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If you sat down at the beginning of the school year and totted up how many teaching hours were lost to low-level disruptive behaviour in the classroom each year, you’d probably need an extra couple of weeks in every term to cover all the subjects in your timetable.

The truth is, all classrooms experience disruptive behaviour. Even if this is considered ‘low-level’, it can still cause problems for both the teacher and the rest of the class.

The level of disruption caused by this behaviour was highlighted in a Osted report from 2014:

….pupils are potentially losing up to an hour of learning each day in English schools because of this kind of disruption in classrooms. This is equivalent to 38 days of teaching lost per year. A large number of pupils, therefore, are being denied a significant amount of valuable learning time.

What causes low-level disruptive behaviour?

First of all, it’s helpful to understand why this type of disruption occurs. There are a few common reasons, including students thinking that their schoolwork is either too hard or too easy, and misbehaviour for the sake of causing disruption and being the centre of attention.

Ensuring that the work is appropriate for your students comes from learning about their capabilities. This is obviously trickier at the start of the year but, as your knowledge of them increases, you should find it easier to prevent pupils from becoming either bored or confused.

However, until you do understand the needs of each pupil, how can you manage behaviour targeted to disrupt your class from students who are bored, frustrated, or just intent on being noticed?

Begin as you mean to go on

At the beginning of the year, make your expectations clear. Create a clear set of rules that you display in the classroom and be sure to be consistent about enforcing them.

It might be difficult, especially if a few pupils believe that you’re always punishing them and not others, but tactical ignorance of the unfolding situation will only work as long as the rest of the class remains unaware of the issue.

The moment they understand that the rules are being broken, you have to be seen to act or your authority with the other students will weaken. If possible, however, speak to the student quietly to try and manage the behaviour before it reaches a point where it needs to be dealt with in front of other pupils.

Reward good behaviour

While it is important to sanction bad behaviour to demonstrate your authority within the classroom, you should also ensure that you reward good behaviour more often.

Praise is a powerful reward, proving to those who are exhibiting desired behaviour that they are getting more attention than any disruptive pupils, and so encouraging others to follow that path.

Be aware that, children being children, praising specific pupils too frequently could lead to them being bullied for being the ‘teacher’s pet’ by those who continue to disrupt your classes. This doesn’t mean that you should stop praising them but do be aware of their interactions with the less-disciplined students and nip in the bud any attempt to bully them.

Depending on the age group of your students, you can monitor and track a good behaviour with a class leaderboard and introduce prizes and rewards for the best behaved pupils each term.

Effective classroom management

There are also adaptations you can make to your own classroom management skills to decrease the amount of low-level disruptive behaviour in your classes.

For instance, when you’re setting work, make sure that every student is paying attention and not fidgeting or chatting. Get into the habit of having a student repeat the instructions back to you so they hear it twice.

Equally, try using positive language wherever possible, addressing the room as a unit rather than addressing the disruptive individuals. You can say, for example, that you want everyone to listen, rather than asking one pupil to stop talking.

In addition to this, try using choice direction, offering students the option of staying where they are and behaving or moving somewhere less comfortable for them. These options are heading towards confrontational, though, and you should avoid stand-offs where you or the pupil has to back down in front of the rest of the class.

The truth is, there is no simple response to low-level classroom disruption. However, knowledge really can be power in this instance. Getting to know your pupils and keeping them sufficiently occupied, as well as utilising and enforcing ground rules, can be an excellent way to retain authority within your classroom throughout the year.

If you are looking for a solution to the problem of low-level disruptive behaviour, schools using the EDLounge platform report better behaviour in and out of class. For details and a free demonstration how EDLounge can help manage your pupils’ learning environment to improve outcomes, get in touch via our contact form or call us on 01909 568 338.