Virginia Commonwealth University
September 17, 2009
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By Phyllis L.M. Haynes, M.S. Ed.

Bulletin boards are decorated, textbooks are in place on students’ desks and the realization that summer is over has finally sunk in. Every teacher plans for a successful year in September; however, as the year begins many teachers find themselves needing to try new positive behavior management strategies. If this sounds like you, take comfort in knowing that you are not alone!

teacher writing on whiteboard

When classroom teachers use effective instructional strategies — such as choral response and errorless learning — they create an atmosphere where the academic and behavior skills of students improve.

Most teachers must address student behaviors such as calling out, falling asleep and noncompliance with reasonable requests. Student behavior can disrupt learning and create a negative climate in the class, so it is important to address negative student behaviors quickly and in a positive, effective manner. The best way to deal with negative student behavior is to be proactive — so that the behavior does not occur in the first place.

The phrase “an ounce of prevention” goes a long way when it comes to classroom management. Effective instruction helps to facilitate a positive learning environment which, in turn, reduces negative behaviors (Haydon, Borders, Embury, & Clarke, 2009). When classroom teachers use effective instructional strategies, the academic and behavior skills of at-risk students improve and, in turn, other students’ classroom behaviors improve as well. This is what we call a win-win situation. The use of effective instructional strategies is one method to create an atmosphere early in the school year that can set the stage for a stellar school year. An important component of effective instruction is frequently providing students with an opportunity to respond (OTR) during lessons (Stichter et al.,  2009). An OTR can be defined as the interaction between an academic prompt and a student’s response.

This article features four research-based strategies — choral response, response cards, errorless learning and wait time — that can be used to provide students with meaningful opportunities to respond (see Figure 1 below). These opportunities to respond build student confidence, create a positive classroom environment and reiterate that all students can learn given the appropriate supports. The following scenario shows how Mr. Hudson, an elementary school teacher, has embedded OTR into his teaching.

Figure 1

Choral responding

Why does it work?

  • All students respond to the teacher’s question
  • Responses are in unison and quick
  • Allows teacher to check for understanding
  • Reduces off-task behaviors
  • Increases attentiveness

How to implement

  • Develop questions with one correct answer
  • Ask questions with short (one- to three-word) answers
  • Provide a wait time (thinking pause) of three seconds between asking the question and prompting the students to respond
  • Use predictable phrases or clear signals to cue students to respond, such as “get ready”
  • Present questions at a fast, lively pace

Response cards (personal white boards)

Why does it work?

  • All students have an opportunity to respond to questions using personal white boards
  • Maintains student interest while waiting their turn to answer
  • Teacher spends more time on learning versus redirecting

How to implement

  • Prepare questions that have answers that are limited to one- or two-word responses
  • Provide clear instructions and model use of the cards
  • Quickly assess student responses
  • Offer the correct answer and provide an explanation

Errorless learning

Why does it work?

  • Reduces incorrect responding
  • Student has a high probability of responding correctly
  • Reduces choices, distractions and unnecessary information

How to implement

  • Identify patterns of incorrect responses
  • Imbed the correct answer (prompt) in the question stem to increase the probability of a correct answer
  • After the student consistently answers correctly with the embedded prompt, provide two or more possible answers and require the student to select one
  • Gradually fade prompts until the students can answer the questions with no extra prompts
  • Move on to more difficult problems

Wait time

Why does it work?

  • It allows students to process the question and retrieve prior information

How to implement

  • Cue students and count “1-100, 2-100, 3-100, 4-100, 5-100” after asking a question

Haydon, Borders, Embury, & Clarke,  2009.

Mr. Hudson has decided to incorporate the use of OTR strategies in his lessons. He wants to determine OTR strategies that will increase student engagement and reduce off-task behaviors in his third grade class. Using the Enhanced Scope and Sequence Plus, he plans his lessons.

In language arts, Mr. Hudson guides students in choral response as they review vocabulary words and definitions. He says, “Get ready! The line that divides the earth into the Western and Eastern Hemispheres is called the …?” When cued, students respond in unison, “prime meridian. “He uses choral responding with all the vocabulary words.

He uses errorless learning to review history facts. First, he reviews student warm-up exercises to determine patterns of incorrect responses in student work. He notices that students are having difficulty remembering the continents. He then plans three “rounds” (see Figure 2 below): 

  • Round one involves Mr. Hudson using his overhead projector to show a question. He embeds the correct answer in the question stem. 
  • Round two occurs when students consistently answer the questions correctly with the embedded prompt. Mr. Hudson then provides two or more possible answers and requires students to select the correct one.   
  • Round three involves Mr. Hudson continuing to ask questions, gradually fading the prompts until students can answer the questions with no extra prompts.

Figure 2

Round one

  1. What are the seven continents?
  1. North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, Antarctica
  2. North America, South America
  3. None of the above

Round two

  1. Which continents have warm weather?
  1. South America, Africa, Antarctica
  2. Africa, Antarctica, Australia
  3. North America, Europe, Asia

Round three

  1. Which continent has the largest desert?
  1. North America
  2. Africa
  3. U.S.

Mr. Hudson uses both response cards and wait time to reinforce math facts. He tells students he will ask a question. They wait 10 seconds as they think about the question asked and recall relevant prior knowledge. When asked to write, they write their answers on their individual dry erase boards. With each response, Mr. Hudson glances at the boards and quickly records on a sticky note on his clipboard which students may require additional remediation.

The strategies presented here support student learning and serve as proactive techniques to reduce instructional frustration, which often leads to inappropriate behaviors. These strategies can be used in all classroom environments and require minimal materials and planning time. Implementing effective instructional strategies such as OTR benefits students by offering ways to practice, as well as demonstrate knowledge, and also serves as a preventive measure for common classroom disturbances. Teachers will find these strategies well worth the little effort when they see behavioral and academic improvements in their students.

Haydon, T., Borders, C., Embury, D., & Clake, L. (2009). Using effective instructional delivery as a classroom management tool. Beyond Behavior, 18(2), 12-17.

Stichter, J., Lewis, T., Whittaker, T., Richter, M., Johnson, N., & Trussell, R. (2009). Assessing teacher use of opportunities to respond and effective classroom management strategies: Comparisons among high- and low-risk elementary schools. Journal of Positive Behavior Intervention, 11(2), 68-81.



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