A guide to classroom management: a scientific look at education (Latham, 1997)

A few small changes have been made to help with its clarity


Within this series of blogs I will address a revolutionary paper in classroom management written by Latham (1997). The blogs will focus on whether his ideas on implementing behavioral psychology principles within education, are still as appropriate to teacher training programmes today as they were in 1997. It will also consider if such ideas are being currently taught to new teachers or whether aspects/all of his ideas have stagnated into obscurity and are being generally ignored by educators.

The motivation behind Latham’s (1997) Eight Skills was his yearning to create a concise guide for teachers on classroom and behavioral management. In his research, he compared how different professionals (engineers, physicians, lawyers and teachers) dealt with finding solutions to specific problems within their respective fields. He noted, as seen in Figure 1, that ‘Other Professions’ used guiding core principles from which they generated their solutions, whereas within teacher training programmes teachers…

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Psychological definitions and theories behind the principles of behavioural managment

Within this blog I will address some of the psychological definitions and theories, which forms the background of my Latham (1997) blogs.

Incorrect behaviour

An incorrect behaviour is any behaviour, which does not follow the behavioural norms set within a teacher’s own classroom. For a behaviour to be incorrect, the correct and incorrect behaviour has to be defined by the teacher (Mather & Goldstein, 2001). Behavioural norms should not be confused with the behaviours, which a teacher deems as the norms of the perfect ordinary classroom (Bicchieri, 2010). Teachers have to set the behavioural norms within their own classroom (Latham, 1997). For example, if a student has spoken out of turn when answering the question and the teacher has not stated this should not be done; this is not the incorrect response within this teacher’s classroom. If the teacher has not stated this is an incorrect behaviour, the student won’t understand this is an incorrect response in the teacher’s eyes. Rule of thumb never assume in teaching!

The ABC of Classroom management.

All actions can be broken up into three parts (Skinner, 1953): Antecedents, Behaviours and Consequence. Antecedents are an “event or activity that immediately precedes a problem behaviour”, behaviours are the “observed behaviour” and consequences are “the event that immediately follows a response” (Freeman, n.d.).

Latham’s (1997) classroom management was trying to explain how to reduce the incorrect behaviour and increase the correct behaviour. To do this, teachers can deal with:

  • Antecedents by;
    • Decreasing the likelihood of antecedents which cause the incorrect behaviour
    • Increasing the likelihood of antecedents, which causes the correct behaviour.
  • Consequences by;
    • Reinforcing the correct behaviour
    • Punishing the incorrect consequence causing a decrease in the likelihood that the incorrect behaviour will occur again.

Punishment and Reinforcement.

According to behavioural psychologists, punishment “refer(s) to any change that occurs after a behaviour that reduces the likelihood that that behaviour will reoccur” (Cherry, N.A.). There are two types of punishment:

  • Positive
    • Adding a stimulus to remove/reduce the behaviour

E.g. Verbal reprimand

  • Negative
    • Removing a stimulus to reduce the behaviour

E.g. taking away a child’s toy.

The alternative to behavioural modification, according to operant conditioning, is reinforcement (Gordon, 2000). Reinforcement is “anything that increases the likelihood that a behaviour will occur” (Cherry, N.A.). There are two types of reinforcement:

  • Positive
    • Adding a stimulus to increase a desired behaviour

E.g. giving chocolate for good behaviour

  • Negative
    • Removing a stimulus to remove the increase the behaviour

E.g. screaming to get annoying students away from another student

Two areas, which confuse most people when dealing with the operant conditioning, is the difference between the terminology in their behavioural context and common context.

  • Positive does not mean “a desirable or constructive quality or attribute” (Oxford English Dictionary 3rd edition, 2010), in behavioural psychology it means that the behavioural will increase due to the adding a stimulus as a consequence to a behaviour.

Punishment doesn’t always refer to dealing with an incorrect behaviour; “infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution for an offence” (Oxford English Dictionary 3rd edition, 2010). An example to explain this is; if a teacher reprimands a student for a bad behaviour, this might not be a punishment; if the antecedent for the bad behaviour is the student wanting attention. A teacher who gives the student attention will, most likely, increasing the likelihood of the behaviour happening again; thus by giving (adding) attention to the student, by “punishing them”, the teacher is reinforcing the behaviour rather than punishing it (Sweetland, n.d.).

Classroom Friendly Behavioural Logs

The easiest way to observe and manage behaviour is recording students ABC’s in a behavioural management logbook (Freeman, n.d.). These logbooks have been very popular in other areas of behavioural management (Klintwall & Eikeseth, 2014). They have often not been introduced into mainstream classrooms due to the number of students and the difficulty observing all their behaviours; which is understandable. However, if teachers follow Latham’s (1997) idea that 98% of behaviour should be ignored, if it isn’t affecting the validity of the classroom (Latham, 1992). This makes behavavioural management logs much more feasible to use in ordinary classrooms. Teachers can break down these logs into 7 parts. Here is an example of one I use.

