3 12 2015

I recently had the opportunity to watch some videos of presentations as part of a training project. The presentations were interactive shows performed by experienced presenters. In most of the videos the behaviour of the children got worse as the show progressed. In just a couple the behaviour of the audience wasn’t a problem. 

Working with the presenters watching the videos it became apparent there were two differences between the shows where the behaviour was an escalating problem and those where it was not:

1. The setting of standards

2. Consistent reinforcing of those standards

In the shows where behaviour was not a problem the presenters clearly explained to the children the standards they expected at the start. Depending on their age and stage the children were told how they were expected to sit, how they could answer questions, how they should show their appreciation and how they could join in. The children were reminded of these standards throughout the presentation and were regularly praised for meeting them. 

In the shows where behaviour disintegrated few if any standards, or confusing standards, were set and then throughout the shows unwanted behaviour was inadvertently reinforced. 

Psychologists have shown that if a behaviour is becoming more frequent and/or more intense then it is being reinforced. Watching the videos back with the presenters we were able to see that in many cases they themselves had inadvertently encouraged the unwanted behaviours and then reinforced them.

Common faults included:

– Talking when the children were talking: this tells the children they don’t need to be quiet so they won’t. 

– Not setting rules for picking volunteers or asking questions. The children would start off being respectful but as that behaviour is not acknowledged, and less than respectful behaviour is reinforced (either by the presenter choosing the noisiest child or other children laughing at the child “getting away” with being disrespectful), the behaviour gets progressively worse and worse. 

– Not commenting on desirable behaviours: there was little or no positive reinforcement.

– Not having a strategy for bringing the children back to listening quietly after they have been allowed to speak or complete an activity. This resulted in more talking over children and in some cases shouting (to be heard) which appeared like the presenter losing their temper. 

In this post from 2010 I wrote about why and how behaviour management is important. Yes, we could argue that children attending events we are invited to speak at should sit quietly and, yes, you could argue that it is a teacher’s responsibility to manage the behaviour of their charges, but if we as the presenters are inviting and then reinforcing the unwanted behaviours then I would say this is our fault and therefore our problem. 

Children as a rule want to please. If we let them know how we can be pleased then that is what they desperately try to do. Managing behaviour is as simple as switching round the mistakes identified above. 

The presenters who didn’t struggle only spoke once the children were quiet- at the start this took some time but as this rule was consistently applied throughout the presentation the children soon got the message, the children didn’t talk when the presenter was trying to. 

They also gave clear instructions about how children were to interact. This varied between age and stage and style of presentation but the presenters had thought about why they wanted the children to behave, they then planned how they were going to make this happen and then clearly communicated this at the start. 

Presenters who had few issues were quick to praise the wanted behaviours, there is an old saying catch them being good. They mostly ignored the unwanted behaviours and because those behaviours were not being reinforced they went away. 

These presenters also had thought how they were going to get the kids back before they let them go. Some just waited for silence, one would point worriedly at his watch as if they were running out of time, another would use a counter on a PowerPoint slide to indicate just how much time the children had before they had go back to attentive listening. 

Watching the good presentations was like watching a spiral reach higher and higher levels of engagement and watching the rest we could see the behaviour spiralling out of control. 

My advice to all is to record especially the start of your presentations and judge how effectively you are setting the standards you expect from the start.  If you aren’t setting standards try it next time and see if you notice a difference. If you are and behaviour is still an issue then watch to see if you are inadvertently reinforcing those behaviours yourself before you start to blame the teachers or worse the children for the behaviour in your show. 




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