5.1 Reinforcing positive behaviour: first steps

The first steps Teachers take to solve a disruptions to the lesson are using body language and giving Tips. Most of the problems are solved by these first steps. These first steps do not cost students time and requires little effort from teachers.

If a student disrupts the lesson, I first use body language and then give a Tip. I count the number of Tips with an abacus. With this I indicate my limit in a friendly, fair and relaxed way. The result is a lesson with few disruptions.

Current approach:

What are my first actions to handle disruptions of a lesson?

Future approach:

In the future: Where do I start with to reinforce positive behaviour?

Introduction video


‘Reinforcing positive behaviour: first steps’ is one of the two modules of the perspective ‘Behaviour management strategies’ of Friendly and Fair Teaching (FFT).

Figure 57: Reinforcing positive behaviour (overview)

By ‘Using body language‘ and by ‘Giving a tip‘ it is no longer necessary to warn students verbally. These first steps replace warnings.

With this module you direct behaviour of a student who disrupts the lesson. These first steps have a preventive character. The result of these first steps is that you do not have to hand out a  ‘Future behaviour letter‘ too often. Handing out this assignment too often reduces its effectiveness.

You count the Tips with the abacus. The abacus is a folder with images with different colours.
With whole class teaching these colours resemble a traffic light:  green –  orange – red.
When working independently this is the colour change: Light yellow, dark yellow, orange and red.

In our overview you see that ‘Using body language’ and Tips are two steps at the bottom of the ‘Ladder of action‘. This ladders should be read bottom up. In this ladder all four actions of  reinforcing positive behaviour come together.

At the overview you see an estimation of how often it will be necessary to use the different steps.

1. The importance of reinforcing positive behaviour

1.1 First steps

The first steps using body language and Tips cost you and your students little time and energy. With the first steps you let your lesson run smoothly. Step 1 ‘Using body language’ can be taken as many times as necessary. With step 2, you limit the number of Tips with the abacus. When your students see the colour red in the abacus, they will stop disturbing. With whole class teaching, after the second Tip, students stop disrupting the lesson because your next step is handing out a ‘Future behaviour letter’. When working independently the students stop disturbing fellow students because they know that you will interrupt working independently and continue with whole class teaching.

1.2 No first steps

If you leave out the first steps of FFT and replace them by spoken warnings, it will not be possible to address all disruptions. Students notice this and disruptions become part of your lessons. When warning, you come across as dissatisfied.

1.3 Starting with first steps

First discuss the framework with your students, then it is clear for everyone how to behave. Of course, you yourself demonstrate behaviour that fits the framework. Only then do you have the right to monitor the framework. You guard the framework first by ‘Using body language’ and then by ‘giving a Tip’.

With the ‘Managing expectations folder‘ you indicate your limit for different approaches to teaching: whole class teaching or working independently. The pages of this folder have different colours, red indicates your limit.

In the introduction to ‘Behaviour management strategies’ we describe four options to start with reinforcing positive behaviour. In the third lesson using FFT, all options end up with the complete ‘Ladder of action’.

Addition to managing expectations for whole class teaching:

If my explanation takes too long for you, you have three escapes:

  1. Look out the window.
  2. Make a puzzle in silence.
  3. Read a book in the reading corner.

The first steps, Using body language and Tips, are effective if:

  • you discuss this with your students in advance.
  • you act predictably.
  • you have indicated the limit of Tips with the abacus.
  • you hand out a Future behaviour letter when the limit of Tips is crossed (See next steps).

2. Using body language – step 1

When you are explaining something to the whole class, you can communicate in two ways:

  1. Non-verbal: you use body language to ask students to stop disturbing the lesson and you use body language to communicate.
  2. Verbal: you explain a subject and sometimes you give Tip. Note: step 2 giving Tips is partly non-verbal.

By communicating both non-verbally and verbally, you speak two languages. Your students are then forced to keep an eye on you, otherwise they will miss your cues with body language.

