There is a classroom management strategy called “the five questions” that a number of school districts have adopted. I’ve been asked about it several times recently so thought I should cover it.
The way it works is that when a student misbehaves and breaks a class rule, the teacher is to approach and ask them five questions.
The questions are:
1. What are you doing?
2. What are you supposed to be doing?
3. Are you doing it?
4. What are you going to do about it?
5. What will happen if you violate the social contract again?
A social contract is another name for rules that students, along with their teacher’s guidance, create and agree to.
I see three major problems with the strategy.
To stop whatever you’re doing—pausing in the middle of a lesson, for example—to approach a student or pull them aside isn’t realistic.
It’s doable, perhaps, but at the cost of instruction. Effective classroom management must be quick and as least invasive as possible.
Otherwise, you’ll lose days of valuable learning time throughout a school year and frustrate your class.
Questioning a misbehaving student is antagonistic. From the student’s viewpoint it feels like the third degree.
Furthermore, the questions themselves are difficult to ask without sounding angry. This creates friction between you and the student.
It causes them to be angry with you in return. Answering the questions, then, becomes an act of submission that leaves an awful taste in their mouth.
It causes them to want to misbehave more, especially behind your back.
Forced reflection isn’t reflection at all. For actual change in behavior, a student must decide to turn from their ways of their own volition.
This cannot and will not happen if they’re compelled to tell you what you want to hear, which most will do just to get you off their back.
Others will refuse or pushback disrespectfully.
By any other name, the five questions are an excruciating consequence that merely show a teacher’s dominance.
What To Do Instead
Here at SCM, we would recommend questioning students if we found it to be effective. The truth is, we’ve long known it to be a bad idea, covering this topic many years ago—before “the five questions” even came to be.
A much better approach is to have a set of rules that you create in order to protect learning, your likability, and your students’ love for being in your classroom.
Teach them in a highly detailed way and then enforce dispassionately so that it doesn’t disrupt your classroom or create friction between you and your students.
In this way you ensure that your students reflect on their misbehavior and choose on their own the better route next time.
For more on this topic, please check out the classroom management plans we do recommend:
High School Plan
Also, we’ll be taking next week off for Thanksgiving, but will be back with a new article on December 3rd.
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