Losing valuable teaching time to disruptive students? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
This is a common occurrence in secondary schools. Pre-teen or teenage students are experiencing tensions in their social lives, family or at school, and finding ways to release these, often in the form of troublesome behaviour. This is seen in students of all genders and all age groups.
When you have to balance teaching with managing your students' behaviour, it can be challenging to find effective strategies that students will respond to positively. No one likes disciplining their students. But research looking at deterrents and incentives suggests that, with the right strategies, it may be easier than it seems…
What is Considered “Troublesome” Behaviour?
Adolescence is a stressful time. It is often associated with a number of academic, social, and environmental stressors. These can combine and cause tensions in students that they may express by acting out in class. And when that happens, students may exhibit disruptive behaviour in order to cope with the stress that comes along with the transition from childhood to adolescence.
When we say "troublesome behaviour", your mind may go directly to bullying and violence in the classroom. However, research shows that the troublesome behaviours reported by students and teachers usually aren't particularly serious in nature – it is their frequency that makes them disruptive and problematic.
As perceived by teachers and students at 3 different secondary schools, talking out of turn when either the teacher or another student was talking to the class was the most troublesome and most frequent behaviour. Many teachers found this to be disruptive as it distracted other students and left less classroom time to teach content - if you lose 10 seconds every time this happens, it can really add up over a year's worth of lessons.
88% of secondary school teachers indicated that the most troublesome student in the classroom was male. There is a gender gap in discipline in many schools, with male students more often the target of teachers attempts to control and return order to the classroom – teachers sometimes subconsciously treat boys and girls differently in their classroom, which can have negative effects on both groups.
For example, labelling a boy as the “classroom clown” may seem trivial. However, it can lead to more troublesome behaviour from the student as a way to confirm the stereotype: having a role in the classroom can seem attractive (especially to younger students) and sometimes encourage them to act up, leading to a disruptive environment.
How to Manage Troublesome Behaviour in Your Classroom
There are countless strategies you can use in the classroom to manage behaviours and get students back on track. However, both students and teachers agree that too much time is spent trying to manage classroom disruptions. It is important to understand which strategies are the most effective so that, when disruptive behaviour does present itself, you can easily manage it. This will allow you to waste less time getting order back in the classroom and spend more time teaching.
Students are less likely to repeat a behaviour when it is disciplined - likewise, they are likely to repeat one that is rewarded. Using this knowledge to your advantage, the strategies you can use can be separated into two categories:
- Deterrents that will discourage troublesome behaviour;
- Incentives that will encourage appropriate behaviour.
Research suggests that the most effective deterrents to troublesome behaviour are:
- Being sent to the principal’s office
- Getting detention
- Getting an unfavourable report sent home
These are considered to be the most effective because they have consequences, which affect the disruptive student’s activities. Getting a detention means missing a lunch break or having to stay back after school, which may force students to miss out on spending time with their friends or attending after-school activities.
Sending a bad report to the student’s home can also be effective when they act out. This may be because their parents are likely to disapprove and may lead to further consequences at home, such as being grounded or losing video game privileges.
Having faced negative consequences, these strategies may encourage students to think twice before causing trouble in the classroom again.
More than 50% of students at each year level favoured free time and a positive letter being sent home as incentives. Students also improved their behaviour when they received a good mark and a positive academic report was sent to their parents. If students know that they will be rewarded for their good behaviour in these ways, then they are likely to engage in less troublesome behaviour.
Students want to feel important and valued for their efforts. Research suggests that celebrating the positives can improve behaviour and compliance in the classroom. Private praise and reprimands are seen as effective means for increasing appropriate behaviour. In fact, they are seen as more effective than when praise or reprimands are made publicly. When teachers give genuine praise that is specific to the student and is well-deserved, it encourages them to continue learning and behaving well. It can also enhance their sense of belonging in the classroom and lead to more confident and motivated learners.
Understanding the most effective deterrents and incentives that can encourage students to adapt their behaviour can help teachers develop management strategies to create a positive and uplifting classroom environment.
Knowing which methods are effective for managing troublesome behaviour in their students can help teachers waste less time they could be spending teaching material. However, it is also important to remember that students want their good behaviour to be acknowledged and rewarded. In doing so, teachers can help develop motivated learners.