Classroom management strategies: how to handle disruptive influences

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There are a range of behaviours associated with disrupted lessons and these vary widely. Discover some common disruptive behaviours and how best to deal with them when you’re teaching.

Disruptive influences: talking

One of the most common disruptive behaviours in a classroom is pupils being overly talkative, but if your entire lesson consists of you speaking and expecting students to listen in silence, it’s no wonder that you’re experiencing problems with talkative pupils.

Aim to schedule in talking time. After you make a point, give students a couple of minutes to share their thoughts and feelings; for instance:

‘Do you think that x made the right decision with regard to y?’

If your students persist in talking out of turn, remind them of when they can talk by saying something like:

‘It’s fantastic that you have so many opinions on the subject and in a minute, you can share them with your group. But I’m going to need you to listen first so that you know what you’re doing.’

Disruptive influences: grandstanding

Grandstanding is a form of disruptive behaviour that involves one pupil consistently monopolising discussions – and thus class time.

The grandstander might derail a discussion to talk about something they want or they may simply talk at length about a relevant topic without letting anyone else get a word in.

If grandstanding is a particular problem with one class, remove the class’s ability to speak in debates without your say-so. Pupils can raise their hands or signal in another way, such as giving a thumbs up, to indicate that they want to reply to the current speaker.

This way you can control discussion by selecting the student who will speak next. Inform the class that there will be penalties for speaking out of turn and ensure that you enforce them.

Although grandstanding in neurotypicals is a profoundly narcissistic behaviour, teachers should be aware that what may appear to be grandstanding can also be a symptom of learning difficulties on the autism spectrum. If you suspect that a grandstander’s behaviour may be due to AS, seek help from an Special Education Needs (SEN) specialist.

Disruptive influences: lateness

Pupils who are consistently late are exhibiting passive aggressive disruptive behaviour, because by arriving after a lesson has already begun they ensure that their entry interrupts the entire class and draws attention to themselves.

Although lateness in and of itself does not indicate a passive aggressive personality – the student may have a legitimate reason for their delay or made an honest mistake that will not be repeated – persistent lateness is a problem.

Deal with the problem by directly addressing it. Inform the class that you will be monitoring who is late and that there will be penalties for repeated lateness. It might be useful to employ a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy. The third time a pupil is late without good reason, they receive a punishment such as detention.

Classroom management strategies that don’t work

Collective punishments, in which a group of students is punished when one misbehaves, have long since been discredited as effective classroom management strategies.

Well-behaved students who are consistently punished for something they haven’t done may start to misbehave in their own right, knowing that they’ll be in trouble whatever they do. They may even misbehave in retaliation against the classmates who got them a detention yesterday.

You are sending two messages by punishing pupils collectively – firstly, that you cannot be bothered to get to the bottom of who is behaving badly and secondly, that you are unreasonable and unjust.

Both of these factors contribute to resentment, a lack of respect and more disruptive behaviour on the part of pupils.

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