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ESE502 : The Class : Structure : Lesson4

On-Line Lesson: Structure

Vertebrate or non vertebrate -- backbone or no backbone,
It's one way we divide up the animal kingdom.
That's a helpful concept in looking at structure in the classroom.
Do you wish to have more of an internal or external structure in the classroom?


 Internal discipline suggests that we build student self control, that we find mechanisms to strengthen student abilities and desires to build self and community. It places emphasis on building the individual, trusting in students to be able to learn to be respectful of self and others and places value on each person as an independent, self discipline, self controlled part of a community. It suggests that each youth has special gifts and skills that can and should be honored, apart from what is being valued in state or national assessments, and that those must not be lost in our efforts to achieve literacy. There is an implicit understanding that structure is critical, and that each student can be taught to balance external demands with internal drives and motivations.

External discipline recognizes the importance of an authority figure, places a high value on compliance, regulation and product. It is more of an "assembly line" idea rather than honoring individuality. It also suggests a belief that we can and should train people. At an extreme, it results in regimentation. It is effective when community skil ls are not desired, when one outcome or expectation is valued or needed and when obedience to authority is critical. It is also essential while placing an internal discipline plan in place.

Both types of structure have strengths and drawbacks.

StrengthsDraw backs
Internal More resiliency
Feeling of ownership for student
More motivating, self empowering
Developing life long learner
Greater range of creativity once structure is mastered
When alone, still "behaves"
Learning has personal meaning
Takes more time to establish
Teacher has less feeling of control
Quite complex, sometime chaotic
Test scores may suffer initially
Individual needs must be honored rather than "obedience" mentality
Initially, very high maintenance
Punishment is destructive, unusable
StrengthsDraw backs
External More focused & definite for teacher
Feeling of ownership for teacher
Teacher feels in control
Simplified time management and curriculum planning
Set and work for specific outcomes
Works well for "average" students
Many students rebel
Student has less feeling of ownership
Student motivation may be low
When alone, typically misbehaves
Test scores suffer in the long run
Drop out rate increases with age
Many students strongly dislike school
May be emotionally abusive for some

To provide the best possible learning environment, we learn to utilize both types of structure. The master teach has a knack for balancing the needs of self and student. This is reflected in the way structure is taught and shared, and the flexibility the teacher and students feel in interchanging one for the other, addressing the best good of commu nity, content, and personal gratification.

Building the Structure

Building a structured classroom is a developmental process and begins and ends with structure and consistency. True democracy consists of both rights and obligations. If either is downplayed, then personal freedom suffers. In exercising our own rights we obey the laws and thus protect our own and our neighbors' peace. Being human, we can recall times when human weakness and desires combined and we broke the law. At times we were caught and suffered the sanctions or consequences of breaking the law. Sometimes we were not caught, but suffered consequences that were a natural part of damaging the rights or property of others. In those instances, we suffered the natural consequences of our actions. We were able to gain a clear linear recognition of l aw and a growing awareness of how freedoms and choices could be curtailed.

As we matured, we began to make our own set of laws and rules, recognizing patterns of cause and effect. Many of these rules were not codified into law or written down. Some dealt with relationships, some with the foods we could and could not eat, some came from "on high" and were given out and collected upon by adults and authorities. If the imposed rules seemed too weighty, too autocratic, it began a thought process of "me and them." "Me" is the victim, the one who must take orders. "Them", the enemy, becomes a focal point for future action. "Someday I'll be in charge, and then I'll show them." Even those of us who assumed a pseudo stance of compliance, who recognized the value of pleasing others, had many scripts written for getting around the rules and for taking the place of "them." It certainly did not teach a democratic view of life.

So, in the classroom, in order to set up a discipline system based on freedom and obligation, law and consequences, we must establish a structure of freedoms inherent in being a member in a democratic setting. To be effective, it will be clearly defined. There will be a fully developed set of procedures, practices, written rules and consequences. The classroom setting can neither initiate nor perpetuate the "me and them" or autocratic feeling if we are facilitating students taking on the responsibility of being life long learners


In addition, there must be a teacher at the helm who is aware of self, of unspoken expectations and aware of unspoken ideas and belief systems from the community. Those undercurrents are some of the most viable rules and regulations in our lives. We refer to them as "norms" and they are the true parameters, despite what may be written and posted as the rules. At times we admit to them as a bias or a script. Regardless of the names we give them, they are strong imperatives and make it difficult to maintain a democratic process. A few examples of hidden feelings that emerge in verbalizations follow:

  • "He's talking through his nose. I hate that! He must be dumb if he can't even blow his nose."
  • "That kid's doesn't change his clothes. Talk about low life. Trash!"
  • "If you can't figure out that the pencil needs to be sharpened, you'll never get through algebra."
  • "His sister was the best student I had. I can't wait to have him in class."

