Low-level behaviour issues are a daily occurrence in schools, with pupils causing disruptions through chair rocking, talking out of turn, note passing and pen tapping. One reason this behaviour should be taken seriously and intercepted is that ‘low-level disruption is what pupils do instead of learning’ (Bennett, 2009).
In the Continental Research Survey 2004, 71% of teachers and 62% of support staff identified constant low-level behaviour, such as chatting and leaving seats without permission, to be a factor that is most detrimental to a child’s learning. Here are our simple tips for managing this type of behaviour in the classroom:
1. Adopt a proactive attitude
Instead of reacting to a situation that is taking place, ensure strategies for dealing with low behaviour levels are established and consequences for pupils displaying such behaviour are communicated clearly. Set expectations and ensure all pupils are aware of the type of behaviour that will not be accepted within the classroom; draw up a chart with class rules and display it in a prominent area. Ensure all staff members are aware of pupils with behavioural difficulties and are thus prepared to deal with any issues that are likely to arise.
Low-level behaviour is often a result of boredom; preparation is the best tool for solving this problem before it even arises. ‘The teacher’s ability to manage the classroom group through planned activities is a key element in developing constructive behaviour patterns’ (Watkins & Wagner, 2000). It is evident then that most disruption will take place when a class lacks in structure. Ensure lessons promote the involvement of all students so that they are more engaged, thus less likely to cause disruption. A good strategy for this is to have several short activities within each lesson, rather than one activity drawn out over the entire session that may not engage all students, such as reading out of a textbook.
3. Balancing negative and positive
As bad behaviour should be punished, good behaviour should be rewarded. An incentive that encourages good behaviour is often a good strategy. These should be in the form of spirit lifters which serve to ‘boost interest levels, focus positive attention and lift the atmosphere’ (Mathieson & Price, 2001). These rewards could take many different forms, from a simple verbal praise to merits, certificates and prizes. The punishment should be fair and appropriate to the offense that has been committed. Ideally it would also offer a means of self-reflection and incite the desire for the pupil to improve their behaviour, for example through a loss of privileges. Ensure the privileges taken away are not counter-productive however; if a child enjoys a particular subject or is engaged in sport, taking this away could be detrimental to their learning.
4. Stay calm
Remember to stay calm, as overreacting to low-level behaviour is counter-productive. Try to remember that your pupils will have off-days just as anybody else may. Using humour or distraction tactics can work well, although some caution should be used in this approach so the pupil does not feel that they are being treated disrespectfully, which could only serve to escalate the situation.
Charlie Taylor’s 2012 behaviour checklist ‘Getting the Simple Things Right’ identifies that the most important element in dealing with behaviour issues is consistency; ‘where there is inconsistency in schools, children are more likely to push boundaries.’ The rules that have been set up and the consequences for breaking those rules should be reiterated so that all pupils are aware of appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. Implement a warning system, perhaps with a three strikes structure; ensure that each verbal warning states exactly what behaviour they are being punished for and what the consequence will be if the behaviour does not cease. Make sure threats are carried out or there will be no incentive for the student’s behaviour to change as they believe they are able to ‘get away with it’.
Are there any techniques you have found to be the most successful at managing low-level behaviour issues? Is there anything you have tried that hasn’t worked? Let us know your views.