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How to stop low level disruption

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Being interrupted when you’re trying to teach is frustrating. So how exactly do you stop students interrupting and disrupting the flow of your lessons to the detriment of teaching and learning in your classroom?

I firmly believe that the majority of classroom management problems can be prevented by thinking ahead and removing the many excuses and reasons students have to misbehave. By explaining EXACTLY what you want your students to do and EXACTLY how they can succeed there is more chance they will actually do it. I use the analogy of a road map on live courses to explain this; by giving your students a clear set of directions, a detailed map or step-by-step instructions to follow you give them every chance of getting where you want them to go or doing what you want them to do. By giving these instructions and teaching the behaviour you want to see at the right time – immediately prior to transitions or any activity which is likely to result in disruption – you eliminate confusion (or excuses for confusion) so that students have no justification to mess around or shout out and every chance of behaving appropriately.

For example, if I suddenly start trying to explain a concept or introduce a new activity to a class without first clearly explaining my expectations for the next phase of the lesson, I will be met by the usual annoying behaviours from disengaged or confused students such as switching off, calling out, getting out of their seats, quizzing each other and generally messing around. If they’re not focused and clear about what they must do in a given situation they have an ‘excuse’ to do something else.

If I want them to work quietly – either independently or in learning pairs I would instead give them clear choices as to how they can get my attention without calling out. I would provide written instructions on the board for them to follow if they get stuck or frustrated with a particular element of the work. I would explain what they must do if they need a certain piece of equipment and I would provide ‘extension’ and ‘early finishers’ opportunities. By doing these things I eliminate many of the reasons which might otherwise cause students to disrupt the lesson. The most common sources of frustration (and associated misbehaviour) and call outs such as “I don’t understand”, “I haven’t got a pen” or Sir, Sir, I don’t know what to do!” would now be reduced.

If I want them to stop what they’re doing and come round my desk for a demonstration I would explain in a step-by-step manner (perhaps with written instructions on the board to reinforce what I’m saying) exactly how they are to pack up, exactly what they should do with their books and equipment, exactly how they should move round the room and exactly where they should stand when they reach my desk. This might seem tedious and overly controlling but if done with a warm, firm but friendly tone, the students respond very well and classroom management problems are reduced.

For more strategies for dealing with low-level disruption (as well as more serious behaviour-related incidents) be sure to check out Take Control of the Noisy Class.

22 comments
Barb says 10th February 2014

I need help about sleeping students in DAEP. I take their chairs away and they sleep in their cubby on their desk. Help!!!!

jose says 15th December 2013

Thank you very much for sharing your ideas, it´s very useful !

Andy Abele says 10th December 2013

Thanks Rob! Great strategies as always 🙂

Noor says 10th December 2013

Thanks for the ideas. Usually i use instructional materials with
pictures . I stick them to on a stick and raise them for students when
needed.

Gillian Terry says 10th December 2013

Excellent yet such simple ideas!

Donna says 10th December 2013

As per usual, Rob’s wisdom shines. Suggestions are written so clearly, make so much sense, and work!

Lyudmila says 10th December 2013

Thanks a lot for this. The way seems to be very simple but it works every time you use it. Just great!!

Faisal37 says 1st March 2013

pure brilliance

Tainafricana1 says 1st March 2013

Thank you for all the strategies.

Derleed says 28th February 2013

Very impressive and effective.

Mgray says 28th February 2013

So simple:)

Madeleine says 28th February 2013

Thank you, I love reading all these ideas, they are really helpful.

Vmccarter says 28th February 2013

Things we all know we should do.  Thanks for the reminder that it’s not only OK to slow down a little bit for this sort of “front loading” but saves time in the end.

Mbca says 28th February 2013

Thanks from Jamaica!

Judy Stechly says 28th February 2013

I’m a college professor and have just finished a management unit with the students.  I totally agree that students MUST know your expectations and MUST know what the choices and consequences are in the classroom.  One author that we read states that ACTIONS must follow WORDS. . . Also, the stare, the proxmity to students often stops the student who is disrupting.  I like what Mark had to say about making sure students understand what you want.  I do a “listening” check.  “Tell me what is the first thing you are to do . . . . etc. After checking, then tell the students you are setting a timer for 7 minutes and will not answer any questions within that seven minutes.  It almost forces students to listen and depend on themselves.   Thanks for so many great ideas. . . . .

Mark Anthony Steacy says 28th February 2013

Another strategy you could use to check to see if instructions are understood is to ask ‘instruction-checking’ questions e.g. ‘What are you doing first, Paul?’, ‘Are you writing or speaking, Sarah?’, ‘Who are you working with Patrick?’, ‘How many questions do you need to answer Sinead?’, How much time do you have Aoife?’, etc…

Glenda says 28th February 2013

I’m trying your ideas in the classroom and starting to see some positive effects. Thanks 🙂

Aimee says 28th February 2013

Thank you!

deidra says 2nd January 2010

Thanks, very helpful- can’t wait to try so of these ideas!!

    deidra says 2nd January 2010

    Can’t wait to try SOME of these ideas. Thanks Rob

Rob Plevin says 1st January 2010

Thanks for that post Bob – glad you found the information useful. 🙂

Bob Zaslow says 1st January 2010

The moment I read, “If they’re not focused and clear about what they must do in a given situation they have an ‘excuse’ to do something else.” I found myself saying, “Yes, that’s the key!”

When I think back to the times all my good intentions evaporated into lost minutes of teaching time, I’m convinced they were mainly brought on by lack of clarity about what their next task was. Thank you for so succinctly pointing out a problem that was right in front of my nose!

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