• Destiny Yarbro

Barbara Coloroso and Fred Jones: Two Opposing Theorists on Classroom Management


Two theorists of classroom discipline are Barbara Coloroso and Fred Jones. I will compare and contrast these approaches and discuss which best methodology fits my work in teaching sign languages to college-age students.

Barbara Coloroso promotes a low-control or guiding approach to classroom management. She encourages teachers to nurture students’ “inner-discipline” by treating them with respect, giving them agency, and allowing them to experience natural and logical consequences for their choices (Coloroso & Albert, 1995, p. 28). She believes teachers should “discipline [students] with dignity” and be a strong backbone rather than an authoritarian “brick-wall” or permissive “jellyfish” teacher for their students (The Edvocate, n.d).

Coloroso’s approach has many positive aspects. She encourages teachers to meet their students’ basic needs, specifically their mental and emotional needs. She says each student needs six “critical life messages” affirmed to them everyday: “I believe in you. I trust in you. I know you can handle it. You are listened to. You are cared for. You are very important to me” (Coloroso & Albert, 1995, p. 28). In this way, her approach is very trauma-friendly. Her approach is not a “quick fix” trick (Moore, 2005, p. 406) so the results are longer-lasting. As students “learn to make good choices by having the chance to choose, not by following directions” (Kohn, 1995), it allows students to practice responsible agency.

There are, however, negative aspects to Coloroso’s approach. When imagining students sitting in a semi-circle around a teacher, eagerly attentive and hanging onto every word they utter, Coloroso’s approach seems fully capable of managing a classroom. Yet, when students with extreme behavior issues (like harming other students or themselves) are present, her approach is clearly too light-handed. By allowing students to lead out and make choices, teachers must “make sure that student decisions don’t lead to situations that are life threatening, morally threatening, or unhealthy” (Moore, 2005, p. 407). An inner-discipline approach takes time; something that is not realistic for some situations.

For example, a teacher in Arizona was assigned to teach a church class with seven young students with profound disabilities. Nurturing inner-discipline was too idealistic as the reality was that these students were continuously attempting to hurt themselves, the teacher, and other students. Due to communication disorders, there were limitations in how much they and the teacher could communicate and understand each other. This teacher was clearly in ‘survival mode’ and needed the help of teacher assistants to arrive at a place where, perhaps, a low-control model could be implemented.

Fred Jones promotes a high-control or intervening approach to classroom management. He recommends teachers use three tiers of management: limit-setting or interpersonal-interactive, incentive systems or incentive-contractual, and back-up systems or punishment-containment (Jones, n.d).

Jones’ approach has many positive aspects. A system of rewards and punishments is fast acting and provides immediate results for the strapped teacher. Classroom ideals are tangible and both the teachers and the students are able to measure progress easily. (e.g. A ‘good’ class is a well-behaved class.) Practical techniques shape behavior and the best teachers have a variety of tools in their bag to help their students behave appropriately.

There are, however, many negative aspects to Jones’ approach (as well as to similar behaviorist approaches). He focuses on conformity; a ‘good student’ is a well-behaved student. His “Say, See, Do” method instructs teachers to “you tell students what to do, you show them what to do, and then you have them do it” (Education World, n.d). When measuring the power dynamics, the teacher easily wields all the power in this type of classroom. Jones’ emphasizes “exploiting your power” and “meaning business” (Education World, n.d) which sounds great in theory but teachers can easily become what Mary Parker Follett labeled “coercive” (or power over) rather than coactive (or power with) towards their students (Caramela, 2018). So, rather than exploring and nurturing their own desires for learning, students either (1) attempt to do everything the teacher wants, or (2) rebel under the system and risk being labeled a ‘bad student.’ It may be easy for teachers to see students simply as behavior machines; that they simply need to be re-programmed according to the teacher’s specifications. Afterall, Jones has referred to teaching as “input, input, input, input = output” (Education World, n.d).

Another negative aspect to Jones’ behaviorist approach is that it is not always trauma-informed. For students who have experienced trauma at home or in school, establishing incentive systems that are “prearranged, explicit, concrete, and public” may be triggering, feel unsafe or stifling for a student, and ultimately have the exact opposite effect than the one desired (Jones, n.d).

For example, I remember a fellow student who only felt safe sitting under her chair. She had grown up in the foster care system and could not process information when she felt unsafe. Thankfully, our teacher realized that a “no means no” approach (Education World, n.d) was not a fit in this situation. She allowed this student to be under her chair and as a result, this student eventually began to answer questions and even come up and, at times, sat on her chair like the rest of us.


When considering teaching and disciplining college-level students in a sign language course, the best model is clearly Barbara Coloroso’s. This approach supports students as they learn how to use their agency and allows for intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivators. These future professionals will absolutely need the skill set of inner-discipline that Coloroso’s approach engenders.

For example, a sign language teacher can use “authentic measures of assessment” (Armstrong, 2018, p.129) and “authentic [language learning] activities” (Ozverir & Herrington, 2011). Rather than a standardized test, this teacher could give the following choices for students to show their comprehension of Deaf history:

(1) Record a conversation between you and a former Deaf institute student as they describe their first day in the Deaf world.

(2) Imagine being at the Deaf President Now! movement in Washington, D.C. and learn three phrases in ASL you would use in that context to show your support for Deaf rights.

(3) Create a two minute video about mass killings of Deaf in Hitler’s Germany.

In a low-control / guiding classroom, college-age students will learn how to plan their time, break down large projects, and prioritize competing demands; again, all skills that are vital as professionals in this day and age.

Reference List

Armstrong, T. (2018). Multiple intelligences in the classroom (4th ed.). ASCD.

Caramela, S. (2018, February 21). The Management Theory of Mary Parker Follett. Business.com. https://www.business.com/articles/management-theory-of-mary-parker-follett/

Coloroso, B. & Albert, L. (1995). What’s Noteworthy on Learners, Learning, Schooling. Mid-Continent Regional Education Lab, p. 28-32. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED398641.pdf

Jones, F. (n.d.) Positive classroom discipline: Chapter 18 - discipline management. http://www.fredjones.com/discipline-18-1

Education World. (n.d.) Fred Jones: Tools for Teaching. https://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/columnists/jones/jones.shtml

Education World. (n.d.) Meaning Business: Exploiting Your Power. https://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/columnists/jones/jones030.shtml

Kohn, A. (1995). Discipline is the problem - not the solution. https://www.alfiekohn.org/article/discipline-problem-solution/

Ozverir, I. & Herrington, J. (2011, June). Authentic activities in language learning: Bringing real world relevance to classroom activities. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/11237465.pdf

The Edvocate. (n.d). What is inner discipline? Edudpedia. https://www.theedadvocate.org/edupedia/content/what-is-inner-discipline/

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