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Sofiya Lipova

EDES-350

Keith Wilcox

3 December 2017

Developing a Personal Approach to Classroom Practices

Having spent a few years learning the theory behind the practices in education, I often wonder

how close a teacher’s personal interpretation and implementation of any given theory comes

to an author’s vision of their theory’s practical use. Even from my limited teaching experience

in one elementary and two secondary schools it has already become clear how unique each

educational environment is. It is, thus, nearly impossible to come up with a concise and

universal theory that would work in any pedagogical situation with its principles applied

similarly to achieve the same results across all contexts. Therefore, in the formulation of my

own theory of learning, I was primarily concerned with the practical value of the accumulated

knowledge. In other words, for me, it is more important to find the classroom management

techniques that can be adapted to a variety of classrooms than to formulate vague statements

about education that might turn out to be completely useless. As a starting point, I have

identified and borrowed from various theorists the following values to guide my approach to

classroom teaching: efficient use of classroom time, building a close personal relationship

with the students, and always insisting on an honest effort. I believe that when those values

are properly enforced in class, students are able to learn the material at an appropriate pace

and gain an understanding of socially acceptable behaviour. There is, nonetheless, one

important aspect that has the ability to ensure that, no matter the circumstance, the classroom

is receptive of the information to be absorbed. That aspect is a teacher’s readiness to be


flexible in response to students’ reaction. In addition to the listed values and a teacher’s

flexibility, there are a few rules of thumb (such as establishing and enforcing rules, being

careful with phrasing, and promoting an atmosphere of respect in classroom) that in

combination will ensure that all students get something valuable from the time that they spend

in school. The practical aspects of those elements that, together, comprise my vision of

effective classroom management will be explored in more detail in the following essay

through the prism of three educational theorists whose ideas have resonated with me: Doug

Lemov, Rudolf Dreikurs, and Fred Jones.

From my observations in classroom so far, the conclusion seems to be that reducing

time wasting must be prioritized over everything else. This is achieved by establishing and

enforcing continuously a clear set of rules and practice. This is especially important in a

music classroom where students are constantly tempted by the wind instruments that they

hold in their hands for the full duration of the lesson. What I discovered during my most

recent stage is that spending two first music classes with grade 7 students just going over the

procedures and practicing the cut-off (when the teacher/conductor steps on the podium and

shows the appropriate gesture, the class must react by falling silent) is essential for a smoothly

running class in the future. By practice, in music, we mean an act of repetition. That means

that one successful try in response to a cut-off gesture is not enough; when the students are

slow to react to a cue from the conductor, the conductor must go over the expectations and

practice this one cue while insisting on getting student’s full attention. In the moment, it

seems to be redundant, especially because the teacher must make a choice to invest class time

into that – precious time that could be spent learning new material. Yet, this is one of the

classroom management strategies that pays off eventually. Fred Jones, a classroom
management theorist, has addressed the issue of time wasting in his works where he proposed

ways of maximizing time available for instruction. For instance, one of the aspects to

consider, according to Jones, is the class seating arrangement in a way that allows a teacher to

“maintain class proximity and eye contact with students and move among them” (Charles,

2014). This method, of course, is not readily transferable to a wind band classroom setting

that has a long tradition with its own set of rules that exist outside the secondary education

system. However, there are ways to adapt this method with positive results even in a music

room. There were classes where I would choose to move sections around to hear them better;

sections like trumpets, who are used to sitting in the back where they get easily distracted.

Unsurprisingly, I found a lot of mistakes to be fixed, and trumpets had no other choice but to

pay attention because of the proximity to an authority figure. Among the other helpful

elements of the theory, I find the “say, see, do” approach to present material beneficial to

students considering that playing is a very physical process and not everyone is comfortable

in their own body, which means that students need to be made aware of how their body works.

For example, people have a tendency of carrying a lot of tension in certain muscles of their

body that can be made worse by maintaining a poor playing posture. Therefore, the three

elements – making aware, demonstrating, and having explored – are important in teaching

music. Generally speaking, from my experience, many aspects of Fred Jones’ theory make a

lot of sense in their practical application. Classroom rules, outlined expectations, physical

proximity and other elements of classroom management, with some adjustment, are helpful

tools in structuring an efficient lesson.

