April 13, 2007

Mary's quiet class

Mary is a teacher on a small town school. The school is seen as a problem school. One of her new classes in particular has a reputation of being a tough class. At the start of the new school year, the situation in the classroom is rather disorderly. Mary decides to make very clear what she expects of the pupils: behave well, be on time, do your homework, bring your book and your work, work quietly and do your best to get good grades. After some time the situation is improving in Mary's class. She has made clear what she expects of the pupils and they seem to go along with that more and more. After about half a year things start to fall back a bit, however. Pupils start to be less quiet, are late for class more often, behave less well-mannered and so forth. From other teachers Mary has heard that this class is very problematic in their lessons too, driving some of them almost to despair. She tries to solve this by being strict. She demands the class to be silent and corrects pupils when they behave badly. Frequently, she sends pupils out of the classroom. However, this strict approach doesn't seem to work too well. Pupils say to her she is much too strict and some pupils seem to get only more difficult and annoying.
On a certain day, at the beginning of the lesson, Mary asks herself desperately what she can do with this class. She doesn't know. Silently she sits in front of the class. Once again, the pupils behave very noisily. Mary stays silent and keeps watching for minutes at what happens and thinking about what to do. At some point, some pupils begin to ask: "Miss, why don't you say anything?" But Mary still does not know how speak effectively to the pupils so she decides to wait some more and stay silent until she knows what to say and do. The noisiness goes on for a few more minutes and then some children start to take out their books and start to work. It is becoming more quietly in the classroom. Mary is still silent. After another 5 minutes it has become really quiet. One or two pupils are still talking but most of them are working quietly. Yet another 5 minutes later it is completely silent in the classroom. Then, Mary starts talking: “I was very curious about whether you know what is expected of you in the classroom. I wasn't sure you knew. But now I know you do know. All of you are working quietly. You are doing exactly what's expected of you. I find that a very good sign." She gives some pupils some specific little compliments about their behavior. The pupils look at Mary, at first a bit surprised. But then some of them begin to smile. From that moment on, Mary has complete attention of the class. When one pupil begins to behave loudly again, he is corrected by other pupils almost right away. The rest of the lesson goes on very quietly and pleasantly. Mary is pleased with how this has worked.


  1. playing music in the backround, nice classical music helps alot.

    i used to be a student -- and i hated quiet classrooms.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. I reward my kids for doing the right things with ridiculous crazy praise. Quiet expectations do work. :)

  4. Superb read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a little study on that. And he actually bought me lunch because I discovered it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!


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