Behavior Challenges in the Homestretch?

It’s April. It’s tempting to think that by now students understand our expectations and know how to behave, so we can all just coast to the end of the year. But, in most classrooms, that’s probably not true. In this season, children are filled with spring fever, facing mixed emotions about the end of the school year, and they may be undergoing developmental changes as well. As a result, many students forget rules and expectations at this time of year, and “homestretch” behavior challenges are not uncommon. One way you can help your students stay on track is to use the Responsive Classroom strategy of Interactive Modeling to revisit key routines and expected behaviors right now.

Simple But Powerful

Responsive Classroom Interactive Modeling is a powerful strategy for teaching—and reteaching—important behaviors and routines, such as cafeteria manners or how to pack up at the end of the day. The power of this deceptively simple strategy lies in our showing (rather than talk, talk, talking about!) behaviors, having students notice key aspects of those behaviors, and then having them practice the behaviors themselves. With this “watch–notice–practice” technique, children learn more effectively than when we simply tell them what to do, or when we do the modeling ourselves without giving the children the chance to practice.

Another reason Interactive Modeling works so well is that it requires us to think through exactly how we want things to look and sound before we model for students. So often we just assume that students know what we mean, but we aren’t really clear about our expectations: Should children come to us with questions during independent work time, or should they wait for us to check in with them at their desks? Can children talk quietly as they work, or not at all? What does quiet talk sound like? Interactive Modeling helps us make our expectations clear, which in turns helps children succeed in meeting those expectations.

Now’s a Great Time to Try It

If you don’t already use Interactive Modeling, try using it now for classroom behaviors and routines that seem to be messy or slipping. Then try the strategy again when you introduce behaviors and routines to your new class in the fall.

If you’ve already used Interactive Modeling to teach the routines that now need revisiting, try reteaching by using the abbreviated version described below.

How to Do It

Responsive Classroom Interactive Modeling has seven steps. Follow the links to see step-by-step examples showing what it might look and sound like to use Interactive Modeling to teach two classroom routines: walking in line and responding to a signal. The first example takes the perspective of a primary grades teacher, while the second example is from the point-of-view of a teacher with older elementary students.

An Abbreviated Form of Interactive Modeling

If you’ve already been using Interactive Modeling, you may want to shorten the process a bit when you revisit behaviors you already taught earlier in the year. For instance, you could ask students to remember and name the key elements of a behavior. Then, you or a student could model it. After that, students might practice the behavior, and you provide feedback.

Tips for Using Interactive Modeling Successfully

Once you get the structure down, Interactive Modeling will usually only take a few minutes of class time. Here are some tips to help you become adept with this powerful strategy.

Think through each routine or behavior

“Carry your chair safely” is not specific enough to help children succeed. How should it look and sound? Is it okay to grab the chair by its back and drag? Is that scraping sound okay? Carrying the chair overhead gets it out of the way, but is it safe? Also, consider challenges children may face when trying to follow a routine. For example, when children line up at the classroom door, where should the line go when it meets tables, desks, or other obstacles? The more carefully you consider each routine, the more orderly and calm the classroom environment you create will be.

Use a script

If you’re new to Interactive Modeling, having a basic script handy will help you to be exact in what you say and do—and to refrain from talking too much! Using fewer words helps students concentrate on essentials and also allows more time for them to practice and observe.

Keep expectations high

Once you’ve modeled and practiced a routine, make sure students meet the expectations you’ve established. Doing so will keep the classroom orderly and help the children feel secure. If you say that when you raise your hand, students should finish their sentence and look at you, don’t start giving directions before all students have followed that instruction. Otherwise, you signal that you don’t really mean what you say. That leaves students unsure of what they really need to do—or what you will do—each time you ask for their attention.

Keep expectations appropriate

Sometimes we ask our students for behaviors that are beyond them developmentally, or that are simply unrealistic. For instance, some teachers tell students they may go to the bathroom anytime, except when they might miss important information. But children can’t always tell when something important is coming up—especially when they need to go to the bathroom! Here’s another example: Well-intentioned teachers often set a policy of “no talking” in hallways so that other students aren’t distracted as theirs pass by. But for many ages, walking and talking go together. Expecting children to be silent, therefore, is unrealistic. Expecting them to talk quietly—and modeling exactly what volume is okay—is more productive.

Provide plenty of practice

We often expect students to “get it right” the first time they try a new behavior. But just as with academics, children need time to learn behavioral skills. Give them several opportunities to practice a new behavior, and keep these practice sessions fun and light. If a student who’s practicing raising her hand before speaking messes up, do what you’d do if a student misread a word in a new text or made an addition error—note the mess-up as a mistake, not a tragedy: “Oops, you forgot to raise your hand. Try again.”

Reinforce success

Children—like adults—thrive on positive feedback and need you to pay attention to things they’re doing well: “I noticed that you kept your hands to yourselves and had quiet voices on the way to the library”; “I see that you all remembered how to carry your chairs safely to Morning Meeting.” Pay particular attention to struggling students and reinforce their successes even more often. Hearing, privately, about what they’re doing well shows these students that even though following the rules is hard for them, you see and appreciate that they’re trying.

A Smooth Finish

When spring arrives, it’s natural for children to forget some classroom routines and expected behaviors, no matter how well you may have taught those routines and behaviors earlier in the year. Using Interactive Modeling to reteach and remind is an efficient and enjoyable way to finish the school year positively and productively.

Mike Anderson taught third, fourth, and fifth grades for fifteen years. He is now a Responsive Classroom consultant. He wrote the third, fourth, and fifth grade books in the What Every Teacher Needs to Know K–5 Series, is co-author of The Research-Ready Classroom, and author of The Well-Balanced Teacher.

Margaret Berry Wilson taught first and second graders for fifteen years. She is now a Responsive Classroom consultant. She wrote the kindergarten, first grade, and second grade books in the What Every Teacher Needs to Know K–5 Series, and is co-author of Doing Math in Morning Meeting.


Tags: Challenging Behaviors, Last Weeks of School