Text- Teaching Science in 3d Podcast - How to rethinking that class and improve student behaviors, Episode 122

122: How to Rethink THAT Class and Improve Student Behaviors

January 3, 2023

We’ve all had THAT class. You know the one you dread teaching. Individually, the kids are great. But when you put them in the room together, it feels like the student behaviors are out of control.

In this episode, Nicole discusses how to improve student behaviors by rethinking your strategies.

The Negativity Bias and Student Behaviors

Our brains are wired to seek out the negatives in our environment. This is an evolutionary adaptation that keeps us safe and out of danger. But, it’s not ideal for a classroom environment.

When we have negative associations with a student or group of students it creates a stress response. As a result, our emotions are heightened and it can make the class even more difficult to deal with.

Nicole’s Idea for Dealing with Student Behaviors

Nicole returned to the classroom this fall. And, while the experience was mostly positive, she found herself struggling with one class in particular.

People are so different.  I feel like there needs. to be a degree of honoring who our students are and now always trying to change them to meet our wants and expectations. - Nicole VanTassel

Nicole’s strategy for dealing with student behaviors had two major components. First, she adapted the structure of her class to meet the needs that were being communicated by her students. Also, she used strategies to help her look for positive student behavior.

4 Strategies for Improving Student Behaviors

Nicole looked carefully at how she approached teaching and learning in her most difficult class. She applied several strategies with various degrees of success. Here is a list of those strategies.

Strategy 1: Find time for fun.

Nicole realized there was a negative pattern occurring in this class. So, she found time to incorporate fun activities. For example, she allowed students to use coloring pages if they finished their work early. And, she found time to let students play games like Kahoot! in her class.

Why it Works

When students and teachers have negative interactions in the classroom, it actually prevents learning. But, engaging in fun, team-building activities releases oxytocin. This improves student comfort in the class and helps them to learn.

Of course, academic rigor is important. But, if your students aren’t happy, chances are that it’s impeding learning.

To learn more about the brain science behind your students missing engagement, check out this episode recap.

Strategy #2: Make parent contact.

We know! Making contact with parents is intimidating. But, making sure that parents are on your team is a vital aspect of improving the learning environment.

It’s best to start with positive contact. So, start looking for things that students are doing well in your classroom. Then, make phone calls home to discuss those positives.

Quote: Our brains are wired to focus on the negative.  We sometime have to consciously seek out the positive.  And, by making and effort to follow up negative with a positive I have to look for the positive.  I have to retrain my brain to look for the good in kids.  - Nicole Van Tassel

If you do have to make contact with parents regarding negative behaviors, try to follow up within a week if the behavior improves.

Why it Works

Often, students who don’t exhibit challenging behaviors receive little or no communication from home. And, it’s important to reinforce their positive contribution to the class.

Also, starting with positive contact forces you to work against your negative bias.

However, can’t always make positive contacts. It’s still important to discuss negative behaviors with parents as well. But, if you’ve already had a positive conversation with parents, it’s more likely they will be on your team.

Strategy #3: Adjust your classroom structures to meet student needs.

It’s important to be curious about student behaviors. Usually, student behaviors are in response to an unmet need. For example, many students struggle with executive function. So, it is difficult for them to manage tasks and their time.

Quote: Instead of buckling down and trying to change the students... what can I do to restructure the class to better meet their needs? - Nicole VanTassel

In this case, Nicole chunked assignments. She provided students with a certain amount of time to complete a task. And, when it made sense, she provided students with checklists.

Also, Nicole mentioned that some of her students struggled with verbal instructions. So, she made sure to provide printed copies for students who needed them. And, when possible, she provided videos to support students who needed additional support with the tasks.

Why it Works

Even though we’d like students to adjust to meet our expectations, it’s unlikely to happen. And, if students are lacking the skills to meet our expectations, teachers find themselves in a frustrating loop that leads to an increase in negative behaviors.

Instead, making small adjustments to what you are already doing can help more students meet your expectations.

Strategy #4: Allow for student choice.

It’s important to build student autonomy through your class. Gradually, we want them to become more and more self-reliant. The choice is a great way to help build this skill.

For example, provide students with a list of activities that need to be accomplished. Then, allow them to decide the order that they complete the tasks. As students develop this skill, you can allow for more choice in tasks.

For a recent mini-unit, Nicole provided her students with a game board that contained tasks for the unit. The game board included optional extension activities that students could do if they had time. But, if they were moving through tasks slowly, she allowed them to skip the tasks. Students had a due date to complete the game board, but she gave them a lot of freedom in how they got it done.

Why it Works

Students are far more likely to buy into an activity if they are given a choice in how the activity is completed. And, this strategy helps students develop a stronger knowledge of strategies that work best for them. Also, this strategy is likely to improve their self-confidence.