If you explain something to the whole class(verbally) you expect your students to all pay attention. If you see a student disrupting your explanation, you interrupt your explanation and you reinforce positive behaviour bij first using body language (nonverbal). Usually the student then stops disrupting the lesson. When a student stops disrupting, give a compliment (thumbs up) to show you appreciate the behaviour change and you resume your explanation. If the student does not respond, you give a Tip.

Note: By ‘Using body language’ you avoid warning students verbally.

2.1 Using body language in practice

Figure 59: Using body language

‘Using body language’ is the first of four steps of the ‘Ladder of action’. With these two actions: ‘Using body language’ and ‘giving Tips’ you postpone the third step: handing out a ‘Future behaviour letter’. Also read this comprehensive manuals for whole class teaching and working independently.

When ‘Using body language’ you do not keep record of that. You can use body language as often as necessary. This in contrast to ‘Giving a Tip’ where you limit the number of Tips with the abacus. Both Tips (step 2) and Future behaviour letter (steps 3) are given as little as possible.

2.2 Different approach to whole class teaching or working independently

There are differences in the approache to teaching in regard to the use of body language. These differences we explain in two columns:

Whole class teaching

When a disruption of the lesson occur, take these steps:

  1. Interrupt your explanation, stand still, look at the student who is interrupting in a relaxed manner (wait a moment). When the student stops interrupting, give a nod of your head and continue your explanation.
  2. Take one step toward the student and join the other leg (wait a moment).
    When the student stops interrupting, give a nod of your head and continue your explanation.
  3. Make these gestures: attention and stop. If the student stops, make a thumb up gesture and continue your explanation.
  4. Move the Abacus one image forward, grab the Tip book and walk to the student.
    Speak the tip: “please pay attention” and write it in your Tip Book.
    If the student stops interrupting, give a nod of your head and continue your explanation.

So much for reinforcing positive behaviour using body language. Also see the entire manual in the introduction to ‘Behaviour management strategies’.

Working independently

  1. While your students are working independently, observe them and walk around. If a student disturbs one or more other students during independent work, you act as follows: You walk (slowly and leisurely) toward the student who is disturbing and look at the student. When you have eye contact, and the student stops disturbing (because you walked over) you give a nod.
  2. If a student does not stop, use these gestures:
  • Attention – silence (use this when someone is interrupting by talking)
  • Attention – stop (this is used when someone is interrupting by doing something).
  • If the student then stops disturbing, you give a compliment (thumbs up)

Advice when walking to a student

  • Stand next to a student and not across from a student.
  • Be careful not to stand too close to the student.

So much for the first steps see also the entire manual for reinforcing positive behaviour when working independently in the introduction of ‘Behaviour management strategies’.

3. Giving a tip – step 2

Figure 60: Tip 1 and 2 with whole class teaching (overview)

With FFT, a Tip is a positively worded instruction. Because you formulate Tips positively, the good atmosphere is maintained. Usually a student responds well to a Tip. By noting the Tips, you are implicitly indicate at a follow-up step. By counting the Tips with the abacus, you show your limit. When your limit is reached the image in the abacus has the colour red.

Tips are given in the manner of a sample. A student does not know when the sample involves him or her. This ensures that every student has a chance to be ‘directed’ by you. If students know that you are giving Tips in the manner of a sample, they all put in a good effort because most students do not want to get a Tip.

Tip capitalized

Why is the word Tip on this site capitalized? At FFT, a Tip is a non-committal and countable step by which you reinforce positive behaviour. After the last Tip you hand out an assignment. As a result, Tip is an important step of FFT.

A teacher education student who was taking a FFT course used the word Tip in this way for the first time. See ‘Credits‘ below and professional language.

Applicating tips in different situations

FFT distinguishes three situations in which you use Tips.

  1. Whole class teaching
  2. Working independently
  3. Doing homework

FFT’s advice is to start applying Tips in one of the three situations mentioned: If successful, apply Tips to one of the other situations as well.

Why replacing warnings with tips?

