Introducing A Model of Behaviour Choices

I haven’t written about behaviour before as I didn’t have anything original to say. Teach Like a Champion did more for my classroom management than anything else: I can’t recommend it enough.

During lockdown though, I’ve developed a model of behaviour which has helped me explain classroom behaviour. It’s taken from game theory – a branch of mathematics used to predict behaviours and develop strategy. I’m ready to share.

The basic idea is this: there are two equilibrium behaviour states in the classroom, either you are having a run of positive behaviour choices, or a run of bad choices. It is tricky to get from one state to the other. If you are in a run of positive behaviour choices (pupils working hard, contributing to discussions etc.), one or two negative behaviour choices won’t tip the lesson over the edge. Conversely, if you are in a run of negative behaviour choices (calling out, talking, being silly), it will take more than a couple of positive behaviour events to turn the class around. 

I’ve developed this diagram to represent the model.

On the left of the chart, you are having a run of negative behaviour choices – it is more likely that the next behaviour choice will also be negative. 

On the right, you are having a run of positive behaviour choices – it is likely that the next behaviour choice will be positive. 

Implications

There are two ways to improve the behaviour choices in your classroom. 

Keep the underlying culture of your class the same, but emphasise the positive behaviour choices and de-emphasise the negative. Make sure you recognise the positive choices: the good work, the positive contributions – at the same time, minimise the impact of negative choices – stay calm, encourage and ‘jolly along’. You will be on the right hand side of the chart, and it will be relatively easy to keep the class there. 

There is nothing wrong with this, but it doesn’t change the underlying dynamic of the class. If someone has an off day (including you), it can all kick off.

The second way to change the probability of positive choices in your class is to change the culture. You can represent this in the charts below.

In a well-governed class, the likelihood of positive choices is increased, while the likelihood of negative choices is reduced.

If you have a weakly-governed class, it’s likely that you inherited it. There is a structure of rewarding negative choices (typically the admiration of peers) and punishing positive ones (e.g. mockery). You will have a tough job managing the class. Rewarding positive choices and minimising the impact of negative choices probably won’t be enough. 

How do you move from weakly-governed to well governed? I recommend Charlie Taylor’s behaviour checklist (here) as well as the Teach like a Champion Classroom Culture strategies. 

I’d also recommend applying Rosenshine’s principles for effective classrooms. These are the heroes of learning, but I am convinced they also support positive classroom culture: you make it easier for individuals to be successful and easier to contribute effectively. The rewards for positive behaviour choices are within reach. 

I don’t know if anyone else will find this model useful. I have lots of notes on how I developed the model (if anyone’s interested!) and the reading list is fascinating. Let me know.

Best wishes,

Ben

@benrogersedu

Thank you to @notsofastmatey for being my patient sounding-board and challenging me on this model. If it’s any use, thank him.

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