Those first few weeks of school can be rough when you have students who test authority and like to talk back or argue when given a reminder or asked to do a simple task. It is even harder in the beginning because you have not had time to build a mutual relationship of respect. While you are building this relationship, you need something simple but effective to stop any back talking in its tracks (especially before it spreads to other students). Today, I want to share with you the strategy I have used the past two years in my inner city classrooms.
Remember this is for when you are asking the student to do a task or reminding them of a procedure they should be following. This is not for instances where a lengthy discussion needs to be had because the behavior is more serious.
Step 1: Make a list of appropriate responses for the student to use when he or she is reprimanded or reminded to do a task. I don’t advocate reprimanding students in front of others, but sometimes the smallest reminders will set a student off to back talk (For example: Remember to wait in line over there or Math Notebook on your desk, please.) Depending on whether you have a small cluster of students who back talk or just one, you could make this list whole group or one on one. Last year, I did it one on one, two years before that I did it whole group. It all varies based on your particular needs. Here are some appropriate responses that students and I have come up with in the past.
Step 2: Reinforce and remind the student(s) to use appropriate responses calmly and firmly. This is the important part. I post the appropriate response list in a visible to the class or student. When the student starts to back talk, I calmly remind him/her to use an appropriate response. The thing about the responses is that the student still has control over something. This is key. I feel like if you force some students to say one particular response, it will become a power struggle. This way, the students remains in control of their responses and keeps their dignity in front of their peers.
Step 3: Allow the student a written outlet if they feel like you need to know something else. Sometimes a student wants to tell you their side of a situation but their history of back talking or their anger can cause it to come off the wrong way. You never want to make a child feel like what they have to say is not important to you. I have given a student a notebook or a pack of post it notes. If they need to tell me something, they may write it down and leave it on the corner of their desk. This way their voice is heard, but they are not disrespecting you by saying it in a rude or angry manner.
Both times that I have used this strategy, I only had to use for 1-2 months maximum. By then I had built a relationship with the student and this strategy was no longer needed. However, it was a huge life saver during those first few weeks of school when you are trying to set the tone for the rest of the year.
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