Chaos is bad for kids

Kids growing up in chaotic homes with no clear rules or routines have  lower IQs and more behavior problems, concludes a study analyzed by Daniel Willingham on The Answer Sheet.

Rsearchers factored out “the parents’ education level, parent’s IQ, a measure of the literacy environment in the home (number of books and so on), the housing situation, a measure of parental warmth/negativity, and a measure of stressful events.” Chaos still emerged as a negative factor for children’s IQ and behavior.

Chaos hurts in the classroom too, speculates Robert Pondiscio.

It’s not hard to imagine higher level of student achievement, if not IQ, in classrooms that are well managed and orderly.  At the very least, the lack of those qualities is one of the most visible signposts of poorly run schools.

A Teach for America teacher in D.C. uses the “respect bell” to keep order. When a student curses, insults someone or strays off task, the teacher rings a hotel-style bell ($5 at Staples).

(Students) insisted, pleaded, begged that I stop. But I wouldn’t – at least until they, themselves, stopped saying or doing disrespectful things. Surprisingly, my decision to hold my ground led students to police each other in a positive way. They told each other to quiet down, to stop using profanity and to focus in on the lesson. For a moment, I had a class that was completely silent and on-task!

I think kids feel secure with an authoritative adult in charge.

About Joanne


  1. I try to have bouts of planned creative chaos and maintain generous protective control with my class. I think it’s a fine line, though.

    I care a lot about whether school is contributing to my child’s health – from the food they serve to the models they set, to whether they provide enough activity and exercise, to the environment they provide. I’m trying to get concerned teachers and parents to pay attention to what schools are using to disinfect for H1N1. Many don’t realize that cleaning supplies are often more hazardous than the H1N1virus itself. Even bleach, because it has to be diluted properly (and usually isn’t) can be dangerous when incorrectly used. It turns out that Green cleaning products are more effective against H1N1 than their more toxic counterparts. Here are some resources to help parents determine what their schools are using, and what they should be using: H1N1 in Schools and Environmental Working Group Report on Schools

  2. I’ve seen the bell system – and other variants – at work in classrooms. I personally don’t like to make students responsible for other students’ behavior…I’ve seen it degenerate into shouting and eruption from quiet kids who have had enough, or from those who do behave consistently well getting frustrated with their peers’ behavior – and the teacher’s reluctance to enforce expectations, clarify procedure, and manage the classroom.

    I have also seen classrooms where, when expectations and procedures were made clear, students *were* able to “police” themselves in a positive manner – but only because they’d been taught well in advance what “positive” redirection of their peers meant, sounded and looked like, and they didn’t feel as if their only resort to get the teacher’s attention was to shout the other students into submission.

  3. It’s a pointless study if they didn’t control for the genetic link between parents and their biological children. I know they controlled for IQ, but kids inherit more from their parents than IQ.
    What they should have done is looked at adopted kids and what the adopted kids’ biological and adoptive parents were like.

  4. Yes, yes, yes. Kids – from a very early age – need and like boundaries. And when they are at school, they need to know who is in charge. That doesn’t mean the teacher needs to be frightening, just that there must be respect and some distance. Or at least that’s what I think….

  5. This is a groundbreaking discovery of what every sentient human already knows.

  6. Andrew Bell says:

    Who needs a study? If you’ve ever watched the television show “World’s Strictest Parents” on CMT, you know this to be the case. And the transformation only take a week! I _love_ reality TV.

  7. my students always knew the rules and consequences of my classroom. My expectations were always clearly defined. I taught them from day one, that I was the “bell.” Meaning that class would not be dismissed until their area was clean and organized. They also knew how to work in groups when it was needed and knew to monitor their behavior.

    I teach in an high poverty, urban school and more times than not, subs had positive experiences in my classroom. This is because my students were taught that they were accountable for their behavior, even when I was not in the classroom.


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