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Research-based strategies for dealing with disruptive students in the classroom.
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Research-Based Strategies for Dealing With Disruptive Students

Over 50 million students attend a public school in the United States, taught by 3.2 million full-time teachers.

However, the teaching profession has a very high turnover rate. About 8% of teachers quit and pursue a new profession, or retire, each year. And in some states, as many as 40% of teachers leave the job after five years.

This is due to a variety of reasons, but disruptive students they cannot control is one of them. In this article, we’ll look at some research-based classroom management strategies that will help you in your day-to-day teaching.

We know teaching is a challenging profession, but we aim to help make it easier for you by giving you the tools you need to succeed. After all, we don’t want students to lose out on committed and competent teachers because of disruptive behavior.

Read on for more information on some of the best research-based strategies for classroom management.

How Disruptive Students Can Create a Ripple Effect

Disruptive students and their behavior create a ripple effect that can create problems for your entire class. Not only does it create stress for you, as the educator, but it can also create stress for the students.

While not all students want to be in school, some are keen to actually learn the material at hand. Those students will be left behind, especially if disruption becomes a huge problem.

In some cases, a child can be so disruptive that it makes lessons impossible. You may even have to find a way to cater to that child specifically to ensure the class gets their adequate time with you.

Or, because the child is disruptive, other students may see the student not being adequately disciplined. As such, they may feel that they can do whatever they want, whenever they want because you have such little control over the classroom.

Do not let that happen to you.

Creating Expectations From the Outset

According to a thorough 2018 study in the Journal of Advances in Medical Education & Professionalism, creating expectations from the outset helps reduce disruptive classroom behavior.

If students know what to expect from the beginning of your course, they’re more likely to follow the rules than if the rules are ambiguous.

Many teachers start their term or semester thinking students already know they should be quiet and stay in their seats. While that may be a given for students in higher education, it isn’t always for students in K-12.

Throughout the years of their education, students will have had teachers discipline them differently, or offer different rewards to them. Some teachers employ ongoing rewards and discipline, and these are laid out at the beginning of the course.

While you may have to take more drastic measures as the year wears on, it is a good idea to layout expectations on the first day. If you’re in a high school, creating a syllabus for your course is a great idea. It can help prepare students for higher education and give them, in writing, what you expect of them.

At this point, you can state that talking or disruptive behavior can affect their grade, their free time, or whatever mode of discipline you wish to employ.

Do not just put this in the syllabus, but go over it with the students verbally.

Research-Based Classroom Management Strategies Involve Getting to Know Your Students

The same study that we mentioned above also states that getting to know your students on a personal level creates a decline in disruptive behavior.

We all have our favorite teacher. We may even have a teacher from school that we keep in touch with via Facebook or email every once in a while. That teacher may have been why you decided to go into teaching the first place.

All teachers begin their career aspiring to be “that teacher.” But few rise to the occasion. They may become so overwhelmed that they find it impossible to get to know their students personally.

And depending on how many students you teach, having a personal relationship with all of them can be difficult. But, if you can get to know them and respect them as people, students will, in turn, respect you.

Taking time to get to know your students in and out of the classroom is very important. You may wish to employ games in the classroom that foster teamwork or help students feel connected to each other and you.

If you can, create a club or after-school activity for your students, and let all of them know about it. Fostering these relationships is essential for you and your students alike.

You likely already know that students who display disruptive behavior are sometimes students who have complicated home lives. As such, they may not always share the root of their disruptive behavior with you, leading to both of you becoming frustrated.

Having close relationships with your students allows you to understand why your students act the way they are. Maybe your student has to watch a younger sibling late into the night for their parent. Or perhaps the student is experiencing abuse, or their parents have financial difficulties. Sometimes, the behavior comes from the fact that the student has an undiagnosed learning disability and the frustration that arises from that.

If any of the above is the case, a close relationship allows for them to confide in you, and for you to look for ways to help mitigate the home issue as well as classroom behavior.

Free-Time as a Reward

This tip is an old one, but a good one. It’s tried and true and is part of a 1978 edition of the academic journal, Psychology in the Schools.

For this strategy, you can either choose to treat your students as a team or as individuals. According to the study, treating students as individuals worked better than as a team, but they both were effective in reducing classroom disruption.

When your students are working independently, you can then use having a certain amount of free time per week as a reward. The reward will be contingent upon their performance. If a student performs well, they will get the maximum level of free-time. If a student does not perform well, they will not receive free-time at all.

In this experiment, the threat of not receiving free-time made students buckle down and study. They worked as a team often, but the study found that “every man for himself” approach worked best.

If your students are doing something like silent reading or writing essays, measuring performance may not be a good way to mete out rewards. As such, you may wish to adapt to giving free-time based on their classroom behavior.

The “Good Behavior Game” to Curb Disruptive Behavior

Another oldie but goodie is the “Good Behavior Game,” this one comes from the Fall 1973’s Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis.

The “Good Behavior Game” markedly reduces disruptive behavior as the students are now working as a team. With this game, you’ll need to divide your students into two or three “teams.” You can do this by creating groups within your classroom, or pitting classes you teach against one another.

Establish a reward students want if they’re on the winning team. If your school has uniforms, you may wish to organize a free dress for the winners. Or, you can do something like having a pizza party with the winners.

The “Good Behavior Game” should have clear rules, and you should deduct points for disruptive behavior accordingly. Creating a system at the beginning of the term is an excellent way to do so. Students will be marked down 1 point for talking out of turn, 5 points for getting out of their seats, and so on.

Keep track of the points throughout the term or quarter, making it clear when a student has lost a point. The team with the most points at the end of the term wins.

Try and ensure you can do something like this every quarter or term. Having your students do this every year is too much for many, and they may lose interest if they cannot visualize the reward.

Keeping Students’ Behavior in Check

We know that using research-based classroom management strategies for disruptive students is the best way to keep them in line. We also understand it can be incredibly challenging to do so, and sometimes you need extra support.

We’d like to invite you to sign up for our monthly managing students’ behavior webinar by clicking here.

Additionally, if you’re a school psychologist, special education director, school counselor, or behavior interventionist, we’d love to speak to you about our software. It helps you create legally-defensible intervention plans in just under 1 hour. Click here to schedule your 30-minute demo.

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