Kids will be kids, and in themselves, many of the above are all fairly harmless activities (though those involving bodily functions can be hard to stomach, and hair-pulling can really hurt). Taken collectively they are incredibly wearing and can make a teacher’s life hell.
There are as many ways of dealing with low-level disruption as there are types of disruption – from the use of humour to thumbscrews – but I’m going to give you a stepped script here which you may find handy because it can be used to address virtually any type of low-level interruption…
The first thing to do is to point out very clearly what they are doing wrong. It’s surprising the effect this can have on them – sometimes they might not be aware of how annoying their behaviour is for other people in the room until it is spelled out to them. In terms of what you want them to do you need to make their choices as simple as possible and leave no room for misunderstanding. As the teacher, you also need to explain why they should do what you’re asking – ie, tell them what will happen if they don’t follow your instructions. By doing this you show that you’re not just getting on their backs just for the sake of it – there are reasons for your actions. This, of course, gives them fewer excuses to complain or argue.
“John you’re not doing your work and you’re putting everyone off with that tapping. You need to pick your pen up and finish your target so that you don’t have to get it finished in your own time.”
If they don’t immediately start doing as you’ve asked or if they answer you with a promise to do it soon, you should move on to stage 2. A promise that they will do as you ask ‘in a minute’ or ‘later’ is their way of trying to control the situation – so treat it as if they have ignored you and move to stage 2.
Tell them very clearly what the sanction will be if they continue – clearly and without fuss or emotion. Avoid humour too, because by now they have crossed the line.
“If you don’t stop throwing the bits of eraser you’ll have to spend your break clearing the floor.”
“If you don’t manage to get the work finished, I’ll get the boss of the internet to close Facebook down forever.”
Immediately follow on by giving them a time limit and then back off, walk away and give them some space. Allow them to save face as giving the student time to process everything that you have said so far is crucial to achieving classroom management success. It’s hard for them to jump to attention and do what you want when you’re standing over them, particularly if their friends are watching (and of course you know they are).
“I’m going to give you thirty seconds to do as I’ve asked.”
“I’ll be back in less than a minute and I expect to see it done.”
It’s all about telling them exactly where the boundary is and exactly what they have to do to get back on the right path. By backing off – walking to another part of the room or going to help another student – you’re giving them a chance to back down without losing face; you’re giving them an escape route. A child backed into a corner finds it difficult to back down in front of their classmates if you’re standing over them and will react accordingly – usually with more defiance. By walking away you take the pressure off.
A few words are all that’s needed to let them know they did the right thing and to encourage them to do it again in the future. It’s a big step they’ve just taken. Don’t lecture them about how they should follow instructions faster next time; just give them a sincere smile and some quiet private praise.
Younger students can be rewarded more formally – perhaps by giving them a sticker or a certificate for meeting the behaviour target ‘Follow teacher’s instructions’.
“Ok you’ve chosen to carry on doing…… That’s fine. You’ll be staying in at break for 5 minutes. Now get on with your work so that you don’t lose any more of your time.”
If the behaviour resumes after a few minutes respite, repeat the procedure with a tougher consequence this time: the next in your hierarchy. This is why you should always start off with a small consequence. If you wheel out your big guns straight away – threatening to switch on the portable mobile phone jammer instead of reducing break time by five minutes – you have no reserves if they continue to misbehave.
“John, if you don’t stop talking I’m going to keep you behind for five minutes at break.”
“You’ve already lost five minutes of your break, if you don’t want to lose another five minutes you need to pick up the rubber you just threw.”
“John, you’re a rubbish shot, and that’s your whole break gone, I warned you. Unless you want me to keep you behind after school I suggest you settle down and get the work finished.”
And there we have it – the complete list of my top 6 classroom management strategies for dealing with low-level disruption, suitable for any teacher with any class!