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The Myth of Bad Behavior and “Model” Students

by Paolo Martin 

When I was growing up, I loved school.  No, it wasn't just the playground or being able to goof off during lunch period or all the friends I made; I loved it all - the challenge of doing well on my homework assignments, earning stars for good citizenship and perfect attendance, wiping down the chalkboard after school, and the weight of the books in my backpack.  While I was an active, social, and often mischievous child on the playground, I chose to be the "model" student in the classroom.  I followed directions, kept quiet when needed, helped the teacher, and never acted out.  All of that, I thought, was what I needed to do well in school.  No sir-ree was I going to be like my classmate Frank who always made wise-cracks in class, disrupted others when they were working, and acted like he had ants in his pants.  He was never going to learn anything and he was never going get anywhere in life - he wasn't destined for sainthood like me!  

            Little did I know that Frank and I--the class trouble-maker and the model student-- had the same chance of learning the three R's.  According to a New York Times article, "Bad Behavior Does Not Doom Pupils, Studies Say," research from two separate studies indicates that our fears that children with poor behavior will not succeed in the upper grades are exaggerated.  These researchers have taken data from large child development studies from the 1970s, reassessed it, and controlled for variables such as family income and family structure.  They found that children who were identified as disruptive (i.e., picked fights, defied teachers, etc.) in kindergarten were as likely as their well-behaved counterparts to do well in reading and math by the time they reached fifth grade.  It appears that in kindergarten, teachers have the ability "to work around these behavior problems in a way that enables kids to learn just as much as other kids with equal levels of ability."  Sounds like a no-brainer, doesn't it?  Apparently not.  Other research indicates that teachers who blame students for their learning difficulties (pathognomonic beliefs) are more likely to exhibit poor instructional practices than teachers who believe they can help all kids learn by working with their individual differences.  So, for those teachers who've said (or thought), "That kid's a hoodlum, he'll always be one, a drop-out waiting to happen" (this is from an actual interview):  Well, they're going to have to rethink the source of the failure of their classroom clowns.    

Tags: classroom behavior, student achievement, student behavior

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