First Column: Name, Time and Date

  • Make a note of the incorrect behaviour’s
    • Name
    • Time
      • Teachers should have a watch to record the time
    • Date

Second Column: Behaviour

  • Write down what the exact behaviour was and how many times this behaviour occurred

Third and Fourth Column: Behaviour Duration and Magnitude

  • Record the intensity of the behaviour and how long the behaviour occurred for.
    • Doing this allows the teacher to see progression, as well as observe if certain antecedents make the behaviour worse than others.
  • For magnitude I have created a scale where 1 to 5.
Level Descriptor
1 disruptive behaviour
2 zonal disruptive behaviour
3 complete disruptive behaviour
4 potential dangerous behaviour
5 dangerous behaviour
  • E.g.
    • 1 – student talks to a friend, but loud enough so peers hear.
      • The key is peers hear, as if he is not disturbing any other students besides him and himself, this behaviour needs to be ignored, while the students who are being quiet and doing their work need to be reinforced.
    • 2 – a student starts a conversation in one part of the classroom, so student learning was disrupted
    • 3 – a student starts shouting and drawing attention to himself, thus disrupting the wholes class’ learning.
    • 4 – a student starts manically running around the classroom
      • This is disrupting the learning in the classroom, as well as the student has the potential of hurting themselves
    • 5 – a student starts picking up chairs and throwing them at their fellows.
      • With any behaviour the teacher rates 5 on the scale, it is imperative the teachers/ councillor immediately workout what behaviours need to be reinforced or which antecedents need to be removed/ added to reduce the likelihood of this behaviour reoccurring. The student’s learning and the safety the staff or students are being negatively effected.
  • I couldn’t find any literature on any scales, which had a similar premise so sadly, I couldn’t back this up with hard science.

Fifth Column: Antecedents

  • Write down the antecedents
    • These can often be hard to observe, especially when teachers are actively teaching the class.
    • If a student is a repeat offender be aware of this and observe them more closely.
      • However, make sure not to appear to be singling the student out.

Sixth Column: Consequences

  • Teachers need to understand the antecedents first, which cause the incorrect behaviour.
  • Once the antecedents have been identified, the teacher must write down what strategy (using Latham’s (1997) principles) can decrease the incorrect behaviour and increase the correct behaviour.

Seventh Column: Effectiveness

  • Check if there is a reduction in the incorrect behaviour
  • Write down what has worked or failed to reduce incorrect behaviour

An example of a behaviour log I have used:

Teachers writing behaviour logs can be used as a antecedent for improved behaviour. If the student, who is committing the incorrect behaviour, sees the teacher writing in the log; they may modify their behaviour to avoid having it documented that they are committing the wrong behaviour.

This blog had two main purposes; the first was to help explain some of the terminology, which I will use in my future blogs and secondly it shows the behavioural principles, which Latham (1997) used to create his Eight Skills, which were based on hard science.


Bicchieri, C. (2010). Norms, preferences, and conditional behavior. politics, philosophy & economics9 (3), 297-313.

Cherry, K. (n.d.). What Is Punishment? Retrieved from http://psychology.about.com/od/operantconditioning/f/punishment.htm

Freeman, R. (n.d.). Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence (ABC) Chart. In University of Kansas. Retrieved from http://www.specialconnections.ku.edu/?q=behavior_plans/functional_behavior_assessment/teacher_tools/antecedent_behavior_consequence_chart

Gordon, W. (2000). Behaviour modification. Regional Training Seminar on Guidance and Counselling. Retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/education/mebam/module_4.pdf

Klintwall, L., & Eikeseth, S. (2014). Early and Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI) in autism. In Comprehensive Guide to Autism (pp. 117-137). Springer New York.

Latham, G. (1992). Interacting with at-risk children: The positive position. Principal, 72 (1), 26-30.

Latham, G. (1997) Behind the Schoolhouse Door: Eight skills every teacher should have. Logan, Utah: Mountain Plain Regional Resource Center, Utah State University.

Mather, N., & Goldstein, S. (2001). Learning Disabilities and Challenging Behaviors: A Guide to Intervention and Classroom Management. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. pp. 96-117. Retrieved from http://www.ldonline.org/article/6030

P. (2010). In A. Stevenson (Ed.), Oxford Engish Dictionary.Oxford Dictionary of English(3rd, p. 1386). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

P. (2010). In A. Stevenson (Ed.), Oxford Engish Dictionary.Oxford Dictionary of English(3rd, p. 1440). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Skinner BF. (1953). Science and Human Behavior. Free Press: New York.

Sweetland, R. (n.d.). Reinforcement and Punishment. In Homeofbob. Retrieved from http://www.homeofbob.com/cman/intrvntns/beehav/renfrcmnt.html