Discipline through punishment?

Neeraja Raghavan

Teachers are expected to be up-to-date with all that is happening in the education sector: well, if not all, at least the significant developments. Given the packed day of a teacher, however, there is scarcely any time to browse through the literature and cull out the valuable findings of researchers and educators. Thinking Teacher is launching this series with the intent of bridging this gap: we will bring to the readers of Teacher Plus the essence of one research paper in each article. Along with the gist of the paper, we will also suggest ways of putting into practice the main import of the paper through some strategies that can be implemented in the classroom. We invite your responses – if and when you do practice any of these strategies at thinkingteacher22@gmail.com.

“How on earth do I manage this undisciplined class?” As a teacher, have you ever asked yourself (or your colleagues) this question?

If you have, you would surely be interested to know what researchers have to say about the subject. Here is a paper from the Iranian Journal of Language Teaching Research by Rahimi et al (2015) titled The role of teachers’ classroom discipline in their teaching effectiveness and students’ language learning motivation and achievement: A path method that offers several important insights for any teacher.

The authors declare that a teacher’s disciplining strategies not only determine the effectiveness of her class, but also affect the students’ perception of the professional adequacy of the teacher. They focus on classes where English is taught (in Iran) as a foreign language (EFL) because they state that creating a caring environment is as important (in the learning of a foreign language) as controlling it. Further, a teacher needs to motivate his students to learn a foreign language and this demands that he maintains a caring atmosphere in the class. Also, students are called upon to talk, argue, and discuss far more in language classes than in many other subjects. So this could give room for ‘indiscipline’: even if it is only because the resulting noise is perceived so.

The paper has three main aims:

  • To investigate the strategies used by EFL teachers to discipline their classes.
  • To examine the relationship between these strategies and the
    • teacher’s effectiveness,
    • students’ motivation and achievement.
  • To find predictors of motivation and achievement by making statistical tests in specially designed paths.

When I took up this paper for study, I was particularly struck by the third aim above. If we can predict which path will be more effective in motivating our students to learn English well, wouldn’t that be wonderful?

The authors begin with a definition of the word discipline (“to teach someone to obey rules and control their behaviour or to punish someone in order to keep order and control” – Longman dictionary) and draw the connection between punishment and discipline. Coercive or punitive strategies have been found by many researchers to be far less effective than relationship-based strategies, they assert. In the latter, there is discussion between the teacher and students about the reasons for demanding a certain type of behaviour, or an inability by students to comply with such demands. In the former, students are isolated or punished with the hope that such treatment will make them realize that they erred. The authors cite studies that show that caring teachers who use relationship-based strategies are actually perceived by their students as being more effective teachers. Students tend to behave more responsibly when their teachers adopt strategies such as:
• Involving students in decision-making.
• Recognizing positive shifts in behaviour in students.
• Making attempts to understand students’ personal feelings and attitudes.

Thinking Teacher aims to awaken and nurture the reflective practitioner within each teacher. By taking (action) research out of the classroom, Thinking Teacher develops the (action) researcher in the teacher. And then, by bringing research into the classroom – as in this series – Thinking Teacher’s goal is to help teachers to build deep inquiry and rich learning into the teaching process. Neeraja Raghavan is the Founder Director of Thinking Teacher www.thinkingteacher.in.

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