The feelings often become reflected as a pecking order - Larry comes to school having been bawled out by Dad, so teacher becomes the butt of retaliation. Teacher becomes upset so s/he overreacts to Jason's behavior and Jason (the nasal kid) "gets it"; Jason becomes enraged so two neighboring students, usually friends, get upturned from their seats, --- and the pattern moves through the classroom like pocket billiards. Much as each of us wants to be fair, consistent, above reproach in our emotional stability, human beings are not as naturally consistent or logical as we would like. However, by addressing norms, reviewing and recognizing biases and world or student vie ws, we add to our consistency and become better able to provide the democratic setting and model egalitarian demeanor.

Natural Laws

Further, there are many natural laws, especially those dealing with relationships and ethical practice toward one another, which have not been codified. Some have not been written down because they are passed through oral tradition and modeling.

  • "If you hold the knife that way you will get cut."
  • "Don't talk to strangers, you might get hurt"
  • "If you jump off the building you'll break your leg."
  • "Look people in the eyes when you talk or they'll think you're hiding something."
  • "Don't run in the halls."

These unwritten rules, sometimes also called mores, often become the practices and procedures that are explained and expected by the family or in the classroom. The more thoroughly we introduce them and practice them, the more savvy the students' behavior will seem. The better we explain them and the natural consequences which led to the beliefs, the easier it will be to have students accept them, practice them, and pass them along to peers. Some have not been written down because they are multi-dimensional and developmental in nature. They are difficult to conceptualize and hard to put into words. As a person grows in self understanding and moral reasoning, the meanings change. The perspective and value alter. It is impossible to legislate affairs of the heart. It is inappropriate to define the rules of human interchange in a narrow dimension which delays further insights. The Golden Rule can serve as an example:

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Layers of meaning or connotation:

  • "Get the first jab in, then duck."
  • "You be good to me and I'll be good to you."
  • "How would you feel if your sister took the biggest piece?"
  • "Cast your bread upon the waters and it will come back buttered."
  • "What comes around goes around."
  • "Whatever good I can do, I will do, for I shall not pass this way again."
  • "If a man asks you to go with him a mile, go with him twain."
  • "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country."

The difficulty inherent in the development of meaning and understanding of such complex ideals and rules of human interaction gives further impetus to the importance of careful thought in initiating a democratic discipline process. We want to utilize a process of education which furthers development of insights and the growth of the student, the growth of understanding about self, about human nature and acquisition of social competence.

The successful classroom cannot be legislated. One set of rules or ways to manage students cannot be mandated because it is a complex, very personal, evolving situation. Initially, the students cannot be given responsibility to establish the setting and the rules, because they must be tutored in the skills before they can be expected to envision their importance. And students, through our work in the classroom, will be gaining a better understanding of rules, of responsibility, the onus of ownership before they can make informed decisions about the setting for cradling and nurturing the democratic spirit and practice of honor and justice.

The effective educator recognizes the complex interplay of rules, routines, norms and human needs. These are carefully considered and included as rules, practices and procedures as the democratic classroom is initiated.

These factors are interwoven and embedded in one another. As we recall and review the positive and negative modeling, recalled from parents, authority figures and teachers, we gather clues about verbalized beliefs as well as submerged behaviors we act out spontaneously. These become the basis for explicating norms and hidden beliefs or expectations which creep in and color the classroom environment and which catch us up in behaviors we would not normally exhibit. They also point up and clarify some we use without thought and when under pressure. Once we have established them for ourselves we will be more vigilant in recognizing and controlling them. We will be more alert to them as they surface in the classroom, too.

The rest of this lesson has a number of practical or PRAXIS sections. They provide opportunities to think about structure and building blocks for ways to change or strengthen structure in the classroom. These are not literal assignments and none of them is necessary for completion of the course. You may even wish to do them as the extra component for your "A".

You can use them to construct the course to meet your own needs. If you decide to do some of these activities, remember to keep track of the points and add them to the objectives you are completing. You can share the experiences at WebCT with the professor and fellow students, or email your outcomes to the professor when completed.

