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Managing Learning Environments: Literature Review

What is productive student behaviour and why is it so important?

In what ways can teachers establish and maintain a learning environment to
promote productive student behaviour, that is, to prevent unproductive
student behaviour?

Research indicates that classroom management is a significant part of the
teaching profession and unsuccessful management can have significant negative
impacts on students’ behaviour (Sullivan 2014, p. 43). It is crucial that teachers
establish and maintain learning environments that promote productive student
behaviour, in order to prevent unproductive student behaviour. Throughout this
literature review the concept of productive student behaviour and its
importance will be explored. A range of strategies that will help educators to
create learning environments that promote productive student behaviour will be
explored and these strategies will be aligned with the 4S framework for effective
classroom management (Williams 2013, p. 11).

Productive student behaviour

Productive behaviours, in an educational context can be described as behaviours
that positively impact students’ academic achievement (Angus et al. 2009;
Sullivan 2017; Cohen 1994). Almost any behaviour can be described as
productive because they produce an outcome, however, in an educational setting
teachers have desired behaviours in mind (Sullivan 2014, p. 53; Williams 2013,
p. 5; Jones 2011, p. 93). This idea supports Kohn’s point that ‘every teacher has a
theory’, meaning that every teacher has ideas about how their students should
behave (2006, p. 1). Whether behaviours can be described as productive
depends on the context in which they occur and whether the behaviour is
considered to be appropriate in that context (Williams 2013; Jones 2011, p. 91-

In order for teachers to understand the concept of productive student behaviour
they must understand the interrelated contexts behind students’ behaviours
(Sullivan et al. 2014, p. 46). These contexts include: ‘teacher’, ‘student ’, ‘physical
setting’ and ‘Curriculum and resources factors’, which are closely linked to the 4S
framework (Sullivan 2014, p. 46, Williams 2013,p. 11) . It appears that the
concept of unproductive student behaviour is more widely understood, possibly
due to the presence of a ‘deficit view’ educators may have, meaning they focus on
the negative behaviours rather than the positive (Sullivan 2017). Unproductive
student behaviours can be categorised as ‘disruptive’, ‘disengaged’ or ‘aggressive
and anti-social’ (Sullivan et al. 2014, p. 49). Unproductive behaviours include:
disturbing others, not cooperating, inconsistent behaviour and being
unmotivated (Sullivan et al. 2014, p. 46). Based on the literature one may assume
that productive student behaviour is the opposite of unproductive behaviours.
Productive behaviours could be categorised as engagement in learning
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experiences, pro-social behaviours and on-task behaviour (Sullivan et al. 2014, p.


Productive student behaviour and effective classroom management is important
to teachers because it ensures that they gain fulfillment from their practice
(Williams 2013, p. 2-3). If educators do not establish and maintain environments
that encourage productive student behaviour they may more likely to experience
high levels of stress and have a negative attitude towards their job, which is
likely to be reflected in their teaching (Williams 2013, p. 2-3; Sullivan et al. 2014,
p. 44; Kohn 2006, p. 7). Productive student behaviour, as well as student
engagement enhances students’ academic achievement therefore, it is crucial for
educators to promote such behaviours (Angus et al. 2009; Sullivan 2017; Cohen
1994). Student engagement is an area that has been widely researched and is
closely linked to productive student behaviour and is a factor that will be
discussed further throughout this review (Sullivan 2017; Sullivan et al. 2014, p.
45; Bohn et al. 2004, p. 270). Unproductive student behaviour can lead to
students falling behind academically thus, productive student behaviour is highly
beneficial for students (Sullivan 2017)

The 4S framework
A large component of establishing and maintaining learning environments that
promote productive student behaviour, is effective classroom management and
the 4S framework provides four areas for teachers to consider when managing
the classroom environment and student behaviour (Williams 2012; Sullivan
2014, p. 46).

The teacher’s actions and attitudes have a significant influence on their ability to
establish and maintain an environment that fosters productive student
behaviour, which will in turn prevent unproductive behaviour. Firstly, teachers
must understand that unproductive behaviours are often a result of their actions
to stop such behaviours from occurring (Williams 2013, p. 4). By understanding
this educators are able to improve their practice by being analytical of their
classroom management strategies.

Building positive relationships with students is a central part of encouraging
productive student behaviour because it will ensure that students and teachers
can communicate openly (Williams 2013, p. 7; Cothran et-al. 2003 p. 437; Lyons
et al. 2014, p. 44). Educators need to analyse their non-verbal and verbal
communication to ensure that they are not miscommunicating their ideas, which
could confuse students and encourage unproductive behaviours (Lyons et al.

