Is discipline the best way to achieve an effective management of classroom learning?

Term Paper, 1993
10 Pages, Grade: A


Is discipline the best way to achieve an effective management of classroom learning?

This essay attempts to engage in a philosophical, psychological and sociological exploration of the misconceptions and the truths of the statement: "Effective management of classroom learning can best be achieved through discipline." This essay proposes that there are varying kinds of discipline, types that can be counterproductive to the processes of education and learning and others which can result in increased and effective management of teaching and learning within the classroom. The topic under discussion is thus considered a highly contentious and debatable issue.

This essay addresses the underlying assumptions of the statement which suggest that there are other methods of effective management of classroom learning, but discipline is the best approach. In addition, it explores the subsequent logical conclusion that if, indeed, discipline is the best method for effectively managing classroom learning; it follows that the best disciplinarians will achieve optimum learning with students of their classrooms.

In conventional usage discipline means, “to bring under control, to educate or train.” There is a distinction to be made between varying types of discipline prevailing within schools. These can be placed easily into two categories; good: effective discipline and bad: ineffective discipline. Phillips, Weiner, and Haring explain that good discipline is not a matter of punishment or a brutal attitude. It emphasizes the development of a structure which is conducive to the child’s learning, achieving and developing emotional and social maturity.

They posit that good discipline in schools helps to promote self-discipline as a habitual way of behaving. Self-discipline contributes to self-assurance and thus affects one’s outlook and confidence, and as such, it is conducive to learning. On the other hand, they refer to bad discipline as discipline that is too harsh, too quickly administered, and too defeating (Haring, Weiner, and Phillips, 1960). Close and prolonged observation within many public and private schools at both primary and secondary levels would perhaps reveal varying interlacing of both good and bad discipline systems.

Few would argue that maintaining good discipline is a necessary prerequisite to establishing a school or classroom climate that is conducive to learning. This belief is conceded to by Curving and Mendler. Coleman studied the effects of private versus public school education. After surveying 58,728 sophomores and seniors in 1,016 High Schools, he concluded that private schools do a better job of educating than public schools. Coleman underscored the ability of private schools to maintain better discipline and provide more challenging academic demand. Sociologist Etzioni has tied the poor performance of students to a lack of self-discipline especially intellectual self-discipline. He notes that the single most important difference between more effective and less effective schools is the disciplinary structure. He also argues that a disciplinary structure is most effective when it is accepted by students as legitimate rather than merely imposed from above. Dreikurs and Cassel (1972) highlighted that without discipline very little learning could take place and it is what you learn that allows you to be free.

Parents, educators and the general public consider the teachers’ role in classroom management as focal to its effective operation. Teachers are expected to maintain civil behaviour in the classroom so as to ensure that they facilitate the child’s educational rights in the classroom as defined by Charles (1989). These rights are as follows:

The right to a learning environment that is appropriately well-ordered, peaceful, safe, non-threatening and conducive to learning. The right to have a caring well-prepared teacher who instructs well and also limits students ‘inappropriate self-destructive behaviour. The right to choose how to behave with the full understanding of the consequences that invariably follow the choices (Charles C.M. 1989).

Fine and Walkenshan (1977) highlighted the tremendous impotence of some teachers as disciplinarians faced with a chaotic classroom of disorganized children. It, therefore, follows that when there is a predominance of teachers who are unable to assert their authority to organize discipline within the classroom, students’ rights will be infringed upon and learning would be adversely affected. Charles (1989) presented a solution to such a problem when he posited that the major question for teachers is not whether they can have discipline but rather how they can combine what is known about discipline into effective systems that meet both their needs and those of their students. He defines discipline as having three faces. Those three faces are preventive discipline, supportive discipline, and corrective discipline.

Recent educational research postulates that for teachers, discipline should suggest a range of practices that contribute to a well-managed classroom in which students enjoy going about the business of learning. Mastropiere and Scruggs (1987) suggest that creating and maintaining an orderly and productive environment are critical factors in determining teacher effectiveness. As evident from the research and empirical findings of educational studies, it seems undoubtedly imperative that teachers must consider the upholding of discipline within classrooms and the fostering of self-discipline within students as necessary and worthwhile to their teaching practice. It is thus suggested that teachers develop discipline systems, which reduce the possibility that inappropriate behaviour will occur, reinforce appropriate behaviour and lastly punish inappropriate behaviour to minimize recurrence.

To enter into the next phase of this discussion let us take for granted that a class has an optimum level of discipline prevailing, would it, therefore, follow that learning is maximized. Research indicates that teachers must be aware of and make visible what students are learning as students can mask being involved while essentially disengaged in from the material. Bloome, Puro and Theodurou (1989) refer to this as “procedural display and mock participation, when students and teachers engage in activities without being involved in the context's substance", when the control factor of students’ behaviour becomes a focal issue within the education system. Denscombe, (1985) observes that in schools with a low achievement orientation, the control element of the job can take on mammoth proportions and can comprise the core requirements for success as a teacher. Obviously, therefore under extremely adverse conditions a teacher who is good at control but no good at other skills associated with teaching, might, in fact, survive quite well and be regarded as competent on the basis of the control factor only.

Evertson; Harris (1991) affirm that effective classroom management must move beyond the control of behaviour. They denounce the preoccupation of practitioners who feature discipline as the number one concern of schools as spotlighted by the last 15 years of Gallup polls in the United States and various tabloids. They are convicted that future research needs to describe how to create supportive learning environments in schools that face complex and changing needs. They reveal that latest research moves away from a focus on controlling students’ behaviour and looks instead at teachers’ action to create, implement and maintain a classroom that supports learning (Johnson and Brooks, 1979; Brophy 1983; Doyle, 1986).