Praxis One

  1. List the rules that will be important in the classroom
    • Keep them positive -- eg. Respect one another
    • Establish a global sense for the rule -- eg. Maintain a learning atmosphere
    • Stay with two to six rules

  2. List procedures and practices that will facilitate sharing the day and enhance learning. Mentally walk through a day or observe a classroom in session and record instances of repetitive behaviors, lining up, passing papers, sharpening pencils, et c. Maintain an on-going log to expedite this process in future years.

  3. List the student needs that are likely to emerge and ways that the setting can work to meet the needs of students automatically. For example:

    • Middle school students seem compelled to talk.
                 This will be addressed in the classroom by ---

    • Teens tend to get into power struggles.
                 This will be addressed in the daily routine by ---

  4. Explicate norms and address their impact in setting up and maintaining a classroom.
    • Talk with others about belief systems and biases.
    • Focus on beliefs:
        about teaching,
              about students, and about how we learn,
                   how classrooms should / might be run,
                        about the differences between power and control,
                   with respect to punishing, just rewards, getting even,
              evaluating outcome,
        the role of the teacher.

  5. Use the exercise "Explicating Norms" to initiate paired or group discussion.

  6. Write an essay responding to "Developing personal responsibility for education".

  7. Using the working constructs, "Effective Roles - Democratic Classroom", choose one of the descriptions of effective teacher and list ways an observer might recognize that the teacher had implement one of the norms described.

  8. Using the working constructs, "Effective Roles - Democratic Classroom", choose one of the descriptions of effective student and list the ways a teacher would prepare students to utilize and value that role.

Establishing a positive classroom climate

Though we give lip service to the notion that dangling a carrot works better than brandishing a stick, our school settings may not always reflect that. Perhaps it comes from modeling, from our experiences in the classroom, from the notion that structure and punishment go together. Maybe it comes from getting caught up in the bustle of getting the day completed, objectives met, students taught. However it happens, the classroom may not reflect a spirit of reward, of positive excitement and positive power. So as the teacher works to describe outcomes , it is crucial to spend time developing the privileges and positive empowering elements of the classroom.

In keeping with a democratic setting, it is important to verbalize the privilege of education. It is good for students to know that the whole community is working together to fund their opportunity to spend time in the classroom. It is important to self esteem for them to see themselves as a bright hope, worthy of the love and support of community and country. It is just as important to self esteem that they see themselves as being responsible to the community for these educational opportunities. By sharing a view of education which underscores privilege, we help students to recognize the value of the experience. By sharing the idea that they "get" to go to school, are "allowed" to learn and study, we put a different light on education and learning. We also build a perspective of appreciation and gratitude. Gratitude is a magnificent gift which can be bestowed on youth, but it is not automatic. It is a frame of mind which must be carefully developed and reinforced. It is essential to moral devel opment and to the development of an appreciation of others. It is a crucial step in moving beyond "what's in it for me" ego development. It is a vital moving force for assisting the student to view life as more than a selfish pursuit and more of a social, democratic experience, and it is sweet!. .

"Sweet is the breath of vernal shower, The bee's collected reassures sweet, Sweet music's melting fall, But sweeter yet, The still small voice of gratitude." - T. Gray

Building the idea of education being a privilege also gives a sense of reward just from being a participant in the process. Helping the students to recognize and then revere the teacher for the love, time and care bestowed on students is important. It develops warmth and relationship if teachers build an atmosphere which reflects respect of human beings, respect of self and provides opportunities for expressing that respect. In one sense this is an attitude, but it can be developed through specific ac tions and communication patterns.

Praxis Two

The following activities are suggested for implementation by those who have access to a classroom or who are initiating democratic practice in the classroom.

  1. List the privileges of being involved in the classroom. These are examples.

    • I get assistance with my learning
    • I can take care of my physical needs at any time
    • I am going to learn about . . .(curriculum scope and sequence)
    • I have access to books and materials to add depth to my understanding
    • I have access and computers and learning tools
    • I have my own private space for working
    • I have my own desk, chair and learning materials
    • I get to spend time with my friends, working and learning
    • I am permitted and encouraged to assist others
    • I can do additional work of my chooising as soon as I finish assignments
    • There are things I can take home with me so that I can learn more
    • I have opportunities to share my ideas with others
    • I have access to learning centers and the internet as soon as I have daily assignments completed.

  2. Remind students that all the privileges stay with them as long as they are participating productively and honorably in the learning community. This is designated by their names being on the honor board.

  3. Ask youngsters to add to the class lists as they think of privileges.

  4. Write a class letter to the school board, the community fathers, thanking them for the school, the tax dollars, the help in learning.

