Jim Wright ( www.interventioncentral.org)
Effective Teacher Commands: Establishing Classroom Control
As classroom managers, teachers regularly use commands to direct students to start and stop activities. Instructors find commands to be a crucial tool for classroom management, serving as instructional signalsthat help students to conform to the teacher’s expectations for appropriate behaviors. Teachers frequently dilute the power of their classroom commands, however, by: presenting commands as questions or polite requests. Commands have less impact when stated as questions or requests, because the student may believe that he or she has the option to decline. The teacher who attempts, for example, toquiet a talkative student by saying, “Tanya, could you mind keeping your voice down so that other students can study?” should not be surprised if the student replies, “No, thank you. I would prefer to talk!” • stating commands in vague terms. A student may ignore a command such as “Get your work done!” because it does not state specifically what behaviors the teacher expects of the student. •Effective Teacher Commands…
• • • • • • • Are brief Are delivered one at a time Use specific language so that the student clearly understands the request Avoid an authoritative, “Do it my way or else!” tone of voice Avoid strong negative emotion or sarcasm Are stated as directives rather than as questions Avoid long explanations or justifications (and present any explanation before the command ratherthan after it). Allow the student a short but reasonable amount of time to comply without additional teacher comments or directives
following up commands with excessive justifications or explanations. Because teachers want to be viewed as fair, they may offer long, drawn-out explanations for why they are requiring the class or an individual student to undertake or to stop a behavior.Unfortunately, students can quickly lose the thread the explanation and even forget the command that preceded it!
Using Effective Commands Teachers can reduce problems with student compliance and make their commands more forceful by following research-based guidelines (Walker & Walker, 1992):
The Savvy Teacher’s Guide: Selected Ideas for Behavioral Intervention
Jim Wright (www.interventioncentral.org)
Effective commands: • • are brief. Students can process only so much information. Students tend to comply best with brief commands because they are easy to understand and hard to misinterpret. are delivered one task or objective at a time. When a command contains multistep directions, students can mishear, misinterpret, or forget key steps. A student who appears to benoncompliant may simply be confused about which step in a multi-step directive to do first! are delivered in a matter-of-fact, businesslike tone. Students may feel coerced when given a command in an authoritarian, sarcastic, or angry tone of voice. For that reason alone, they may resist the teacher’s directive. Teachers will often see greater student compliance simply by giving commands in a neutral orpositive manner. are stated as directives rather than questions. Perhaps to be polite, teachers may phrase commands as questions (e.g., “Could we all take out our math books now?”). A danger in using ‘question-commands’ is that the student may believe that he or she has the option to decline! Teachers should state commands as directives, saving questions for those situations in which the studentexercises true choice. avoid long explanations or justifications. When teachers deliver commands and then tack lengthy explanations onto them, they diminish the force of the directive. If the instructor believes that students should know why they are being told to do something, the teacher should deliver a brief explanation prior to the command. give the student a reasonable amount of time to...