Breaking the rules.

Applying Classroom Rules and Procedures.

In the opening of Chapter seven of Robert Marzano`s The art and Science of Teaching, he states;

“When students do a good job at following rules and procedures, their willingness to be a positive influence in the class should be recognized and acknowledged. Conversely, when students do not follow classroom rules and procedures, their behavior that detracts from learning should be noted. In effect, consequences should be both positive and negative.”

Research shows that a combination of both punishment and reinforcement gives the best results for lowering disruptions.

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This conclusion is echoed by Miller, Ferguson, and Simpson (1998) in their review of the research literature: “Clearly, the results of these studies should permit schools to strike . . . a ‘healthy balance’ between rewards and punishments” (p. 56).

The skill seems to be in when and how to implement consequences for behaviour, both good and bad, in order to enhance learning.This skill has been recently defined as “withitness”.

Withitness - flow-chart

When thinking about reinforcement the idea of rewards comes to mind. This can be a problem though, as the wrong kind of reward, or using it at the wrong time for the wrong reason will be counter – productive.

Good and Brophy (2003) identify the following as particularly detrimental to performance and intrinsic motivation:

– Highly attractive awards presented in ways that call attention to them.

– Rewards that are given simply for engaging in an activity as opposed to being contingent on achieving a specific goal.

– Rewards that are tied to behavior as control devices.

They also note that early studies demonstrated that if you reward people for things they are already doing by their own volition, then they will begin to decrease their intrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan, 1985). Additionally if students’ attention becomes focused on external rewards as opposed to tasks in which they are engaged, their performance begins to diminish.

The following diagram shows the strategies that can be used to reinforce good behaviour or to correct bad behaviour.

Applying classroom rules and procedures.


Strategies That Acknowledge Adherence to Rules and Procedures

Action Step 1. Use Simple Verbal and Nonverbal Acknowledgment

Saying to the class as a whole or to specific students that they did good work carrying out a procedure.

Action Step 2. Use Tangible Recognition When Appropriate

An elementary teacher might establish a system of points for adherence to rules and procedures throughout the day. At the end of the week,points are added up for each student. Students who have amassed a certain number of points are recognized with some nominal reward such as a certificate for a free fruit drink from the school cafeteria. Or a teacher might establish a color code for behavior. A green card indicates exceptional attention and adherence to rules; the student is making an obvious effort to pay attention and behave. A yellow card indicates acceptable behavior, but improvement could be made. A brown card indicates unacceptable behavior.

Action Step 3. Involve the Home in Recognition of Positive Student Behavior

Phone Calls Home, E-mails, Notes Home and Certificates of Good Behavior.

Strategies That Acknowledge Lack of Adherence to Rules and Procedures

Action Step 4. Be With-It

Four general actions constitute withitness: being proactive, occupying the entire room, noticing potential problems, and using a series of graduated actions.

Action Step 5. Use Direct-Cost Consequences

Direct cost involves explicit and concrete consequences for inappropriate behavior. Typically, direct-cost consequences are applied once a negative behavior has progressed beyond a point where it can be addressed by withitness. For example, Time-out and Overcorrection.

Action Step 6. Use Group Contingency

Group contingency involves holding the class as a whole responsible for the behavior of any and all members of the class. The general message to the class is “you are all in this together.”

Action Step 7. Use Home Contingency

Involving parents and guardians was discussed in Action Step 3, which recommended that teachers recognize students’ good behavior by notifying parents and guardians. Here the involvement is in the context of acknowledging and changing inappropriate behavior. Usually, teachers use home contingency only with those students who do not respond to the more general management techniques employed by the teacher.

Action Step 8. Have a Strategy for High-Intensity Situations

When a student’s behavior is so extreme that it threatens other students, the teacher, or both, quick action is required.

Recognize That the Student Is Out of Control – reasoning will not work at this stage.

Step Back and Calm Yourself – get some physical space, breath deeply and be aware of your thinking.

Listen Actively to the Student and Plan Action – repeat the students statements to show that they are being listened to. The purpose is to communicate to students that their feelings are not discounted and that they are considered important by the teacher. It also reflects back to the students how they are being perceived.

When the Student Is Calm, Repeat Simple Verbal Request – Typically, the request will involve the student and teacher leaving the classroom. The request should be repeated a number of times as Jonathan, I want you to go with me outside in the hallway to discuss this further. Can we please do that now? Jonathan, I want you to go with me outside in the hallway to discuss this further. Can we please do that now?

Action Step 9. Design an Overall Plan for Disciplinary Problems

Glasser (1977, 1986) recommends an approach based on the assumption that students are ultimately responsible for their own behavior.

Glasser’s suggested approach can be outlined as follows:

• List your typical reactions to student misbehavior.

• Analyze the list and determine which of your behaviors are effective and which are not.

• Make an attempt to improve your relationship with disruptive students.

• Meet with students and point out the specific behaviors that need to be curtailed.

• Make sure students understand and can describe the offending behavior.

• If the offending behavior continues, help the student develop an explicit plan to curtail it. Keep refining the plan as needed.

• If the offending behavior still persists, isolate the student from class until a renewed commitment is made on the part of the student.

• If the previous steps do not work, in-school suspension is the next step. The student is continually invited to develop and execute a plan.

• If the student remains out of control, parents are called, and the student goes home for the day.

• Students who do not respond to the previous steps are removed from school and referred to another agency.


Marzano, R. (2007). The art and science of teaching. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.





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