  5. Start a box for "I am grateful" statements and allow students to pull out entries and read them during rest breaks in the day.

  6. Provide students with time to share the joys they are experiencing and to compliment the teacher and each other for good work, kind and loving actions.


Once the rules are considered and established for the classroom, the teacher attends to the sanctions. All of us are motivated by outcomes, by rewards as well as a wish not be be punished or negatively impacted by actions. Youngsters often have difficulty seeing around situations to visualize the likely outcome of actions, misdeeds, failure to complete a job. Some of this is due to cognitive development, some is a lack of life experience. [Children who have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, or who were "crack" babies are especially delayed in this area and may not be able to learn cause-effect]. Rules without consequences have little value. This insight was well described by a teacher in a staff development meeting:

    The other day there were cars flying by going 75 and 80 miles per hour on the expressway. The drivers seemed intent on driving and oblivious to the signs posting 55 as the speed limit. Suddenly, the highway was congested and I found myself needing to move into the fast lane due to all the cars slowing around me. As I set my blinker to make the lane change, I saw a Highway Patrol car moving up in the lane. It was clear what had slowed traffic. Having gotten a ticket for speeding earlier that year, I was obeying the speeding law. Others around me had been less concerned.

    I thought about what would be happening if officers just gave a nod to those who broke the law, or a stern look, maybe stopping them and yelling for a few minutes. At that moment I began to realize the importance of consequences being established for every law and those consequences being well understood and consistently carried out.

    If it is illegal to park, but there is no sanction, then the rule is pointless. If congress passes a law mandating education to children four years old, but includes no sanction - neither money to fund the program nor penalties for failing to begin the program, then few children will ever see a classroom. I determined at that moment to try to carry that principle of rules and consequences into my classroom and share it with my students.

It is important for the teacher to assist students as they reason through the possible consequences of actions. There are a number of factors that contribute to the slow development of students recognizing or cognitively thinking about the results of actions. Even those patterns which have become second nature are often unreasoned. Many things we feel anxious about are left over responses or consequences of actions which affected us deeply, but thoughts which we did not consciously produce.

  • "I'm not going near that dog. One bit me once when I was three."
  • "I hate birds. One flew into my face when I was a baby."
  • "I'm not going near the water. My sister almost drowned in a public pool."
  • "I can't do math. I got bad grades in math ever since I got the mumps."

In the earliest form of moral reasoning (pre-moral) it is getting caught which constitutes doing the wrong thing. The action itself has little meaning if it does not cause adult disapproval. Helping youngsters to recognize and understand the importance of actions, of seeing options, recognizing potential outcomes is a long process. Assisting the student to move from "how does this impact me", to "who will be affected by this act" is a long term goal, something that will take patience, insight, and many years of experience. Actively seeing options and making informed choices is a life long goal. It is also a vital part of having and maintaining good mental health and developing meaningful long term relationships with friends and family.

Since it is difficult for students to see the ramifications or to attribute moral meaning to most deeds, it is important for the teacher to point out consequences, both good and bad and verbalize about them. The consequences need to be logical or natural. It is important to show the connection between an action or rule and the consequence that follows. Even with those consequences which are established, it is helpful for the teacher to provide cues and prompts about the impending consequences of acts. When a consequence naturally occurs or is a logical extension of behaviors, it does no harm for the teacher to be sympathetic about the predicament of the student. Certainly demeanor which projects "I told you so" or "You asked for it" detracts from the opportunity the student has of learning to cope with choices and outcomes. It also produces the feeling of punishment.

It is important to deliberate about the role of teacher, as an executive in a democratic setting. Experience has often cast the teacher as the enforcer and cast a sense of rule by hickory stick - enemy of childhood. In the democratic setting, the role of teacher as guardian seems much more apt and more reasonable. There is a legitimacy in the construct that is both natural and comforting. It is a role we can respect and appreciate for ourselves, something we can feel is a worthy and hono rable model for students, a position well suited to passing on the torch of knowledge, keeper of the keys of freedom.

Praxis Three

These are suggested activities. Feel free to complete them and send them to the professor. They provide a natural progression of activities to facilitate proactive discipline.

  1. List the consequences for breaking classroom rules.

    • Keep them natural and logical
    • Define how freedoms or choices were curtailed
    • Focus on restitution - to the person, to the learning environment

  2. Establish a procedure for students to add to the list of logical consequences as they develop insights.

  3. Define the action role of teacher, focusing on the idea of teacher as guardian.

  4. Develop a consequence process which focuses on rewards and highlights positive achievement. If possible develop it to be self propelled.

