Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
The following excerpt gives some suggestions on how to handle
disruptive behaviors in class. It is from, TEACHING AT ITS BEST A
Research-Based Resource for College Instructors, byLINDA B. NILSON,
Anker Publishing Company, Inc. Bolton, MA. Copyright (c) 1998 by
Vanderbilt University. All rights reserved. Reprinted with
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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
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HANDLING SPECIFIC DISRUPTIVE BEHAVIORS
CHAPTER 8, CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT
If you encounter a discipline problem in your classroom, the first thing
to do is to stay calm. Count to ten, breathe deeply, visualize a
peaceful scene, anything to keep you from losing your temper. No matter
how much an offensive student tries to bait you, you lose credibility if
you lower yourself to his level. If you keep your composure, you win
the sympathy and support of the other students. They may even start
using social pressure to discipline the offenders themselves.
Keeping your composure, however, does not mean just accepting and
tolerating the abuse. There are some specific, appropriate measures you
can take in response to disruptive behaviors (Nilson, 1981; Ballantine
and Risacher, 19993).
TAKING IN CLASS. Occasional comments or questions from one student to
another are to be expected. However, chronic talkers bother other
students and interfere with your train of thought. To stop them, try a
long, dramatic pause. Then, if necessary, accompany your pause with an
equally dramatic stare at the offenders. If still necessary, say
something general like "I really think you should pay attention to this;
it will be on the test" or "You are disturbing your classmates." If the
problem persists, get stern with the offenders outside the class.
Direct intervention and public embarrassment are strictly last resorts.
PACKING UP EARLY. Routinely reserve some important points or classroom
activities (e.g., quizzes, writing exercises, clarification of the
upcoming readings, study guide distribution) until the end of class. Or
have students turn in assignments at the end of class. Paper-rustling
and other disruptive noise-making during class can be stopped the same
way as is talking in class.
ARRIVING LATE AND/OR LEAVING EARLY. State your policies clearly on
these offenses in your syllabus and on the first day of class. You can
insist that students inform you, preferably in advance, of any special
circumstances that will require them to be late to class. You can even
subtract course points for coming late and leaving early, as long as you
set this policy at the start. You might draw attention to offenders by
pausing as they walk in and out. Alternatively, you can set aside an
area near the door for latecomers and early leavers. Finally, as you
can do to discourage packing up early, you can routinely conduct
important class activities for the beginning and the end of class.
CHEATING. Academic dishonesty is such a serious and widespread problem
in higher education today that the entire next chapter is devoted to
WASTING TIME. If students habitually try to monopolize class time,
encourage them to speak with you after class to clarify their questions.
You can broaden the discussion and call attention away from the
disruptive student by asking the rest of the class for the answers.
Another strategy is to put out a question box. You can read the
questions after class and briefly address some of them at the next
meeting. You can also encourage students to e-mail their questions to
you or to put them on the course listserv or newsgroup. While less
personal, these options offer a less confrontational format.
ASKING PROBLEMATIC QUESTIONS. These include a wide variety of
questions: those that you've already answered, those that try to wheedle
answers out of you that you want the students to arrive at on their own,
those that ramble on and on, those that you regard as argumentative,
loaded, or hostile, and those you don't have the information to answer.
Constructive ways to respond to such questions, whether or not they are
ill intended, are covered in Chapter 16.
SHOWING DISRESPECT. Once again, make your expectations for appropriate
classroom manners clear from the start, and reinforce them continually
by your exemplary behavior. Enlist the aid of other students to monitor
and report disruptive incidents. Talk to offenders privately and
explain that their behavior is affecting their fellow students' ability
Sometimes students show disrespect to get the attention they believe
they cannot get through any other means, to vent their anger towards
authority in general, or to express some other deep-seated emotional
problem. Leave such cases to the professionals and refer such students
to your institution's psychological or counseling center.
ATTENDING CLASS IRREGULARLY. In general, attendance drops off as class
size increases. It is also lower in more lecture-oriented classes. So
one obvious way to increase attendance is to build in more opportunities
for student participation. Taking some of the following measures in
combination should also help: basing part of the course grade on
attendance; taking attendance regularly (even if you don't calculate it
in the grade); basing part of the course grade on participation in
discussion (see Chapter 15); giving frequent, graded quizzes; covering
different material in class from that in the readings; not allowing
commercial production of your lecture notes; conducting cooperative
learning group activities in class and grading students in part on peer
performance evaluations (see Chapter 18); and conducting other frequent,
graded in-class activities (see, for example, Chapters 17, 19, and 20).
ASKING FOR EXTENSIONS AND MISSING ASSIGNMENT DEADLINES. In your
syllabus, specify penalties for late work, with or without an "approved"
extension (e.g., docking a portion of the grade). Some instructors feel
comfortable strictly enforcing this policy. But if you prefer to be
flexible, you probably realize that students occasionally have good
reasons for not meeting deadlines. But they also occasionally lie. You
must assess each extension request and excuse on a case-by-case,
student-by-student basis, perhaps allowing a single, documented incident
but drawing the line at the second.
A student with a habitual problem deserves a private talk along with the
full penalties as described. You might ask colleagues any chronic cases
among the majors in your department.
Your best strategy against all forms of disruptive behavior is
prevention. Be aware of potential problems, and plan carefully to keep
them from developing and to nip any stray weeds in the bud.