It is important to motivate your students and encourage a positive attitude
towards learning whilst, providing learning experiences that cater to their
interests in order to enhance their engagement and therefore, productive
behaviour (Bohn et al. 2004, p. 270- 276; Williams 2013, p.7; Sullivan 2014, p.
45-47; McDonald 2013). Students will become disengaged when learning
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activities are too challenging or too simple therefore, teachers cater their
teaching to the vast range of needs present in their classroom (Bohn et al. 2004,
p. 277; Good & Brophy 2008; McDonald 2013, p. 108; Williams 2013, p. 6;
Sullivan 2014, p. 45-47). A variety of classroom management strategies must be
employed in order to effectively manage unproductive behaviours because a
one-size fits all approach is ineffective (Williams 2013, p. 4). Educators must
ensure that expectations are presented clearly and students may require
instructions to be repeated in order for them to understand the task (Jones 2011,
p. 113). Long periods of instruction may overload students therefore, teachers
may need to separate learning tasks into smaller parts in order to maximize
students’ engagement (Jones 2011).

Finally, educators must plan and implement learning experiences that promote
student engagement and participation in order to enhance their learning (Jones
2011, p. 91). It is useful to take note of students’ engagement in activities in
order to reflect on what worked and possible improvements to increase
productive behaviour (Williams 2013, p. 16; Bohn et al. 2004, p. 276). If an
educator is struggling to maintain ‘student attention’ then improvements must
be made because students are likely to exhibit unproductive behaviours
(McDonald 2013, p. 108-109).


Bohn and colleagues stated the importance of developing a classroom
community and appreciating each individual, by doing this educators will
encourage productive student behaviour (2004). Building a sense of community
in the classroom enables all students to feel as if they belong and are able to
contribute, meaning they are more engaged in their learning (Lyons et al. 2014,
p. 44). A nurturing learning environment means that students feel safe and are
more likely to take learning risks and exhibit productive behaviours (Sapon-
Shevin 2010, p. 22).

Many educators attempt to control their students’ behaviour in order to prevent
unproductive behaviour however, this suggests that the teacher has dominance
over their students, which ignores the importance of positive relationships and
the sense of community that should be encouraged (Sullivan et al. 2014, p. 45;
Sullivan 2017; Kohn 2006; Williams 2012, p. 7; Bohn et al. 2004, p. 280). This
approach also limits students’ ability to regulate their own behaviour, which is
ultimately the aim of establishing and maintaining an environment that
encourages productive student behaviour (Williams 2012, p. 7; Bohn 2004; Good
& Brophy 2008).

In order to develop a sense of community in the classroom educators must
encourage cooperation and be inclusive of the diversity (Bohn et al. 2004, p. 280;
Sapon- Shevin 2010). Encouraging students to make choices and fostering
‘student ownership’ is crucial because it requires students to be more engaged
and express their ideas (Bohn 2004, p. 281). Having ‘shared goals’ in a classroom
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community is also important because it requires students to work

collaboratively to reach desired outcome (Sapon-Shevin 2010, p. 23).

There are a number of important systems that teachers must consider in order
to encourage productive student behaviour. Before forming a set of rules the
teacher must help the students to understand the importance of behavioural
standards. Three to five standards have been found to be most successful
because developing too many rules can be overwhelming for students (Jones
2011, p. 93). In order to be most effective the rules must be referred back to in
order to prevent unproductive student behaviour (Jones 2011, p. 94). It is
important to structure rules using positive language rather than telling students
what not to do (Jones 2011, p. 96; McDonald 2013). Students need to be taught
which behaviours are acceptable, because some behaviours are productive in
some contexts but not in others (Jones 2011, p. 92 -95). The routines, procedures
and rules must be established early in the school year in order to ensure that
students understand what is expected of them, by doing this teachers can reduce
the likelihood of unproductive behaviours arising (Cothran et al. 2003, p. 437;
Williams 2013, p. 4-9; Jones 2011, p. 91- 92; McDonald 2013, p. 111).

Gathercoal (2004) discusses four areas for educators to address when
implementing classroom rules including: classroom and student safety, the
treatment of school property, educational aims and conflict resolution (Jones
2011, p. 96). Class discussions can ensure that students agree with and commit
to both the teacher and the other students’ expectations (Jones 2011, p. 98). It is
beneficial to involve students in the formation and implementation of rules,
procedures and consequences because it will assist the development of a sense
of community in the classroom and students are more likely to follow guidelines
that they have agreed upon (Jones 2011, p. 93). When constructing behavioural
guidelines it is crucial to have fairness and respect as central values (Williams
2013, p. 9)

The classroom setting is an important element of establishing and maintaining a
learning environment that encourages productive student behaviour. Factors
that teachers should consider include: the availability of learning resources, the
arrangement of the classroom, the ability to move around the classroom and the
presence of displays that assist students learning (Williams 2013). Firstly
teachers must ensure that the classroom is safe and welcoming for students
because if this issue is overlooked a number of issues, which interrupt learning,
may arise (Williams 2013, p. 8). To guarantee the safety of all students the
teacher should make sure that there are systems in place that promote students
being respectful and responsible for the classroom environment (Williams 2013,
p. 8). Teachers must ensure that they have a range of engaging learning
resources that students can access to assist their learning, it is crucial that these
are easily accessible to prevent distraction and promote students engaging in
activities (Williams 2013, p. 6-8).

