Classroom Management and Discipline: Responding to the Needs of Young Adolescents

By Evans, Katherine; Lester, Jessica | Middle School Journal, January 2010 | Go to article overview

Classroom Management and Discipline: Responding to the Needs of Young Adolescents


Evans, Katherine, Lester, Jessica, Middle School Journal


When the middle school concept was initiated in the mid-1960s, it was a call for educators to acknowledge the unique developmental needs of students between the ages of 10 and 14 as they transition from childhood to adolescence (Anfara, 2001). Some researchers have suggested that many middle schools, however, are missing some of the key components of the middle school concept, resulting in middle schools that look very similar to traditional junior high schools (Eccles, Lord, & Midgley, 1991). This lack of attention to the developmental needs of the students has, in many instances, created a mismatch between young adolescents and their school environment. This mismatch has resulted in many middle school teachers reporting that student discipline problems are becoming increasingly prevalent (Christle, Nelson, & Jolivette, 2004; Dupper, 1998). Concern is also raised by the fact that elementary and middle school teachers are twice as likely to report discipline issues compared to secondary school teachers (Check, 2001).

In a study examining 345 teachers' beliefs about their readiness to address behavior challenges, middle and secondary school teachers reported being significantly less able and ready to manage challenging student behaviors than primary school teachers (Baker, 2005). Lack of preparation and the ensuing frustration with student misbehavior often lead teachers to become disillusioned with teaching and more prone to burnout and attrition. With student misbehavior cited as one of the top reasons teachers leave the field (Grayson & Alvarez, 2007; Ingersoll, 2001), there is a growing need to identify effective approaches to classroom management. While many teachers may feel competent in their ability to carry out routine classroom management procedures, they may not be as comfortable addressing discipline issues.

In this article, we begin by exploring the literature around discipline, including the use of suspension and other interventions. We then describe several comprehensive classroom management approaches that have been studied within middle schools. Finally, we present the essential features of classroom management as delineated by the National Middle School Association (2010), highlighting the supporting research on discipline and classroom management.

Discipline Interventions

According to one study, middle school students are four times more likely to be suspended than elementary students (Arcia, 2007), and middle school teachers are more likely to use corporal punishment than elementary or high school teachers (Check, 2001). Suspension and expulsion rates in middle schools have dramatically risen (Skiba, 2000). Some researchers suggest that misbehavior increases for middle school students due to difficulties with the transition from elementary school (Dupper, 1998; Graber & Brooks-Gunn, 1996). Other researchers attribute this increase in discipline problems to home or family characteristics (Check; Christle et al., 2004), to the effects of years of academic failure (Morrison, Anthony, Storino, & Dillon, 2001), or to school characteristics such as discipline policies, teacher beliefs, or middle school implementation models (Arcia).

Despite the increase in discipline issues at the middle school level, little research has explored the experiences of students who are suspended or expelled. Some studies have suggested that many students perceive suspension as "an officially sanctioned school holiday" (Rossow & Parkinson, 1999, p. 39), while other studies indicated that students feel legitimately punished by school suspension (Morrison, Anthony, Storino, Cheng, Furlong, & Morrison, 2001; Sekaya, 2001).

According to research related to suspension rates, middle school males are more likely to be suspended than females (Morrison, Anthony, Storino, & Dillon, 2001). Further, researchers report a strong correlation between students' GPA and the rate of suspension (Christle et al. …

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