Guiding Children’s Behavior: Developmental Discipline in the Classroom
reviewed by Jenny Edwards - December 11, 2006
Title: Guiding Children’s Behavior: Developmental Discipline in the Classroom
Author(s): Eileen S. Flicker and Janet Andron Hoffman
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807747130 , Pages: 113, Year: 2006
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Guiding Childrens Behavior: Developmental Discipline in the Classroom is a true gift to everyone who works with childrenbeginning teachers, veteran teachers, parents, child care providers, administrators, and others. It is also a gift to the children with whom they work. During my career as a teacher at the elementary, middle school, and university levels, I have read numerous books on strategies for teaching children appropriate behavior. This is the most comprehensive, humane, loving, and sensitive book that I have read on the topic.
Flicker and Hoffman base their book on two premises. The first is that children learn their behaviors in their environments and bring memories of their prior experiences with adults to new situations. The second is that the purpose of guiding behavior in constructive ways in classrooms is to facilitate learning (p. x). They present a systemic approach to working with children in which adults observe children, seek to determine all possible causes of the misbehavior, and formulate their responses accordingly. The goal is to assist children in controlling their own behavior and realizing the impact of their behavior on others. They draw from the theories of Piaget (1929) and Vygotsky (1978), who believed that children are active participants in their cognitive and social/emotional development (p. 8).
The authors suggest that educators view the entire system in which a child is functioning, including the developmental stage of the child, interactions that are appropriate for the culture in which the child is being raised, and behaviors that adults have previously reinforced. Teachers also need to assess their own curriculum, pedagogical style, and quality of communications with students to determine the effectiveness of their practice (p. 1) in order to discern how they might be causing or contributing to the situation. By doing these things, the adult will be able to thoughtfully diagnose the root causes of the childs behavior.
The book contains detailed information about how to observe student behavior for the purpose of designing effective interventions. Flicker and Hoffman believe that it is through observation that educators can go beyond behavior to truly understand children and to effect positive change at school (p. 37). They include observation sheets on which the reader can write narrative observations of student behavior. They also include checklists for the reader to examine student interactions with peers and indicators of bullying. In addition, they provide a form for parents to use to assess their childs behavior, as well as a form on which older students can assess their behavior. Since teachers bring their own cultural backgrounds, upbringing, and ways of interacting with others to the classroom, the authors provide forms for teachers to assess their interactions with students and their disciplinary practices in the classroom. They also discuss strategies for administrators to use in working with teachers around their interactions with students. The authors present a case study using each of the observation forms to show the reader how to use the forms in various situations.
Flicker and Hoffman discuss various methods of working with children that theorists have proposed over the years. They suggest that instead of automatically using any of these strategies (e.g., sending the student to timeout, giving logical consequences, sending a note home to the parents, giving rewards and punishments, using I messages, and others), and instead of making judgments about the childs behavior and labeling it, teachers can observe the behavior to determine possible causes. Then, and only then, can they make a decision as to what might be the best possible strategy or strategies for changing the behavior. The authors believe that many of the other methods for working with student misbehavior are only surface quick fixes that dont address the underlying causes of the misbehavior. As a result, while the student may comply with the teacher in the short run, the misbehavior will more than likely return.
The authors take a proactive approach and suggest that teachers examine the relationship between their teaching strategies and student behavior. The physical layout of the classroom can also contribute to student misbehavior. Teachers can increase their chances of having positive student behavior by providing rules and reminders about appropriate behavior (p. 18). Students need to know the type of behavior that the teacher expects during transition times so that the classroom routine will run smoothly. Flicker and Hoffman also suggest that teachers hold regular class meetings to discuss situations as they arise and be open to using contracts for student behavior.
The book contains numerous case studies. The authors present possible causes for misbehaviors and creative strategies for addressing them. They discuss a variety of ways of approaching biting, tantrums, selective mutism, aggression, racial issues, bullying, anxiety, depression, lying, and battles over homework. They also talk about working with children who are gifted, unkind, distracted, from dysfunctional families, lacking in social skills, and disruptive in the classroom. The ultimate goal [is] for children to see themselves in control of their own behavior (p. 80).
One chapter of the book contains a discussion of the methods of discipline that teachers commonly use. The authors discuss reasons why these methodssuch as forcing students to apologize, humiliating children, removing children from the classroom, punishing the whole class, and taking away recessgenerally work only in the short-term. In addition, when teachers use these methods, they may inadvertently hurt children with their words, tone, or actions (p. 81). They suggest alternative strategies that may work. The disciplinary process is only successful when children incorporate adults rules into their own inner voices, which remind them what is acceptable and what is not (p. 7).
Readers of this book can use the system that the authors present in other areas of their lives. In situations of conflict, they can observe the behavior of others, examine possible causes, avoid labeling the behavior, and explore how they might possibly be contributing to the situation. As I read the book, I recalled a situation in the early 1990s that greatly impacted my thinking. A colleague with whom I was presenting a seminar said that he withheld making judgments about the behavior of participants in the training until he had observed their behavior, examined how he might be contributing to the situation, and thought of at least 20 reasons for their behavior. During that training, participants at one table started becoming agitated while they should have been doing an exercise. Instead of labeling their behavior as rude, he proceeded to brainstorm reasons for why they might be agitated, based on observing their behavior and examining our behavior as trainers, as well. We noticed that they were looking at their watches and focusing on one woman. We discovered that one of the participants was going into labor. The agitation resulted from participants at her table timing the seconds between contractions. This practical application demonstrates the wisdom of what Flicker and Hoffman have developed.
After reading this book, I cannot imagine working with students in any other way than using developmental discipline. The book is written in a concise manner and can be read quickly. The methods are grounded in the literature, and the authors profoundly advance the field. By using developmental discipline, teachers will truly be able to create a community of caring (p. 91). Many children, teachers, parents, and administrators will benefit greatly from the work of Flicker and Hoffman in the coming years, which will ultimately result in a better future for all.
Piaget, J. (1926). Judgment and reasoning in the child. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.