Classroom Management in Primary Education

By Joshua B. Gardiner

Classroom Management in Primary Education: A Report Based on Observations Focussing on the Classroom Rules and Routines Teachers’ Adopt to Represent Their Expectations, Manage Social Behaviour and Support the Conditions for Pupils’ Engagement with Learning


Over the years, a variety of research literature (e.g. Algozzine, Wang & Violette, 2011; Alter, Walker & Landers, 2013) has cited the detrimental effect(s) pupil misbehavior and ineffective behavior management has on classroom dynamics, teachers’ self-efficacy, and pupils’ engagement, motivation and academic achievement. However, in more recent years, other research studies (e.g. O’Neill & Stephenson, 2014; Parsonson, 2012) have also revealed that when teachers adopt a strong theoretical and evidence-based approach to behavior management, it can help them to gain the knowledge and skills to successfully manage their classrooms and create positive learning environments.

This is the focus of this paper, to identify the classroom rules, routines and behavior management strategies which primary teachers adopt within their classrooms (via structured observations), critically discussing the impact of these approaches (on pupil’s behavior and engagement with learning) through current research literature and theoretical perspectives surrounding behavior management. Regarding the classroom observation technique, throughout these observations, I was a participant observer and I adopted a structured observation schedule which used a narrative summary system (Newby, 2014). In addition, considering research integrity and ethical guidelines (e.g. British Educational Research Association, 2011; University of Cambridge, 2018), every effort was made to present unbiased information, all of the language used was professional and ethical (e.g. uncritical, non-racist and non-sexist), and the name of the school, and the names of those involved (the pupils and teachers) were omitted from the main text and the appendices to preserve confidentiality.

Behavioral Approaches to Behaviour Management

Within the realm of behavior management there are a number of differing evidence-based approaches teachers can adopt when establishing rules and routines in their classrooms, and these reflect the differences in teachers’ self-efficacy and their beliefs about the nature of human behavior (Chaplain, 2016; Lopes & Santos, 2013; Rosas & West, 2009).

To date, some of the oldest and most traditional approaches are the behavioral approaches to behavior management (Pavlov’s (1849 – 1936) classical conditioning and Skinner’s (1904 – 1990) operant conditioning) (Chaplain, 2016; Landrum & Kauffman, 2006; Lineros & Hinojosa, 2012). Both of these theories draw on the overarching beliefs that observable learning behavior (overt behavior) is affected by changes in the environment, and can be measured, predicted and controlled, either Joshua B. Gardiner through stimuli, strategic reinforcement or punishment (Chaplain, 2016; Landrum & Kauffman, 2006; Lineros & Hinojosa, 2012).

Today, these behavioral principles are widely adopted within whole-school behavior policies where they take the form of “rewards and sanctions”, which are used for recognizing pupils’ academic achievement and learning behavior (s), and promoting compliance with whole-school rules and behavioral expectations (Chaplain, 2016; Payne, 2015). According to Skinner, at its heart, the focus of this behavioral approach should be on the rewarding of appropriate behavior (by providing contingent positive reinforcement) rather than on the punishing of disruptive behavior (via sanctions) (Chaplain, 2016; Omomia & Omomia, 2014; Payne, 2015).

This strategy has been observed (by the author) within a variety of classroom environments across different schools, but it was particularly observed in the Year 5 classroom on the Home-School Based Placement. In this classroom, the teacher established the classroom routine of ‘entering and exiting the classroom’, and used verbal praise and the agreed school reward (of house credits) to positively reinforce the expected behavior (see Appendix 4). Overall, the application of these behaviorist principles led to the successful establishment of this routine. It also revealed and emphasized the teacher’s expectations, instigated the correct specific behavioral requirements, and resulted in a positive classroom environment.

Supporting this, over the years, various small-scale research studies (e.g. Cihak, Kirk, & Boon, 2009; Lannie & McCurdy, 2007; Shakespeare, Peterkin & Bourne, 2018) have evaluated the effectiveness of various positive behavioral interventions (e.g. rewards, praise and token economy systems) on improving and reinforcing positive pupil behavior (Chaplain, 2016; Oliver & Reschly, 2007). However, others (e.g. Cameron & Pierce, 1994; Deci, Koestner & Ryan, 1999; Lepper, Keavney & Drake, 1996) have also argued that even though the relationship(s) between rewards and intrinsic motivation is complicated, the overuse of praise and rewards can reduce and have a negative effect on pupils’ intrinsic motivation to learn (Landrum & Kauffman, 2006; Parsonson, 2012).

In addition, whilst these behavioral frameworks have a long history and a broad theoretical and empirical foundation, some (e.g. Kauffman, 1996; Payne, 2015) have suggested that these authoritarian behavior systems carry potential risks for failure and misuse, where at times (whether due to misunderstanding or inappropriate use) they appear to be administered incorrectly, inconsistently or haphazardly (Landrum & Kauffman, 2006).

Arguably, this was also observed on the Home-School Based Placement in the Year 2 classroom, where there was still evidence of disruptive pupil behavior, even after the teacher had used the rewards and sanctions strategy (verbal praise and stickers) to reward (positively reinforce) expected behavior and establish the classroom routine of “getting the attention of the class”.



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Steve Hiles

I am a retired military and elementary school teacher living in Tennessee. I am an avid reader and love to write. I am very passionate about helping teachers. I hope you find my educational tips and strategies useful and enjoy hearing about my personal journey. Thanks for visiting!

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