Low Level Disruption

Low level disruption in the classroom can not only interrupt pupils’ learning, but can prove an irritation and distraction to your teaching. How can you deal with the problem without the heavy handedness of staged sanctions, which may just escalate the problem?
The definition of low level disruption can be subjective. What one person interprets as low level, may be of little or no issue for another. For the purpose of this article we can classify low level disruption in terms of those behaviours which are not overtly confrontational or challenging, but are nevertheless interrupting the teaching and learning environment, such as:

Late arrival to lesson
Persistent chattering or whispering
Daydreaming
Lack of correct equipment
Out of seat
Continuous questioning
Tapping
Fidgeting
Eating

As individual behaviours the above list certainly does not represent a list of high level challenges, however, if allowed to continue, the concentration and learning of other pupils will be badly affected.

One of the problems in responding to such low level disruptive behaviour is that it is very easy to over react. If you currently use a staged system of sanctions within your schools behaviour policy, you may well find yourself running through one, two or even three levels of response and finding that the original problem behaviour such as fidgeting or daydreaming is receiving a totally unrealistic sanction:

Teacher: “Mark, stop that noise and get on with your work.”
Mark: “It helps me to concentrate.”
Teacher: “Mark that’s your first warning, you will have to stay behind for two minutes at the end of the lesson.”
Mark: “That’s not fair, I’m getting my work done!”
Teacher: That’s a level two! Don’t keep answering back!”
Mark: “But George is wasting time too!”
Teacher: “Ok, that was your second warning, you now have a lunchtime detention!”

Sticking rigidly to your behaviour plan does demonstrate consistency and show that you are not prepared to negotiate, but the problem with the above example is you have now escalated a simple issue of fidgeting into answering back, involving other pupils and finally issued a lunchtime detention, probably involving your own time for supervision!

It is important to maintain your existing behaviour policy responses in terms of rewards and sanctions, but there is a clear need to have additional strategies and responses to manage the types of low level disruptions which occur on a daily basis.

Practical Tips

Like many practical tips offered to help manage difficult behaviour, the following may appear to be:

Well that’s just common sense!
I already know that!
That’s nothing new!
That won’t work, especially not with my pupils, they’re far too difficult for that!

All of the above may well be true however it is important not to dismiss suggestions which at first seem too simple or too obvious, which in fact if you take the time to try them, can have quite dramatic and positive effect on pupil behaviour. It is just a matter of remembering the tactic in the first place, and then using it with positive expectations. The temptation, if you have a structured behaviour system in place, is to immediately use the levels of that system with the end result as described above. Here is a list of suggested responses to low level disruption, as with all the best suggestions, they won’t work with all the pupils all of the time, however they will form a comprehensive addition to your “toolbox” of strategies and may help to prevent an escalation of behaviour, or an escalation of your responses to that behaviour:

Meet and greet: Be at the door of the classroom before pupils to set the scene, welcome and remind pupils about expectations

Positive language and use of praise: Catch pupils doing the right thing and verbally recognise this. You may also choose to use “secret” or predetermined signals for target pupils.

Proximity recognition: Name the pupil and their behaviour which is acceptable ensuring the target pupil hears and sees the appropriate behaviour.

Proximity: Simply being closer to the target pupil will change his or her behaviour. Don’t remain stationary behind your desk or rooted at the front of the class. Be aware of personal space.

Use first names: When giving instructions, praise or any verbal comments be prepared to use first names

Check for understanding: Ask questions of all pupils to ensure full understanding and to reinforce your expectations

Responsibility: Give pupils who are prone to low level disruption a post of responsibility within the classroom

Rewards: Include positive comments, signals (thumbs up etc) “The Look!” as part of your reward systems. It is not always necessary to formalise the rewards a per the school system.

Pre warned questions: Talk to the target pupils before the lesson/activity and warn them of the questions that are due to come up in discussion. Get them to work out answers prior to the discussion and they are then pre warned and ready. make sure you praise correct answers.

Avoid sarcasm: Whilst some comments may seem appropriate to you at the time and are intended to be taken in a lighthearted manner, they can be very damaging to your relationship with pupils

Avoid peer pressure: Comparing and judging behaviour between pupils will invariable lead to bad feelings and at worse confrontation

These are just a few examples of low level responses to low level disruption. Used appropriately and proactively they can reduce any escalation of difficult behaviour without the need to resort to more formal responses and consequences.

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