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Fourth-Grade Student and Teacher: Classroom Management Skill

Adam is a student in Mr. Potter's fourth-grade class. He is the youngest of 6 children in a blended family. His mother and step-father both work long hours to support their family. His father moved to another state recently. Adam is a bright child, but is not always well behaved. He enjoys entertaining his classmates by making jokes, often at Mr. Potter's expense.

Mr. Potter views Adam's disruptive behavior as a cry for attention. He doubts that Adam gets much attention at home due to having so many siblings and because his parents are rarely home. He tries to ignore Adam's behavior because he does not want to reinforce it.

One day during language arts, Adam began talking very loudly to the other students in his area. He was also laughing and telling jokes. Mr. Potter chose to ignore Adam's behavior, hoping that he would stop on his own. Adam didn't stop. Instead, his behavior became more raucous. Still Mr. Potter ignored it. Soon Adam was making enough noise that Mr. Potter was afraid that students in the neighboring classrooms would be disturbed. He verbally reprimanded Adam.

Adam was a bit quieter for the next few minutes. After that, however, he once again became loud and disruptive. Again Mr. Potter verbally reprimanded him. This time he also told Adam that if he continued with his disruptive behavior, he would have to go to the office. Adam's behavior became even more disruptive. Mr. Potter sent him to the office.

When Adam arrived at the office it was full of people-teachers getting their mail and making copies, volunteers signing in, students who were ill, students sent on errands, and other students who had been sent for disciplinary reasons. The school secretary told Adam to have a seat, which he did. He conversed with every person who entered the office as well as those who were there when he arrived. Half an hour after his arrival, he was sent back to class. He behaved quite well for the rest of the day, to Mr. Potter's relief.

The next day, when students were assigned to write a paragraph, Adam once again became disruptive. He loudly told jokes to his classmates, laughed until tears were streaming down his face, and threw a paper airplane across the room. Mr. Potter reprimanded him and asked him to stop. When Adam didn't comply, Mr. Potter sent him to the office, which was once again bustling with activity.

Over the course of the next two weeks, Adam was sent to the office for disrupting class each day, always during a writing assignment. Mr. Potter was perplexed. Even more perplexing was that within three school days other children were becoming disruptive as well, requiring that they too be sent to the office.

a. Explain completely how you would characterize Mr. Potter's classroom management techniques. Why did Adam's behavior persist in spite of the fact that Mr. Potter's attempts not to reinforce it with attention? What should Mr. Potter try in the future to prevent Adam from being disruptive?

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Solution Preview

I would have to suggest that Mr. Potter's classroom management techniques were typical, but not effective because they did not address the purpose for Adam's behavior. Mr. Potter responded to a negative behavior with a standard response: the trip to the office. He made his major mistake in continuing to use this response even when it became clear that Adam's behavior was increasing, not decreasing.

Mr. Potter did recognize that Adam's behavior was attention-seeking, and I agree with that assessment. However,
his ignoring the behavior was not sufficient to eliminate it because Adam's attention-seeking was not directed at the teacher, but at his peers. The scenario doesn't say so, but I would assume from Adam's behavior that his peers were responding to the attention-seeking behavior, and were reinforcing it by laughing at his jokes or otherwise encouraging him. If the teacher is not able to stop peers from reinforcing the behavior, the student will ...

Solution Summary

Sometimes a teacher can quickly manage a behavior problem with the right classroom management techniques. Sometimes, especially if the teacher does not understand the purpose of the behavior, poor classroom management decisions can make things much worse.