The association of learning with time is among the most consistent that education research reveals (Walberg 1988). Past research Karwelt (1988) indicate a number of time students spent learning the curriculum varies from school to school.

Research seems to reveal that effective management of classroom learning can best be achieved via appropriate pre-planning and sound teaching practices. Smith (1990) rallies that teachers must ensure that students experience an appropriate rate of success. They should engage in activities that are neither too easy nor too difficult as the former would result in boredom and the latter in frustration. It is suggested that rules be used as a powerful antecedent control technique because when developed and implemented properly they communicate in advance the expectations for classroom behavior and the consequences for any infraction. Experienced teachers and researchers note that the selection of appropriate instructional materials minimizes discipline problems in the classrooms. Researchers also share that lessons that are carefully planned and implemented may prevent a variety of problems in the classroom (Evertson and Emmer; 1982; Kounin; 1970). Gump, (1982) identified several strategies that teachers used to elicit high levels of work involvement and low levels of misbehaviour.

Smith, R. (1985), criticizes recent writing on education and schooling as tending to depict teaching as the deployment of skills and competent teachers as those who successfully manage their classes. Smith posits that such an approach is manipulative and destructive of the kind of pupil-teacher relationship conducive to any but the most trivial kind of learning. He calls for a reappraisal of the nature and basis of the teacher’s authority. He suggests paradoxically that many of the problems of discipline teachers meet may stem from inappropriate ways of treating pupils. Smith posits that education is a transaction between persons who have depth and declares that we ignore at our peril the role of feelings. He expresses a discomfort with the idea that managing and organizing can be separated from teaching and learning. He discerns this as being potentially dangerous since there is a constant tendency for the managing to determine the style and even the content of the teaching. He explains that many teachers oven the years have found that a class preoccupied in dictated notes is necessarily quiet and passive. Thus teachers incorporate this procedure more and more into their lessons. Such an activity, while evidently effective in managing the class keeping them quiet and amenable; it is demonstrated to be a poor teaching skill as far as actually learning anything is concerned. Few would claim that much, real learning takes place through or as a result of the dictating of notes. Smith reflects that at one extreme, management shades easily and inconspicuously into something more like “manipulation.” He analyses that children stand to learn all sorts of different things from various ways teachers manage their teaching. He notes that management of the manipulative sort is incompatible with educative learning. In his philosophical analysis, he examines that teaching which relies heavily on manipulation will make it impossible for the pupil if ever, to reflect on the process of his education in any realistic way. Holt (1969) refers to busywork as the incessant tasks that seem to have no virtue but that of keeping idle hands from mischief. Presently, it is these very tasks that can be blamed for numbing the intelligence and innovativeness of nimble-minded students. Smith examines that when children are given work to do supposedly because it is necessary for their education but really “simply as a means of controlling their behaviour and making life easier for the teacher such “busywork” must be counted as a species of manipulation.

The work of Willis (1977) makes clear the irrelevance of school learning for many working class boys, while writers like Scarle (1987) have illuminated the ethnocentric character of their curriculum and the radical reconstruction needed if minority pupils are to be involved in classroom learning. On another level, writers have considered traditional teaching models and examined the ways in which they can act to alienate pupils. The work of Barnes (1976 and 1977) has been seminal in showing how these modes are inimical to real personal learning which depends on much freer and more open kinds of communication. Glasser, Salmon, and Claire have proposed cooperative learning as major solutions to student misbehaviour and improved leaning needs.

Positive reinforcement is regarded by many psychologists as perhaps the best technique for modifying voluntary behaviour. Positive reinforcement has two basic functions it facilitates the acquisition of new behaviour and maintains behaviour once they are acquired. Empirical research thus demonstrates quite clearly that discipline per se does not produce an optimal level of learning within the classroom. Kounin found that in High schools, the type of desist, had no effect on the amount of misbehaviour exhibited by audience students. He found that the highest influence on behavior was high regard for the teacher coupled with high motivation to learn created maximum work involvement and minimum misbehaviour among students. Kounin concluded from his investigations that the teacher’s ability to manage smooth transitions and maintain momentum was more important to work involvement and classroom control than any other behaviour management technique.

Psychologists have associated learning with motivation. A critical examination of the statement that, “effective management of classroom learning is best achieved through discipline; reflect that in the replacement of the word “motivation”, for, “learning”, this statement appears even less plausible. Contemporary psychology Combs and Syngg; 1959, Combs 1965, Combs, Avila and Rurkey, 1971, postulate that an individual’s, behaviour will be consistent with his perception of the situation. A child who sees a teacher as being friendly and supportive will respond differently to the teacher than the child who sees the same teacher as an angry and a brutal person.

Stones, E. (1966) considers that the optimum atmosphere for learning will be one which provides adequate intellectual stimulations. Curvin and Mendler express their conviction that the training for obedience in schools is a personal and societal risk with dire consequences for everyone. They believe that obedience even when it works is not philosophically, psychologically or sociologically defensible. They believe that obedience models are far more interested in keeping students in line rather than maintaining their dignity. They acknowledge that obedience may have short-term benefits such as offering teacher’s relief, a sense of power an oasis from the constant bombardment of defiance. They caution that in the long run, obedience leads to student’s immaturity, a lack of responsibility, an inability to think clearly and critically, a feeling of helplessness that is manifested by withdrawal, aggressiveness or power struggles. Curvin and Mendler observed that schools with the most effective discipline and strongest faculty support are those with an active principal who respects staff and student diversity.


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Is discipline the best way to achieve an effective management of classroom learning?
The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine
In Service Diploma in Education Programme
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Paulette Reefer (Author), 1993, Is discipline the best way to achieve an effective management of classroom learning?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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