Monday, February 20, 2012

Behavior: a jointly constructed process

It’s Carnival in Brazil and “common/silly sense” says that the year only starts when Carnival is over. Thus, it’s time to think about small issues that might either save or destroy your class. This time I want to approach an old issue: behavior. Or better put: misbehavior. The origin of misbehavior may be varied and sometimes obscure ones. (As I write the word “obscure” I think of something that most teachers do not dare discus because besides being controversial it is also very difficult to deal with.) Young learners seeking attention in a negative way tend to misbehave in class for the following reasons:

· They find no real purpose for doing the activities teachers assign.

· They feel threatened either by their teachers, peers or the classroom environment itself (making they feel they don’t belong there).

· They feel underappreciated by the teachers and by their peers.

· Extra-class happenings such as family issues, divorcing parents, absent parents, unloving parents and the like. (which teachers have no control)

Finding Purpose in activities

Before endeavoring into finding purposeful activities, please think about how these theories about how children learn:

Piaget, 1970 – Children are active learners and thinkers

According to Piaget, Children construct knowledge from actively interacting with the physical environment in developmental stages. They learn through their own individual actions and exploration.

Vygotsky, 1962 – “Children learn through social interaction”

Vygostsky claimed that Children construct knowledge through other people, through interaction with adults. Adults/teachers work actively with children in the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).

ZPD = difference between the child's capacity to solve problems on his own and his capacity to solve them with assistance

Bruner, 1983 – Children learn effectively through scaffolding by adults”

In 2001, Cameron reviewed Bruner’s theory by saying that “The adult’s role is very important in a child’s learning process. Like Vygotsky, Bruner focused on the importance of language in a child’s cognitive development. He shows how the adult uses "scaffolding" to guide a child’s language learning through finely-tuned talk.

Getting better acquainted with these theories will definitely help you find activities that are meaningful and purposeful for your young learners. Always go for those activities that reflect and at the same time impact in their day-by-day lives, likes and dislikes (why not?), style of learning and ideas. It is undeniable that children like to be challenged. Challenges provide excitement and bring vigor to your classes. In class teachers must offer a certain level of intellectual risk and challenge by:

· having YL try out new ideas

· cultivating a tradition for being willing to “have a go”

· involving them in team work and problem solving activities

· providing activities in which they have to be resourceful, inventive and creative.

Constructing a non-threatening environment

Young Learners feel the need of being valued, appreciated and that the adults surrounding regard them in any way. This is probably the most important reasons why children misbehave. Creating a classroom environment in which children feel comfortable it is a crucial factor for their cognitive development. You can do that by:

· Providing time for students to share happenings, events or items with you.

· Taking the time on occasion to share something that’s important for you.

· Allowing time for discussion about the differences in class (and in the world)

· Preventing at all cost bullying in class (and outside)

· Supporting collaborative work

· Focusing on the strengths when calling upon a student

· Promoting mutual respect

· Promoting confidence and self-esteem in class

Praise, do not reward!

Please do not get your wires crossed with bribing and positive-reinforcement. Recognition and reward in class will support motivation to learn if that recognition is for personal progress rather than competitive victories. “a reward is an attractive object or event supplied as a consequence of a particular behavior. An incentive is an object or event that encourages or discourages behavior” (Deci, 1975; Lepper, 1995). Never stoop to bribery or material rewards. Sweets or mascots may make young learners do quietly what you order but once you forget the reward or want to quit the procedure a tragedy will follow. Besides that, over-praising may be seen as cues about their capabilities. It is, thus, wise to develop a repertoire of strategies in addition to rewards. When we are working for a reward, we do exactly what is necessary to get it, and no more; hence rewards undermine incidental learning.


Obviously there are many variables involved in determining how pupils react when a teacher is standing in front of them. The same suggestions, ideas and strategies may work with some groups but not with others. I’m a firm believer that what’s truly important when it comes to behavior is:

· Get to know your students – Young learners will feel more comfortable and thus trust you once you get to know they better. (respecting professional and personal boundaries of course!)

· Involve parents – Whenever a student misbehaves constantly, try talking to their parents. You may discover some of the possible reasons for that behavior that might not be visible to the naked eye a teacher with her pre-conceived ideas.

· Estabilish a routine for good behavior; For this I have been using the following activity which is simple and should be done at the start of the semester/year of class:

Activity: OUR rules are…

During the first days of class (preferably on the first day), after greeting and welcoming your students, ask them if they think there are rules to be followed in your class. Students will think for a moment and will afterwards promptly answer: YES! After that, start eliciting which rules they think there are in your class. Agree on the most relevant to your classroom settings and write them on the board. Distribute sheets of paper and have students create a big poster named “OUR rules are…” . Emphasize that those are OUR rules. Rules that they have “discussed, created and agree upon” and thefore breaching those rules is something they should refrain from doing.
Post it onto your classroom wall, so that you can recall those rules whenever they fall into forgetfulness.

More to read on the matter

Carol Read - Three wishes - and how to make them come true! 2012:

Edwards, T. (2005, January/February). Classroom language is real language, too: providing a support structure for learners. ESL Magazine, 43: 7-9.

George Couros – The impact of Awards:

Joan Kang Shin - Teaching English to Young Learners:

Margaret Edgington - Supporting young children to engage with risk and challenge:

Scott Thornburry – S is for Scaffolding:


Cosmopolitan Soul said...

fully agree with you, bruno... I did it with my stds 3 weeks ago and, as I told you f2f, it worked beautifully :) we used a web 2.0 tool (mind mapping) that is free on
congratulations on your post and ideas development.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Bruno!!

Bruno Andrade said...

Raquel,I really liked your idea as well. Could you send me out the link so that I can have a look at it? Thanks for the complimentary words both of you!

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