This is the sixth in our seven-part Facilitation Tips series. In this blog, we will cover some tips for dealing with disruptive learners.
As an instructor, you are responsible for creating productive learning experiences. How you manage the learning environment is key in the development of your students.
To that end, here are a few best practice ideas from experience on dealing with disruptions in the classroom:
- Use proximity. If you stay at the front of the room the whole time, students know they can pursue other activities without you noticing. If possible, move around the room as you conduct class, standing close to students who are talking or texting—the closer you get, the less likely they are to continue that behavior.
- Nip minor disruptions in the budwithout getting into a power struggle. One way to do this is to ask an off-task student a content-based question to get him or her engaged in the lesson.
- Avoid sarcasm. Although many teachers believe this projects confidence, it actually looks more like weakness and in most cases, makes students lose respect for you.
- Along those same lines, avoid publicly embarrassing students. Although it might work in the short term to get students back on track, it does nothing to build the kind of respectful relationship you should want with your students. Instead, address the behavior directly. In an even tone, say something simple like, “Please put your phone away,” or “Your conversation is distracting the class. Please save it for later.”
- Talking privately with the disruptive students can make a big difference. Again, in an even tone, describe the behavior you’re noticing, explain why it is a problem, and tell the student you’d like them to stop. In many cases, this is all that’s needed to change behavior.
- Avoid speech habits such as raising the tone of one’s voice at the end of each sentence. It weakens the person’s personal power considerably, as does a nervous laugh, speaking too softly, or not looking students in the eye.
- Vary your teaching methods.If your class is mostly lecture, your students will find other ways to entertain themselves. One very simple way to break up a lecture is think-pair-share: Have students pair up to discuss a question, then call on pairs to share their response with the rest of the class.
- Develop class rules with students. They will be more likely to follow the rules if they were instrumental in setting them up. This should be done at the start of a cohort, not as a way to get an unruly class to behave.
- Use a “parking lot”. If students ask a question or won’t let something go, have a sheet of butcher paper at the front of the room and label it “Parking Lot”. Then note any question or issue that needs resolving. Let the class know you don’t have the answer right now but you will “put it in the parking lot” and provide an answer to them as soon as you find it.
- The over eager student. If you have a learner who is monopolizing the conversation or answering every question, you can try not calling on them first (most will get the message) or saying to someone else “So-and-so, we haven’t heard much from you today. What do you think” as a way of directing the conversation to others in the room.
Occasionally you may have someone who is truly disgruntled to be attending your session. If that is the case, speak to that person privately and try to show how the training will make their lives easier. On a rare occasion, you might have to excuse someone from your class if they just cannot get with the program. This should be done privately so as not to disrupt the larger classroom.
Our responsibility to our learners is to provide a classroom where learning can take place. Classroom management skills improve with time and experience. Use these tips to keep your classroom on track.