Managing a class rather than behaviour

Reflection through observation: this would be key to benefitting from my upcoming school placements. Therefore I decided to test this out in week one of my PGCE and to pay close attention to how the course tutors managed the class. Why did I choose to focus on this aspect? Because it is something that I am curious to learn how it is done effectively. Having spent a year as a Teaching Assistant in a school in London where behaviour management was a major issue, I wanted to see how our tutors were demonstrating ways of managing the class with a view to obviating having to focus primarily on managing behaviour.

The first method I noticed was that the lesson’s task is clearly explained in uncomplicated language and an outline of the tutor’s expectations of how the lesson will pan out enunciated. Once the learning objectives are introduced, usually after a task-related starter exercise, the tutor then randomly selects someone to summarise what they have said. This is repeated every lesson, after the introduction of most tasks which ensures that everyone is paying attention. The consistency of this approach means that as students we know what is expected of us: our undivided attention.

The time that students have to complete the tasks is also mentioned. As the task progresses, the teacher reminds everyone how much time they have left before they would begin the feedback session or next stage of the lesson. During one session the teacher asked the class how much time they thought they would need to complete the task and once it is agreed, this is how long everyone is given. This approach fitted in with the discussion earlier in the day about different learning theories and is an example derived from the humanism paradigm. Humanism’s primary purpose, according to Learning Theories Knowledge Base and Webliography “could be described as the development of self-actualized, autonomous people” and one method of realizing this is by the learning being “student-centred” with the teacher’s role as “facilitator.” By giving students some control over the timing of the lesson, they are given a sense of ownership of the learning process and therefore responsibility.

Another method that encourages attention to the task is one that I had seen during my experience as a Teaching Assistant. The teacher has a pot of laminated strips and on each strip is a student’s name. Often during a feedback session, rather than asking a student to put their hand up to offer a response, a name is randomly selected from the pot. This ensures that the class is paying attention because they do not know whether they will be chosen or not. It also means that instead of always having the same hands being put up, usually of the most confident students, that the quietest would also have the chance to speak. This is not a method that is always used, because during some feedback sessions students are encouraged to actively offer their opinions. This is definitely a method I want to use in my lessons, as I recall what it felt like during my Masters, that it was always the quickest, the most confident and not always the most interesting whose voices were heard during the seminars.

Finally, another effective way of managing a class rather than having to manage behaviour is by providing roles for certain students who may have a proclivity for being easily distracted. During a feedback session, instead of the teacher summarising the classes’ responses on the board, a student assumes this role and they act as scribe. This is an incredibly effective way of ensuring they are paying full attention because their role requires that they are listening. This is also a useful method in helping students develop their summarising skills, so it works in multiple ways.

Obviously I observed these methods and their efficacy in a classroom of compliant adults. What will be even more interesting is their implementation in a secondary school environment. If you have any other approaches that have worked well for you, I’d be very keen to hear about them. I envision my journey as a teacher as being one that is enriched by the experiences that others share with me, so go ahead, divulge your wisdom!


Learning Theories Knowledge Base and Webliography accessed online at




One thought on “Managing a class rather than behaviour

  1. Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful comments on management. I jokingly referred to Class Management Bingo last week: were we to have played it for real, I think you would have a full house by now! You show strong reflectivity – having described and commented on the techniques we used – and evidence of wider reading too.
    The next stage is to make this reflexive, once you are in school, through applying some of these approaches to your practice. In working with pupils who are easily distracted you might try 1) nominating them as time-keeper (or other small tasks to give them something to do) – and praise them liberally when they do this well 2) seat them near the front, at close proximity to you, and facing front 3) ‘hover’ near them if you feel they are getting distracted, so that you are an obvious presence but not necessarily attending to that individual 4) try to ensure that you engage with them and that they have something to do as soon as they enter the classroom.
    I’ll look forward to the next Hands Up post!


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