You Can Put a STOP to Classroom Disruption!
Active engagement activities are an important part of classroom instruction, but if getting kids up and moving causes disruption, these activities become ineffective and chaotic.
The Erase-a-Letter Strategy is an easy way to keep students on task during cooperative learning lessons. This strategy is for "whole class" management when students are moving about the room or working in teams. It should not be used as a consequence for individual student misbehavior. It's never fair to punish the whole class when one student acts out. I recommend the Stoplight Management system to address individual discipline problems.
Advanced Planning - Very Important!
When you plan an active engagement lesson that has the potential for excessive noise and off-task behavior, think of a back-up assignment to use if your original lesson doesn't go according to plan. Make sure that your back-up plan is quiet, focused, and easy to complete individually. Tasks that involve using a text book, completing a worksheet, or writing in a journal work very well. The task needs to be something students can complete without your help, so review assignments are great for back-up plans. It should also be something they can finish at home if they don't have time to finish at school.
- When you introduce your lesson, give your activity directions as usual. Be sure to include your expectations for noise level and acceptable movement in the classroom.
- Next, write the word STOP on the board or on chart paper in large letters.
- Explain that you expect your students to work well together and keep the noise level to a minimum, but if a large number of them are too noisy or off-task, you will erase a letter from the board. When all letters are erased, they will stop the activity and switch to an independent seatwork lesson. Feel free to let them know exactly what the alternate lesson will be - some students will feel you are bluffing and have nothing else planned for them.
- Each time you have to warn the class about being uncooperative, loud, rude, or anything else, cross off a letter. Be sure to draw their attention to the fact that you are erasing a letter and calmly explain why you are doing so.
- When all the letters have been crossed off, you simply stop the cooperative activity and give a seatwork assignment. That's it! Usually a class will push you to the last letter of the word STOP the first time you use this. But if you have your alternate plan ready for them that time, the next time you use it you will only have to erase a few letters. You'll even begin to hear them whispering, "Shh! Shh! We only have 2 letters left!"
- Be sure to require that students complete the seatwork assignment for homework if they don't finish in class. What should you do if the kids don't do the seatwork assignment? That's easy. I always plan a fun cooperative activity for the next day. The kids who had the seatwork have earned their way back in and are allowed to participate. The ones who didn't do it sit in at a table in the room and work on the assignment they should have done for homework. In some cases, I'll even arrange with another teacher for those students to complete the assignment in his or her room.
Tips for Success:
- Don't use this technique if just one or two students are causing a problem. Use another technique such as the Stoplight Management System. Don't punish the whole class if one person is misbehaving UNLESS the whole class is encouraging the behavior by laughing. When you punish the whole class, the other students feel that it's unfair and you begin to lose their respect.
- You can use another word instead of STOP, this one has just the right amount of letters. A teacher once told me that she writes the word HOMEWORK on the board and if she crosses off all the letters they have extra homework. I said, "I'll bet you don't see any improvement in behavior until you are down to the last few letters, right?" She saw my point immediately. She was coming across as very ineffective because she was giving 7 warnings before taking action!
- Don't lecture the students about their behavior when you cross off the last letter. Just calmly tell them to go back to their seats because you are going to stop the activity for the day. Let them know that you will give them another chance tomorrow, if they complete the assignment. If they linger and don't get back in their seats immediately, let them know that it might take a few more days before they are ready for another activity . . . tomorrow might be too soon! They'll get the point! Just don't lecture the class. The ones who were causing a problem will tune you out, and the ones who weren't causing the problem will be irritated at having to listen to a lecture when it wasn't their fault. Remain pleasant and calm, and project the expectation that you know they will get the work done and be ready for more fun tomorrow. It's amazing how well this works!