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It is important to arrange the classroom depending on the type of task that

students are engaging in, for example if students are working in small groups
tables should be grouped together (Jones 2011, p. 112). Educators should be
critical of whether their classroom arrangement encourages productive student
behaviour in order to ensure that students have the best chance at successfully
meeting the desired learning outcomes (Jones 2011, p. 112). Students can also
become distracted if they are uncomfortable therefore, teachers should ensure
that students can see the board and are in a position that encourages them to
exhibit productive behaviours (Jones 2011, p. 112)

In conclusion, the overall aim of educators establishing and maintaining a
learning environment that encourages productive student behaviour, is for
students to be able to regulate their own behaviour therefore, preventing
unproductive student behaviour (Bohn et al. 2004, p. 271; McDonald 2013, p.
117; Good & Brophy 2008, p. 72). The strategies listed throughout this literature
review will assist teachers in creating and maintaining an environment that
promotes productive student behaviour however, it is certain that unproductive
behaviours will arise. If unproductive behaviours were to occur the teacher
should ensure that they try not disrupt other students and approach the
situation calmly (Williams 2013, p. 16). It is important to focus on the behaviour
rather than the individual and remind them of the expectations (Williams 2013,
p. 20).

Angus, M, McDonald, T, Ormond, C, Rybarcyk, R, Taylor, A & Winterton, A 2009,
‘Trajectories of classroom behaviour and academic progress: a study of student
engagement with learning’, Mount Lawley, Western Australia: Edith Cowan

Bohn, CM, Roehrig, AD & Pressley, M 2004, 'The First Days of School in the
Classrooms of Two More Effective and Four Less Effective Primary-Grades
Teachers', The Elementary School Journal, vol. 104, no. 4, pp. 269-287.

Cohen, EG 1994, ‘Reconstructing the classroom: conditions for productive small
groups’, Review of Educational Research, vol. 64, no. 1, pp. 1-35.

Cothran, DJ, Kulinna, PH & Garrahy, DA 2003, '"This is kind of giving a secret
away...": students' perspectives on effective class management', Teaching and
teacher education, vol. 19, no. 4, pp. 435-444.

Gathercoal, F 2004, ‘Judicious Discipline’, Gaddo Gap Press, San Francisco.

Good, TL & Brophy, JE 2008, 'Management I : preventing problems', Looking in
classrooms, 10th Ed, Pearson/ Allyn and Bacon, Boston, MA, pp. 71-97.

Jones, VF 2011, ‘Developing standards for classroom behaviour’ in Jones VF,
Practical Classroom Management, Pearson, Boston, pp. 91-128.
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Kohn, A 2006, 'The nature of children', Beyond discipline : from compliance to
community, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development,
Alexandria, VA, pp. 1-11.
Lyons, G, Ford, M & Slee, J 2014, ‘Relationships and communication’, Creating
positive learning environments, 4th ed, Cengage Learning, South Melbourne, Vic,
pp. 42- 60.

Mcdonald, T 2013, 'Proactive teacher behaviours', Classroom management :
engaging students in learning, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, Vic, pp.

Sapon-Shevin, M 2010, 'Schools as communities', Because we can change the
world : a practical guide to building cooperative, inclusive classroom communities,
2nd ed, Thousand Oaks, Corwin CA, p. 21-44.

Sullivan, A 2017, Engagement and behaviour: what is important?, 31st July,
University of South Australia, viewed 29th August 2017, <

Sullivan, A 2017, Power, democracy and leadership: a theoretical framework, 7th
August, University of South Australia, viewed 29th August 2017, <

Sullivan, A 2017, The school as an ecology: findings from the behaviour at school
study, 14th August, University of South Australia, viewed 29th August 2017, <

Sullivan, AM, Johnson, B, Owens, L & Conway, R 2014, 'Punish them or engage
them? Teachers’ views of unproductive student behaviours in the classroom',
Australian journal of teacher education, vol. 39, no. 6, pp. 43-56.

Williams, D 2013, 'Background basics', in Good, TL, Larrivee, B, Zirpoli, TJ,
Williams, D & Australia, UO (ed.), Constructing a theoretical practical and
philosophic approach to managing learning environments (EDUC 3007), Pearson
Australia, Frenchs Forest, NSW, p. 1- 24.