So far, this essay has been exploring a more technical side of setting up a functional

classroom, without addressing the question of human interaction with students. Keeping in
mind that the Quebec education system has the in loco parentis legal perspective on a

teacher’s responsibility in school, it is, of course, absolutely essential to a strong relationship

with students based on trust and mutual respect. To better inform myself on interpersonal

relationships in classroom, I have extensively used Rudolf Dreikurs’ ideas to guide me

through some complicated situations with individual students. Unlike Fred Jones’ theoretical

frame that appeared to fit in with my selected methods in retrospect, Dreikurs’ work had a lot

of practical suggestions and ready-to-use tools that I have consciously applied in my

practicum with an intention to recognize and acknowledge the students’ needs. For instance, I

found that the idea of logical consequences, when executed properly (that means, with the

goal of clearing up students’ understanding of the relationship between a misbehavior and the

outcome), helps reinforcing classroom rules. Losing a point for behaving disrespectfully

during a classmate’s playing test has an inner logic that, if explained to the student, will not

be contested. The struggle related to this concept that I have been experiencing until the very

end of my field experience was with my inability to successfully remove my emotion from the

decision to apply a logical consequence in situations where I sensed lack of respect between

students. Emotion, I believe, can transform students’ perception of logical consequence into

punishment, which contradicts the intent. What is emphasized in Dreikurs’ theory is that the

relationship of mutual respect makes teacher’s corrective practices successful (Edwards,

2008), which means that the teacher must make an effort to get to know their students, thus

making sure they “understand the private logic of their misbehaving students” (Edwards,

2008). To which extent this was true I have only realized a week before the end of my

internship, at the teacher-parent interviews. A mother of a trumpet player from a grade 9

group that I have been teaching for a couple of months came to talk about her son’s
experience in the music class. He is a very polite and shy boy, the only brass player in that

group with no one there on whom he could rely for correct pitches in some contexts (which is

a brass-specific problem). Sometimes I would see that he avoided sight reading band pieces at

the first try, pretending that he urgently needed to take care of his instrument, and I would let

him do it because there was an enormous pressure on. I told his mother that there are certain

challenges of being the only player in a section, while realizing that I did not have an actual

strategy that could help her son succeed. At this moment, my cooperating teacher joined in

with a comment. She said that the woman’s son is a strong player – he has been starting from

grade 8, yet he does not believe that he is good. Also, he needed to invest more time into

practice at home (the required 20 minutes a day) to start improving exponentially. When the

boy came to class the week after that, he had more confidence and it was apparent that he had

practiced. This brief interaction with a parent made me realize how knowing what a child’s

experiences (and, by extension, the child’s needs) can turn the situation around in a matter of

days.

Finally, I find it important to have a set of techniques ready to be implemented in

reaction to students’ successes and misbehaviours during each lesson. Despite having

provided a solid framework for classroom management, Fred Jones’ theory does not actually

address the day-to-day evolution of interaction between a teacher and a student. Sometimes

the way a lesson goes depends on the time of day, how tired students are, the general

atmosphere and mood in class, as well as the room itself (if teaching in multiple locations).

Class rules and eye contact cannot be an answer to every situation. Therefore, for issues

related to this aspect of teaching, I looked for solutions in Doug Lemov’s work that consists

of a collection of techniques that promote success in classroom. Although the work was
designed for inner city schools “that serve students born into poverty and, too often, to a

rapidly closing window of opportunity” (Lemov, 2014), I believe that all kinds of students can

benefit from good pedagogy. One strategy that I try to always have in use is “positive

framing” (Lemov, 2014) that, in my opinion, is essential in music class when giving feedback

for students’ playing – which is always. Because progress in music happens over a significant

period of time, excellence cannot be expected from a majority of class. However, students

should know when they are on the right track and they need to be made aware of the areas that

still require improvement. For these situations, I find “narrating the positive” (Lemov, 2014)

and “drawing attention to the good and the getting better” (Lemov, 2014) especially useful,

because students become increasingly interested in success after receiving positive comments.

