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Why some pupils need explicit teaching around behaviour (and how to do it)

Getting behaviour ‘right’ and pupils engaged and focused in the classroom can be an ongoing challenge; what works for one pupil, class or teacher won’t necessarily for another (and even if it works on Tuesdays, it doesn’t on Friday afternoons…).

There are so many strategies teachers can adopt to manage the behaviour in schools. By having a range of tools available, teachers can be better prepared for different circumstances. One such tool is explicit instruction –  a system of systematic, highly structured and sequenced steps to teach a specific skill, or in this case specific behaviours.

When teachers use explicit teaching they make it crystal clear to learners how they can be successful, rather than students discovering or constructing meaning for themselves.  Some believe that explicit teaching is inferior, authoritarian and old fashioned, leading to lower pupil outcomes and understanding. Others argue the approach is useful for procedural skills but does not adequately develop pupil comprehension, creativity or motivation [1].

Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction suggest that teaching new material is best done using small steps, and that the most successful teachers were the ones who spent time presenting small amounts of new material, allowing students to master each point before moving the learning on [2]. Explicit teaching where all students move on when they have mastered these small, incremental steps is seen by some to hamper progress, since scaffolding and differentiation become more challenging to implement successfully [3].

There is a plethora of evidence to suggest that explicit teaching significantly lightens cognitive load, freeing up pupils’ working memory [4]. This is particularly important for novices where direct instruction,  accompanied by practice and feedback, allows pupils to develop their understanding and skills without being cognitively overloaded. There is also research to suggest that managing cognitive load may actually lead to higher levels of motivation and engagement [5]

Wherever your views lay on the matter, it is clear that explicit teaching certainly lends itself well to ‘frontloading’ situations, where students are guided and reminded about applying necessary skills, strategies and behaviours required to be successful. Showing students what good behaviour looks like and how this behaviour is beneficial for them and those around them is an ideal situation to utilise this tool, not only in individual classrooms but across the organisation in order to embed a culture where good behaviour is the norm [6].

Whilst the vehicle of explicitly teaching behaviour is important, equally so is an understanding of where behaviour stems from in the first place. An awareness of pupils and their previous experiences is vital in understanding and managing behaviour in the classroom. BlueSky is pleased to launch a new module ‘Why some pupils need explicit teaching around behaviour (and how to do it).’ This module has been developed by Adele Bates, behaviour and education specialist, keynote speaker and author. Session one focuses on where behaviours may stem from and strategies for understanding what may be behind the disruptive behaviour. Session two focuses on how to explicitly teach behaviour in the classroom, as well as planning and evaluation strategies. Watch the Taster and learn how you can start to implement these strategies in your classroom today.

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[1] Ashman, G. (2021). ‘The power of explicit teaching and direct instruction.’ Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

[2] Rosenshine, B. (2010). ‘Principles of instruction; Educational practices series‘; Vol.:21; 2010. The International Academy of Education, 21(2010).

[3] Such, C. ‘The Main Weakness of Whole-Class, Explicit Instruction (and How to Minimise It).’ Primary Colour, 3 Mar. 2019, .

[4] Siregar, Nani Restati. ‘Explicit Instruction and Executive Functioning Capacity: A New Direction in Cognitive Load Theory.’ Journal of Education, 29 July 2021, p. 002205742110332, 10.1177/00220574211033256.

[5] Martin, A 2016, ‘Using Load Reduction Instruction (LRI) to boost motivation and engagement,’ British Psychological Society, Leicester UK

[6] Everett, L. ‘Teaching Behaviour Explicitly.’ Louis Everett, 21 Dec. 2021, Accessed 10 Sept. 2022.

Discover more BlueSky Learning Knowledge modules here

Ally Sousa

Author: Ally Sousa
Content Specialist, BlueSky Learning

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