Why does FFT replace a warning with a Tip? If you stop disruptive behaviour with a warning, you sent out a negative message. You name the negative behaviour and come across as threatening. You make that threat more effective if you also look threatening! You frown and/or make yourself look big, you talk loud. If you warn often without taking any action, the warning has less and less effect.

Limited effect of warnings

By threatening, it is possible to get something done temporarily but chances are that students find this threat unpleasant. If you threaten often, students soon find you an unpleasant teacher. They feel restricted by you and perceive your threats as an annoying exercise of power. With a warning, you mirror negative behaviour of a student who bothers you, and thus you unconsciously reinforce negative behaviour. By threatening you enable your students (perhaps unconsciously) to influence your behaviour in a negative way. Moreover, by warning you take students who do want to pay attention out of their concentration.

FFT therefore advises every teacher to replace warnings with ‘Using body language’ and giving positively worded Tips. By doing so, you stay friendly and fair.

Noting and counting Tips

Writing down Tips in your ‘Tip Book‘ and counting Tips with the abacus gives a Tip more weight in the eyes of the students. The usefulness of note-taking is also evident in this saying:

Verba volent, scripta manent! (spoken words fly away, written words remain).

3.1 Second step: advise

On the page ‘Second step: advise‘ we pay attention to:

  1. counting Tips,
  2. listing Tips.
  3. how to make your students individually and collectively responsible for the smooth running of the lesson.

3.2 Who do give you tip?

Whole class teaching

During whole class teaching, you give a student a Tip who:

  • disrupts the lesson.
  • disturbs a fellow student.

Working independently

When students are working independently, you observe who is working well and who is not. When you see a student disturbing a fellow student or disturbing the whole group, you walk up to this student and give a Tip.

When working independently: If a student spends the first part of a report period not working on assignments and is also not disturbing anyone, at first you do not take action. This seems to contradict your instruction with the ‘Managing expectations folder’ you show all students, asking them to work on assignments. Only at the end of a report period do you engage in conversation with a student who does not engage in work. Not going to work can be for this student a fundamental orientation. By keeping everyone at work, you limit students’ ability to find their own course. In this seemingly lost time, the student may become intrinsically motivated for some aspect of your subject.

Not doing homework

When checking homework, consider having an app that determines who you will check for homework. The advantage of this app is that it is impartially deciding which a student you should check for homework. When checking homework, limit yourself to students selected with the app. The less you check, the more time you have to teach. While giving a Tip you speak softly, only audible to the student.

3.3 Different approach to whole class teaching or working independently

The way you give a Tip, the volume at which you speak when giving a Tip, differs in whole class teaching and working independently:

Whole class teaching

During whole class teaching you indicate with the ‘Managing expectation folder’ that you would like students to pay attention. Therefore the Tip “Please pay attention” is always applicable.

On the one hand, the Tip is intended for the student to whom you give the Tip. On the other hand, because you speak the Tip out loud, at the same time, the other students hear your Tip and the Tip is also a positive indication of desired behaviour for them. In whole class teaching, the Tip is intended for everyone. Therefore, you speak a Tip audibly to everyone.

Independent work

When the students are working independently, with expectation management you indicate that you would like students to get started on the assignment, the Tip “Please work on the assignment” is always applicable.

With working independently , before giving the Tip, walk up to the student and speak the Tip softly. The Tip is then intended only for that student. The rest of the group has nothing to do with this. In order not to disturb the other students, speak the Tip in a soft voice.

3.4 Number of tips per student per lesson

Suppose you give Tips both during whole class teaching and during working independently, you could give a total of six Tips (2 + 4) without handing out a Future behaviour letter. This addition does not include Tips for not doing homework.

If you were also to give four Tips within a lesson for not doing homework, you would already be up to 10 Tips.

You could then give one student three different Tips within one lesson, one for disturbing during frontal teaching, one for disturbing a fellow student during independent work, and one for not doing homework.

Advice from FFT: Give a student a maximum of one Tip per lesson (with exceptions). Give Tips carefully. This way you avoid conflicts with students.