When they see that success in music class is possible and is within their reach, they start

paying attention more readily and expect the same from their peers (responding harshly when

someone misbehaves). Another technique that gets positive responses is complimenting the

effort instead of giving praise. Generally speaking, specific feedback helps. When students

know what they did well and what is still in the process of progressing, they know what they

need to keep. Music-making cannot be just a physical activity; the process needs to be

intellectualized so that students can make informed choices. Therefore, when they make an

honest effort, it needs to be communicated to them that the effort is what they should preserve

in their practice. That, of course, means that making a mistake (in fact, many mistakes), is all

right as long as there was a determined attempt made. Normalizing error is another technique

that is commonly applied in a music classroom simply because arts are rooted in exploration,

subjectivity and risk-taking, so there is always an element of trial and error that gives students

an opportunity to see for themselves what works best. This leads to the last important element
of technique, which is “distinguishing between behavior and people” (Lemov, 2014). The

were some groups that I taught this semester where the energy levels were constantly high,

which meant that students often had trouble staying focused. Addressing those groups was

challenging until I started identifying the ‘trouble-makers’ in those groups as high energy

people and not as students who are prone to misbehave. Even though I never spoke poorly of

them as human beings, that certainly also influenced the way the interaction with these

students.

In conclusion, my personal approach to classroom management centers around the

three pedagogical values: efficient use of class time, building a trusting and respectful

relationship with my students, and enforcing the idea of honest effort. The techniques for

effective classroom management then branch out from these values with an intent to make

sure that the students learn at an appropriate pace in a welcoming, accepting, and stress-free

environment. The ideas for the many techniques in my personal approach were borrowed from

and inspired by the works of three educational theorists: Fred Jones, Rudolf Dreikurs and

Doug Lemov. The three theorists are offering useful practical suggestions that proved to be

helpful in a variety of classroom situations. From Jones’ work, I have borrowed his general

vision of a structured approach aimed at reducing time waste, which includes seating

arrangement and ability to use physical proximity as a non-verbal tool of communication.

Having observed the positive impact of having a clear set of rules established in classroom

and expectations communicated to the students from the very beginning, I was convinced that

Jones’ methods work in a real-life setting. Rudolf Dreikurs, on the other hand, spoke

extensively about the students themselves and the need to understand students’ motivation in

order to fix behaviour issues. His suggestions were particularly helpful in interaction with
individual students and in building a relationship with misbehaving students. There is,

however, an aspect of this theory that I find debatable. According to Dreikurs, the democratic

type of teacher is the suitable type in our day and age. However, I have been observing an

autocratic teacher with a warm personality who has led music classes to success. I believe that

there is a romanticized idea of student-led teaching that works only in certain contexts, while

the rest of the classroom time students need a strong authority figure who is sharing their

extensive knowledge of the subject. With all the valuable input on the topic of students’ needs

that Dreikurs has provided, there was not much said about the classroom outside the

manifestations of misbehaviour. To fill this gap, I borrowed some ideas and strategies from

Doug Lemov, a classroom management theorist who compiled and elaborated on a list of

techniques designed to help students with disadvantageous backgrounds pass the tests.

Despite this very specific goal that the techniques are pursuing, I found their application in a

regular classroom to be quite effective. Such methods as positive framing, praising the effort,

distinguishing between behaviour and people as well as normalizing error have brought

positive results in the classes where I have consciously implemented those elements.
References

Charles, C.M. (2014). Building Classroom Discipline, (11th ed.) Fred Jones on Keeping Students

Willingly Engaged in Learning. New York: Pearson. pp. 137-59.

Edwards H. C. (2008). Classroom Discipline and Management (5th ed.) Chapter 5: Logical

Consequences: Rudolf Dreikurs. San Francisco: Wiley. pp. 95-123.

Lemov, Doug. (2014). Teach like a Champion, 2.0: 62 Techniques that put students on the path

to college. San Francisco: Josey-Bass. pp. 1-23, 203-223.