Effective student discipline requires effective school management and effective classroom management. Probably the biggest fear a teacher faces is how to deal with classroom discipline. Discipline is the cornerstone of good classroom management. The annual Gallup poll of the public's attitude toward public schools reveals that classroom discipline is considered the biggest problem at school. The study showed also that teachers feel unprepared to deal with disruptive behavior.
Some scholars believe that dealing with behavior problems requires no disciplinary measures. Alfie Kohn argues that disciplinary interventions are not only ineffective, but can also be counterproductive. However, research and theory show that a balanced approach, including also appropriate disciplinary techniques, is needed to have discipline in the classroom.
Scott Stage and David Quiroz made a meta-analysis of 99 studies, 5,000 students and 200 experimental comparisons. They found that the use of disciplinary techniques led to a decline in disruptive behavior in nearly 80 percent of the students. They classified effective disciplinary techniques in four groups - reinforcement, punishment, no immediate consequences and combined punishment and reinforcement. Reinforcement techniques include reward and recognition for proper behavior; punishment, on the other hand, includes interventions for negative behavior. The third group of techniques does not result in any immediate consequences for inappropriate behavior. The study also showed that combined reinforcement and punishment practices had the biggest effect on children, followed by reinforcement, punishment and no immediate consequences.
Robert Marzano in his book Classroom management that works points out five groups of disciplinary practices: the teacher reaction includes the teacher's verbal and physical reaction to disruptive behavior; tangible recognition includes interventions rewarding students for positive behavior with some kind of symbol; direct cost includes practices for direct consequences for bad behavior; the fourth group consists of group contingency practices which focus on a group of students who have to reach a certain standard of good behavior; and the fifth category comprises of home contingency strategies in which students' behavior is controlled at home. Marzano concluded that all of these five disciplinary categories result in a decrease in students' disruptive behavior at all grade levels. However, the lower the grade, the bigger the disciplinary effect of the practices.
Assertive Discipline is a widely used disciplinary program developed by Canter. The program is based on practices in which inappropriate behavior leads to certain consequences. Kohn has sharply criticized Assertive Discipline, claiming that it prevents children from becoming compassionate and reflective.
Another disciplinary program is Think Time developed by Nelson and Carr. This program has proved efficient in decreasing misbehavior and engaging students. One of its main goals is consistent consequences for disruptive behavior at school. The program also envisages giving students feedback about misbehavior and planning to avoid such behavior in future. The third goal of the program is to put an end to negative social exchange between students and teachers. One of the features of Think Time, distinguishing it from other programs, is the Think Time classroom. This is a place where students with disruptive behavior are sent when teachers are not able to deal with the misbehavior.
The program has changed since its introduction and now involves five steps. The first step is aimed at creating a positive atmosphere for discipline; students should not have negative expectations. The second step is focused on teachers who have to learn to practice assertive discipline; teachers have to know the difference between assertive, nonassertive and hostile behavior. With the third step teachers introduce limits and consequences; there are various ways to signal students that they are close to a limit, these can be questions, signals or demands. The fourth step includes the consequences for students who have violated the limit. The fifth step is to establish a system for positive consequences as a reward for appropriate behavior. These steps show that Assertive Discipline is a balanced program combining both positive and negative consequences.
Having good classroom discipline involves a number of steps with the first of all having a clear discipline plan at the start of the year. From the first day at school, teachers must establish reasonable and doable rules and not allow disruptive behavior. Students have to be informed about the standards of behavior and follow them; they have to know that actions that disturb the educational process are not acceptable.
Teachers, however, have to be fair, students have a very good sense of fairness and teachers should treat all students equitably in order to become respected. If the class is disrupted, teachers should react immediately taking as little time as possible out of the lesson. Teachers have to have high expectations from students and are within their rights to expect that students will not disrupt the class and will rather behave.