Teachers are always looking for better ways to help their students who cause problems in the class to work more effectively. They have learned from experience that punishment is only a short-term solution and often has more negative consequences than benefits. Contracting is an alternative classroom management strategy. It does have a number of advantages when it comes to the management of the behavior of one particular student in the class.
Contracting forces us to:
· Meet one on one with the student to discuss the behavioural issue.
· Get to know the student better and let them know that we are concerned about them.
· Discover the underlying issue(s) that may be causing the problem behaviour.
· Work with the student (rather than on the student) to find a solution.
It is important that we sit down with the student and discuss the behavior that we consider problematic. We need to tell the student exactly what we have observed but we must not attribute any motivation or rationale to the behavior. "You seem to spend a lot of time arguing with the other students in the class." This is much better than saying "You can't seem to get along with anyone in the class, you are always arguing with the other students." The second statement will antagonize the student because you are saying something is wrong with them and they are the problem.
After you tell him what you saw wait for him to respond. If he denies what you saw give an example of the most recent incident you have noticed. Ask him what the cause of the argument was. Continue to probe until you get a sense of what the underlying issues might be. William Glasser suggests that we all have Four Basic Needs: Power, Fun, Freedom and Belonging. Is it one of these needs that is not being met? Does he have difficulty with your subject and this is a type of avoidance behavior? It could be attention seeking. There might also be some behavior of another student in the class that triggers his response.
Once you think you know the cause of the problem behavior offer your assistance in solving the difficulty. If it related to academics then you can offer extra help, or agree not to ask him to answer a question unless he has his hand up, or perhaps reduce the amount of homework he has or give him time to complete it at school.
If it is more of a social interaction problem then you will want to suggest an appropriate way to address and solve the problem SEE. Help the student realize what other options are open to him in these situations and let him choose one that he thinks will work.
In either case you may want to use a contract as a way of helping everyone involved to know and remember what is expected. Some teachers like to make this a legal looking document with signatures of all parties involved. I prefer to be less formal. Either way, the contract should include exactly what is expected of the student (the new behaviour he has said he can do) and teacher (what she will do to help him do it, cues etc). Remember this isn't all on the student. Yes it is his problem but he must know that we are concerned about his success at school and want to help. We all want and need help solving problems, our students are no different. You should also include a strategy for reminding the student what he is to do if he forgets and reverts to his old behavior. This will happen so be ready for it. Usually just establishing eye contact and giving him a cue will work, if the behavior has escalated you might want to have a "time out" spot where he can go to regain control. The cue and time out should not be construed as a punishment but rather a strategy to use when he finds himself in a situation that will lead him to behave inappropriately again.
Signatures at the bottom of the contract make it very formal not unlike a legal document which has negative consequences if it is broken. This is why I prefer not to have the contract signed but rather just to have a copy for the student and the teacher. We need to be working with our students; once they know they have a concerned person willing to work with them the student will change their attitude and behavior more quickly.
Contracting is another great classroom management strategy to use with difficult students in your classroom but be sure to make it a learning experience that helps the student to discover other ways to behave and succeed at school.
Wayne Sheldrick PhD