  5. Using the PEPSI materials in Chapter Three, review the moral reasoning level of students in the class

    • Work to recognize the reasons used to justify behaviors
    • Listen for references to "fair" and define what is meant by student use of it
    • Identify student ability to take a second person perspective

  6. Complete the worksheet "Developmental Discipline." Review rules for consistency with the norms that have emerged. Review the student and teacher roles and write positive and negative consequences which are most likely to facilitate develop ment and continuation of those roles.


The classroom setting is likely to appear radically altered by these subtle changes. For some teachers change signals anxiety, just as it does for some students. Remembering how much learning means to us, and seeing the changes as learning, reflecting , growing, and developing adds energy and excitement. Recognizing an opportunity for greater effectiveness, stronger relationship to students, deeper meaning and service to society balances with the discomfort of change. The rest of this hands on materi al outlines the processes and steps which will help the excellent practitioner. The suggested changes are a blue print. In each classroom there will be original ideas, and personally stronger, more efficient ways to move toward democratic discipline.

It may be helpful if a cadre of teachers form a partnership to discuss the changes and provide support and insights as the implementation progresses. It is vital to remember the partnership with community and family and enlist assistance and insights fro m these members as well. Great teachers know, as business leaders are learning, that some of the clearest perspective and freshest ideas come from students. Providing appropriate times and places for student input and perspectives helps as well. All th ese supports can assist in the journey to a rebirth of the meaning of education, a commitment to support education, the profession of teaching, the vision of democracy taught and honored in the schools.

Praxis Four

Positive Structure

  • moving management from teacher directed to student coordinated
  • conducting activities in such a way that students actively engage in them
  • managing the classroom so that opportunities for disruption are minimized

  1. Note and discuss those areas which feel shaky or which will emerge as later objectives in implementation.

  2. Review the included Parent Handbook Summary. Revise as needed and addmaterials essential for personal use or for publication in the school handbook. Consider using the "Statue of Liberty" classroom work page as a summary to be used in conjunction wit h this material.

Preparing the Classroom

    Arrange and organize classroom

    Clarify expectations for behavior

    Include different modalities - whole class presentation, lecture, discussion,

      teacher led small group, coop. learning, independent or project work seat work, transitional activities,

    Develop work procedures - communication and recall of assignments, make-up work

      from absence, incomplete or poor quality work, homework, monitoring own work, group work, assisting those with difficulties, negotiating assignments, cooperative learning, individualized activities, centers - art, music, science, reading

    Provide feedback to students about progress, grades, failure, record keeping

    Plan consequences - rewards and results of choices

    Communicate expectations and practice expected behaviors

    Explore and develop relationship skills - self-esteem, PEPSI, individual needs, teacher-student camaraderie,

    Process education- encourage social skills, life skills, study skills, communication skills

Preparing students for Responsible Participation
    Consider students' concerns

    Lead the class

    Set rules (when possible, together) and agree upon them and what they mean

    Describe choices of roles and consequences or outcomes of those choices

    State rules positively - three to six, clarify meanings and provide rationale

    Set procedures and practice them as they come on line

    Give overview of the scope and sequence and work requirements

    Provide a method for students to communicate personal needs for changes in assignments and development of alternative learning activities

    Provide students with successes from the first day

    Provide students with means for self evaluation and validation of such practices

    Set up accountability and practice and reinforce the utilization from first day

    Establish norms which help establishment of relationships immediately

Work together to maintain good discipline
    Monitor entire classroom --- vigilance, propinquity, "withitness", eye contact, redirection

    Teach students self monitoring and recognize them for successes

    Handle inappropriate behaviors promptly and dispassionately

    Watch to see if teacher responses defuse or escalate behaviors

    Change actions if escalation occurs with troubled student or spreads to others

    Maintain unobtrusive presence during "on-task" time

    Communicate with parents from the first day - note home, call, etc.

    Model appropriate self control

    Call students to control self -Give "I" messages, nonverbal signals

    Prepare appropriate, meaningful work

    Use effective teaching skills -presentation, pacing, involvement and interaction, continuity, organization, enthralling, hands-on oriented

    Reward students using a wide range of modalities - social, tangible, intrinsic

    Develop ways to vent frustration without a punitive behavior set

Once you have completed the assignments you think will be helpful in thinking about structure and providing the right components for your personal taste and the needs of your students, you should:

Go on to Assignment 1: Essay on the readings.
Go back to Structure

E-mail J'Anne Ellsworth at


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