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How to manage behaviour in active lessons – PP30

The topic of the week is How to manage behaviour in active lessons – PP30.


We were delighted to be joined by Pivotal Trainer and active learning specialist, Tara Elie this week.

Paul starts by asking what the benefits are of adopting an active approach to learning. Lots of people can view this approach as just ‘playing around’ in an era when we are being told that it’s better to ‘machine-gun’ facts into children.



Tara points out that it’s important to look at who we are teaching today – we have a very media-savvy, visual generation in front of us. We can use this to our advantage. Tara has seen the benefits of learners being actively engaged in lessons.

Students are more likely to access their prior learning when they are active
They receive more instant feedback from teachers which can be especially important for those with challenging behaviour – they know they are doing the right things because they are told immediately

– This is great for building positive relationships
– Self-reliance and self-confidence are boosted
– Independent learning is promoted because teachers can step back back and let the learners be independent
– For most learners, it’s more motivating to be active than passive in the learning experience
– Learners have the opportunity to learn by observing others closely

Paul points out that when learning is confined to desk-based inactivity, it seems like we have to work really hard to layer on aspects like engagement, how to manage behaviour, how to keep learners in their seats, how to get them involved when this is all not needed in t he same way when learners are active, up on their feet engaged in active learning.

Tara says that when you have desks there is more of an opportunity to opt pout of the learning. She mentions what she calls an ‘ensemble atmosphere‘ – the learners are all in it together, working towards common, interdependent learning goals.

There are fewer barriers to interaction when there are no desks – it’s easier to go and talk and interact with students.

However, there are, of course, different issues when learning is approached in an active way. Tara responds, pointing out that the anxiety of losing control is very real for a lot of teachers. The group can easily become over-excited. How can we channel that over-excitement to our benefit? Tara suggests that having clear parameters often helps. If the learners know where they need to go when, they are much more likely to succeed in what we want them to do.

It’s always helpful if we can set things up before the session. In drama it’s called a ‘hook’ but it can be applied to any subject. The room can have a focus – for example a crescent shaped seating arrangement – and the expectation is immediately clear. Other hooks could be music, stage set, a prop, or a person. This stimulates the class’s interest.

Curiosity and a sense of expectation can be powerful hooks

If they know what they have to do, behaviour should be manageable.

Paul stresses the importance of the teacher sitting on the floor.

Non-verbal communication and non-verbal instructions can be very helpful in a more lively, noisy environment. Moments of silence in an active lesson are golden and gives everyone especially the more challenging learners space to breathe. Raising your hand as a signal to stop and be silent is often a positive approach.

Tara stresses the difference between active learning and active teaching. You don’t need to top dance at the front of the room to take advantage of active learning techniques. In fact the approach allows the teacher to stand back and let the students take more control of the lesson. This means that the teacher has a chance to do more assessment.

For lots more detail and anecdotes, listen to the episode!

What would you like to hear covered in forthcoming episodes? Let us know by emailing or by leaving a comment below this post.

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