Proximity and Mobility

Goofing off in the classroom is inevitable in every classroom regardless of how much experience a teacher has.  However, there are specific strategies that teachers use to maintain off-task behavior and that is the use of Proximity and Mobility.  The picture below is a simple layout in an avearge math class.  The "x" represents a teacher helping a student.  Can you see who the first student most likely is going to be to goof off?

The answer is the student in the back part of the right side of the room.  Why is this?  It is apparent that the farthest away the teacher is from a student the more likely they are to goof off.  However, the opposite is true, the closer the teacher is to the student the less likely the student is going to goof off.  In other words, the main reason for goofing off in class is because of the distance from the teacher to the students.  Experienced teachers who have had success in their class with minimal cases of goofing off behavior had taken into consideration the proximity of their bodies.  "They use the proximity of their bodies as an instrument of management. They move"(Jones, 2007, page 31).


Zones of Proximity

If a student has the opportunity to goof off they are most likely going to take it.  They are going to take into consideration three aspects before they are going to committ to goofing off.

1. They are going to assess how far the teacher is from them

2. They are going to assess which direction the teacher is facing

3. They are going to assess whether the teacher is preoccupied with another student or task

If all three of these are a "go" for the student then they are going to committ and began goofing off.  As a teacher, we have to think to ourselves, what made them able want to goof off in the first place?  As mentioned before, the main reason for goofing off in class is because of the distance from the teacher to the students. The area of the classroom the student was in allowed for him to think of the three aspects before he committed.  This bring us to the zones of proximity in a classroom. 

There are three zones to proximity in a classroom. They are the red zone, yellow zone, and green zone.  The red zone is nearest to you (the teacher). Red means stop to the student. Students in the red zone cool it. The red zone is usually an eight foot radius around the teacher.  Outside of the red zone is the yellow zone. Yellow signals caution to the student. In the yellow zone, students cool it as long as you are facing in their direction. If the teacher decides to spend more time than necessary and does not use  the  Praise, Prompt, and Leave method the student is going to get the impression that the coast is clear.  Beyond the yellow zone lies the green zone — green as in go. When students in the green zone look up to see that they are in the clear to goof off they are going to check the three considerations first. Again, as mentioned before:

1. They are going to assess how far the teacher is from them

2. They are going to assess which direction the teacher is facing

3. They are going to assess whether the teacher is preoccupied with another student or task


 The picture above, from Jones, is a great illustration of what the three zones of proximity looks like in a  typical classroom. As you can see in the back of the classroom there are two students in the green zone goofing off. 
It is important that when designing the layout of a classroom that the zones of proximity are taken into consideration. The goal is to try and have as many students in the red zone as possible.  The more students that are in the red zone the less likely they will be goofing off and will be paying attention.



Working the Crowd

It is important for the teacher to be constantly moving around.  Changing the zones of proximity, by mobility, throughout the classroom keeps on-task.  According to Jones (2007), there are three rules to take into consideration for mobility around the classroom.

Three Rules for Mobility in the Classroom

1. Constantly change the zones of proximity so that no one is in the green zone for very long.

2. Stimulate the brain to attend by constantly changing everyone's visual field.

3. Use movement as camouflage for dealing with disruptive students (Page 34).

Below are some examples of different layouts that can be found in typical math classrooms.  The red lines indicated the interior loop for the teacher to keep all the students in the red zone as much as possible. These loops are a great route to take as teachers are giving lessons, talking with students, or helping as they Praise, Prompt, and Leave.


Spiritual Application

"If it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully" (Romans 12:8). 

In this particular section, the purpose of this strategy is to keep students on track. It is very difficult to have students stay on track if they are being distracted by other students.  This verse deals more directly with the teacher and the role they are to play in the classroom.  If the teacher is spending less time on managing students who are off-task they are more likely to teach the students which leads to encouragement, and contributing to their needs.