3.5 Student continues disrupting the lesson

If you have already given a student a Tip and this student continues to disrupt the lesson, try to ignore this student as much as possible. If the student is very disruptive, consider grabbing your Tip Book and, without saying anything, describe the student’s behaviour in it. The student is now uncertain: does this have consequences? Whether or not it has consequences now depends on the student. If the student continues to be disruptive then you indicate that what you write down can be discussed with a senior member of staff.

With this approach you avoid giving a student two Tips within a lesson.

3.6 Differences Primary education and secondary education

Primary education

In the primary education, you will have the same class all day. Therefore, divide the day into parts and determine the maximum amount of Tips for each part. For example per lesson (language/math/English etc.) or per part of the day (before small break, after small break and afternoon). Close the period clearly, for example by complimenting if your students were busy at first and then returned to work well. At each half-day period, put the visual indication of the number of Tips (abacus) back in starting position and ask your students for help in keeping the Tips green.

Secondary education

In secondary education, you usually have each class for one class hour or a block hour. After each lesson you take a break from each other. The next day you then start again positively with the abacus in the starting position (green).

3.7 collective disruption by several students

A collective disruption can occur during frontal teaching, but is less obvious during independent work.

If several students decide to disrupt your lesson when you are teaching the whole class, you can respond as follows.

Whole class teaching

  1. First, use a gesture to ask for silence (no reaction).
  2. Then write on the board, “General Tip: Please pay attention. This indicates that you are giving the whole group a Tip. With the abacus you show that a Tip has now been given by showing the next picture (no reaction),
  3. You then ask for silence again with a gesture. If the class persists in interrupting, write on the board, “Second General Tip: please pay attention”. You now move the abacus to the next picture, which is red. For the third time, you ask for silence.
  4. If the group remains agitated, then you pick a student at random and say to this student, “Unfortunately, I must now give you a Future behaviour letter. If a student protests at being given the assignment, you indicate that he or she can stop this behaviour now, and that otherwise you will unfortunately have to give a bigger assignment. The student now considers whether it still pays to continue disrupting the lesson. Experience shows that a student asked that question usually chooses to accept the shorter assignment.

4. Summary

Reinforcing positive behaviour is done with a smile. With using body language and giving Tips, you direct a student’s disruptive behaviour in a friendly and fair manner. Tips are effective if:

  1. a maximum number of Tips has been agreed with the class beforehand,
  2. the Tips are both noted and counted with the abacus.

One cause of disruptive behaviour that can be overlooked is near-sightedness. Some students are embarrassed by their glasses and therefore do not put them on. Without glasses, they cannot read what is on the board. If you get the impression that a student cannot read the information on the board, test during a face-to-face meeting the extent to which a student can read something off the board. If you notice that the student does not see sharply enough to read the board, put the student in the front. Notify the mentor and school administration that the student is not seeing well.

5. Credits

Stephanie Heeren – Dutch language teacher

Origin of the term ‘Tip’

Stephanie taught at the same school where Johan ‘t Hart was working at the time. With him in class, she saw that he worked with a limited number of positive worded directions. Stephanie started working with these as well. The students she was teaching already knew his way of reinforcing positive behaviour. Stephanie decided to call the positive directions ‘Tips’. She made this clear to her students as follows: Boys and girls: I am going to work with Tips this year! The first two are free, the third is going to cost you time! The students asked her if she was going to work in the manner of Johan ‘t Hart. After she confirmed this, she was able to teach undisturbed. Her way of introducing Tips and Future behaviour letter is short and effective.

Linda Timmermans – Linda took the FFT course and teaches music in secondary education.

Origin of the term ‘Tip Book’.

When teaching the entire class, you write in a notebook the names of who you give a ‘Tip’ and of who you give a ‘Future behaviour letter’. Linda gave this notebook the name ‘Tip Book’. Writing down Tips in a ‘Tip Book’ looks more friendly than writing them down directly on a list. When working independently you do write down Tips directly on a list.