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.