Instead of handling disruptions after they’ve happened, it can be more effective to set up conditions in which they are less likely to occur. Here are eight classroom strategies that teachers have shared with Edutopia, all backed by research.
- Greet students at the door:
In a study published last year, greeting students at the door helped teachers set a positive tone for the rest of the day, boosting academic engagement by 20 percentage points while reducing disruptive behavior by 9 percentage points—adding roughly an hour of engagement over the course of the school day.
- Establish, maintain, and restore relationships:
Building relationships with students through strategies like greeting them at the door is a good start. It’s also necessary to maintain them over the course of the school year and to repair them when conflicts arise. “The stronger the relationship and the better we understand our students, the more knowledge and goodwill we have to draw on when the going gets tough.
Strategies for establishing, maintaining, and restoring relationships—such as regular check-ins, and focusing on solutions instead of problems—can reduce disruptions by up to 75 percent.
- Use reminders and cues: “Novelty—such as the sound of a wind chime or rain stick—captures young students’ attention,” writes odd Finley, a former English teacher and current professor of English education, who suggests using these techniques to quiet a noisy class.
For older students, give plenty of warning if you need them to follow instructions. Reminders and cues are helpful ways to encourage students to follow instructions without being overtly controlling or forceful. For example, if you can anticipate a disruption—such as students getting out of their seats if they finish an assignment early—give a short reminder of what they should do instead.
Reminders are commonly verbal, but can also be visual (flicking the lights to signal that it’s time to be quiet), auditory (ringing a small bell to let students know they should pay attention to the teacher), or physical (using a hand signal to let students know to get back in their seats).
- Optimize classroom seating:
When students choose their own seats, they’re three times more likely to be disruptive than when seats are assigned. After all, they’ll probably pick seats next to their friends and spend more time chatting.
But that doesn’t mean the choice is always bad. Giving students a sense of ownership in the room, paired with clear expectations for behavior, can have surprisingly positive effects. A welcoming space can reduce anxiety and boost academic performance
- Give behavior-specific praise:
It may seem counterintuitive, but acknowledging positive behavior and ignoring low-level disruptions can be more effective than punishing or disciplining students. Instead of focusing on specific students, offer praise for the behavior you want to reinforce. For example, tell students, “Excellent work getting to your seats quickly.”
Students are more likely to listen to instructions that include clear reasons.
- Set clear expectations:
Instead of just displaying rules for behavior, have a discussion with your students about why those rules matter.
- Actively supervise:
“Presence is crucial to maintaining classroom management and to the effective delivery of instruction, and it’s a skill we can develop with effort. Although it’s tempting to sit at your desk and grade papers, that’s also an invitation to your students to get distracted. Be active: Move around the room, check-in on student progress, and ask questions. It’s not about policing your students, but about interacting with them.
- Be consistent in applying rules:
School and classroom expectations, rules, and routines should be followed and applied fairly to all students. Don’t single out certain students—it’s the behavior you should be focused on, not the student. Correct errors when you see them and provide additional instruction or reteaching when misbehavior occurs.
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