging the use of positive recognition, with a clear emphasis on boosting self-esteem to improve behaviour. More often than not this positive recognition, both verbal and non-verbal, is led by the adult in the classroom. While there are clear benefits in this style of approach (eg recognition of appropriate behaviour and reinforcement of expectations), there will often be an element of disbelief and/or uncertainty on the part of the student. They may view the comments as being ‘not true’ or even challenging, as they appear to be based on adult values. It is important to provide opportunities within the classroom for students to make their own value judgements about their peers, and to have the means of expressing them without sounding trite, insincere or sarcastic.

What opportunities do you provide for such interaction to take place? There may well be many formal opportunities for students to act as a critical friend to a colleague, and to judge or evaluate academic achievement or work produced. How easy is it for students to observe, assess and safely comment on each other’s behaviour and attitude? The opportunities need to be carefully managed, with clear ground rules that adhere to the positive values you are establishing in the working environment. In order to develop this type of approach, you need to give a clear baseline that comments and observations should be of a strictly positive nature. This is not going to be an opportunity for students to use putdowns or make criticisms of their peers, but rather gives them the chance to direct their thoughts towards the positive attributes which their classmates demonstrate.

Practical Tips
Below is an activity that is relatively simple to organise within the classroom and encourages positive behaviour by giving students the opportunity to comment on each other’s positive attributes.

  1. On a clean sheet of paper (at least A4 size) ask each student in the group to clearly print their name on the sheet and draw an outline of their own hand around it. It is important not to make any other marks on the paper.
  2. Ask students to leave their outlines on the desk and go to look at another. Tell them to think about the positive attributes of their classmates.
  3. Once they have had a short time to think about these, ask students to write one positive aspect of the student whose hand outline they are looking at. The comment should be written within the space of one finger (or thumb) on the hand outline. Comments should be totally anonymous and students should be restricted to one comment only.
  4. When every student has written a comment, ask them to move to another outline and repeat the process.
  5. Continue the process until everyone has had the chance to write positive comments and every outline has five positives.
  6. Now ask the students to return to their own hand outline and read the comments to themselves (not out loud).
  7. Students may well be surprised at the comments made by classmates, often not having realised what their mates feel about them.

It is most important to ensure that the comments are only positive and are all anonymous. Each student will now have a collection of five positives about themselves produced and written by their own classmates, aimed at boosting their self-esteem.

Without disclosing names and identities, it is interesting to hear some of the comments written, again placing the emphasis on the positive. As a plenary, it is worthwhile asking individuals to speak about how the comments they received made them feel. Did they realise what their classmates thought about them? How easy did they find it to think about and write only positives? What benefits do they see in the activity? Were some of the comments repeated or duplicated by different classmates? Could they identify the authors of the comments by content or subject?

Activities designed to highlight and recognise positive behaviour can reinforce behaviour expectations and ground rules in the classroom. Discussing and using positive frameworks and wording will help to establish an ethos of support and friendship, rather than referencing and dwelling on inappropriate behaviour and negative comments.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in December 2009

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.