Achieving and Maintaining Discipline in the EFL Classroom

Maintaining discipline in the classroom can be a challenge for any teacher at any grade level. It seldom happened to me to be very friendly with my students but in the same time to encounter chaos when my students did not pay attention to what I was saying.

Sometimes, in more or less conscious way, my students try to take over the lesson. I still have rebellious students who talk back or display insolence openly, who laugh or make loud noises, which is extremely frustrating for me as a teacher. In my opinion, too little is said and written about this critical aspect of teaching. But one thing is sure: Teachers should be able to keep order in class. It depends on the character, knowledge and experience of the teacher whether the teacher will be able to control the class or not.

In the past, keeping discipline in the classroom was extremely important. Teachers were even allowed to use corporal punishment. But what is discipline? Discipline is providing an environment in which positive teaching and positive learning can occur simultaneously. The word discipline comes from the Latin word discipulus, which means student. Latin disciplina refers to the way of treating students. Discipline in the classroom is based on mutual respect of rights and duties of the teacher and students. What isn’t discipline? It is definitely not about getting students to do what the teachers want them to do.

The only solution for rebellion is to first find the cause. So why exactly does inappropriate behaviour occur?
Student misbehaviour can be a result of inappropriate curriculum and teaching strategies. I think it will come as no surprise to us that students are less likely to disrupt the class or require disciplinary measures when they are engaged in the material. Students who are having fun while learning are more likely to be well-behaved and productive in class. Involving students in motivational interactive activities, group work projects, competitions or funny games can help preventing disciplinary issues. Keeping students engaged in the lesson and the development of relevant, interesting and appropriate curriculum is a key factor in maintaining discipline during the classes.

Some misbehaviour may arise as a function of the teacher’s inability to meet the diverse needs of all students. By identifying the instructional needs of students within the context of the classroom, you can greatly reduce the occurrence of student misbehaviour. We should consider these factors:

1. Group size. 2. Group composition. 3. Limited planning time. 4. Cultural and linguistic barriers. 5. Lack of access to equipment, materials and resources.

As EFL teachers, we can control many variables. We can make adaptations in instructions to address different learning styles and multiple intelligences. By taking into account the learning ecology, teachers can be more selective in their use of resources for managing student behaviour.

Lack of discipline can occur due to student’s inability to understand the concepts being taught. When there is a mismatch between teaching style and the learning style of students, misbehaviour inevitably results. Incidents of indiscipline may also result when students refuse to learn concepts because they are unable to see the relationship between the concepts being taught and their utility in the context of the real world. Classwork that students find relevant and that follows a logical progression can help keep students focused.

Some disruptive misbehaviour may be the consequence of the student’s disability (e.g., emotional/behavioural disorders) – but other misbehaviour may result from the deliberate actions taken by the student to cause classroom disruption. There is a wide range of events, variables and conditions that can influence and affect a student’s behaviour. Determining the underlying cause of a student’s inappropriate behaviour involves a careful analysis. This procedure includes gathering facts, exploring hidden factors, taking action and remaining flexible. This task is not an easy one, but knowledge of the general characteristics (e.g., academic, behavioural, social/emotional, learning, physical) of students can be very helpful. Rebellious children can easily be confused with overactive children with a kinaesthetic learning type. The first step is to find out which students have real discipline problems. In order to do that an EFL teacher has to learn a lot about psychology, sociology and pedagogy.

Many aspects related to the learning environment can contribute to students’ misbehaviour, including the physical arrangement of the classroom, boredom or frustration. Classroom climate can encourage desirable behaviour. The classroom has to be a place where students learn and enjoy the process. Teachers need to pay attention to their communication style and attitude toward students. It is worth remembering that a teacher who cannot calm students in a skilful way can make the situation worse.

How can EFL teachers minimise the disruptive behaviour in their classrooms? There is no single way to address this issue, but I collected a list of useful tips which will help EFL teachers find practical solutions to discipline problems they encounter in the classroom.

– Establish a set of rules. One of the most important steps in keeping discipline in the classroom is to create a set of rules. It is extremely important to let students participate in the creation of the rules themselves. Students will feel more responsible for the positive atmosphere in their own classroom. The teacher’s role is to help students create a list of rules that are both comprehensive and easy to remember. Each student should receive a copy of the list or the teacher can hang it in a visible place. Moreover, students should know that your expectations as a teacher are high. This will challenge them to rise to higher standards of academic performance and behaviour.

– Interact with your students on a personal level every day. Greet them by the name, interject a positive comment or observation, shake their hand and welcome them into the classroom. This sets a positive tone for a lesson or for the day.

– Get students focused before you begin the lesson. Be sure you have their attention from the very beginning. A skill every EFL teacher should have is learning how to anticipate behavioural problems and deal with them.

– Use positive presence. Move around the classroom continuously and monitor your students with your physical presence. Make frequent eye contact and smile with your students.

– Model the behaviour you want your students to produce. If you show respectfulness, trust, enthusiasm and interest they will return the favour in kind.

– Use low-profile intervention. When you see a student who is misbehaving, be sure your intervention is quiet and calm. Arguing with students, commenting on their behaviour and shouting means the troublemaking students have succeeded. The nonverbal approach to keeping discipline refers to making eye contact with the disruptive student, standing near the student and making calm gestures.

– Send positive “I” messages. An “I” message is composed of three parts: 1. Include a description of the student’s behaviour (“When you talk while I talk…”); 2. Relate the effect this behaviour has on you, the teacher (“I have to stop my teaching…”); 3. Let the student know the feeling it generates in you (“which frustrates me”).

– Make verbal reprimands private, brief and as immediate as possible. The more private a reprimand, the less likely you will be challenged. The more you talk, the more you distract from the lesson and the more you “reward” a student for inappropriate behaviour. Don’t try to talk over your students.

– Don’t hand out lots of warnings without following through on consequences. Lots of warnings tell students that you will not enforce a rule.

– Use “start” messages instead of “stop” messages. For example, instead of saying “Stop talking. We need to start the lesson”, a better message is “Get out your English books and turn to page 8.” This instruction establishes a productive tone for the lesson. The focus is not on the (negative) behaviour, but the importance of the lesson.

– Organize schoolwork into routines. This will help students stay focused on their objectives and on the task they have to accomplish. Time should be divided into regular blocks, including time for instruction, time for students to complete assignments and time for them to share the results of their work.

– Judge each misbehaviour situation independently so that each student receives fair treatment, no matter if he is a “trouble maker” or not. Making a public display of a student in order to embarrass him/her can do more harm than good, while a discussion that allows a student to speak their mind is more appropriate.

– Criticise the student’s behaviour, not the student. Keep your criticism constructive and polite.

– Provide lots of positive feedback. Acknowledge positive student behaviour when it is not expected. Acknowledge hard work, kindness and respectful attitude. Students that follow the rules and contribute to make the class a more positive place should be rewarded. Teachers could give out physical rewards like gold stars or simple verbal compliments to reinforce their good behaviour.

– Reinforce the rules fairly across the classroom. Help students understand that the rules are there for everyone, including students with special needs as well as gifted students.

– Be reflective! Evaluate yourself and your set of rules throughout the year.

– Help your students to self-regulate or self-manage their behaviour by teaching them to use the skills of self-management. This will lead to a stress on the student’s role in behaviour change.

– Be consistent! The key to an effective discipline policy in any classroom is consistency. Make all these principles part of your classroom action plan and enforce the rules.

The problem of keeping discipline is very widespread and complex. There will always be disruptions in our classrooms. But, by identifying the instructional needs of students within the context of the classroom, EFL teachers can greatly reduce the occurrence of student misbehaviour. Because inappropriate behavioural manifestations of students can stem from certain types of teaching behaviour, EFL teachers need to become more aware of the kinds of behaviour they adopt and the relationship between their teaching style and the resultant behaviour of students.

Examining our instructions and interactions with students is an on-going process with focus on the manner in which we give recognition and understanding of each student as an individual with his or her unique personality.

Sulich, Magdalena, Keeping discipline in the classroom, English Teaching Forum, July, 2004


prof. Iuliana-Alina Muntean

Colegiul Național I.C.Brătianu, Hațeg (Hunedoara) , România
Profil iTeach:

Articole asemănătoare