Low level disruption is the bane of many teachers’ lives. But with the right strategies, it can be greatly reduced. Have you tried the following?
Be aware of your ‘vibe’
When pupils enter your room, they have to know that they are entering your space. The ‘vibe’ you give off is therefore especially important.
Try to exude confidence by walking slowly around your room with your back straight.
Your authority and your room should be inseparable to pupils, so make a habit of moving about. You may want to do the register from the back of the room or conduct some assessment for learning from the far side. The message that pupils’ will subliminally receive is that you are the authority; they are in your space and your rules must be followed.
Use your voice
The amount of low-level disruption you encounter will be somewhat dependent on how you use your voice. One thing to definitely avoid is being monotonous, but it also helps to pay close attention to the tone and volume of your voice, depending on what you are trying to achieve. For example, your “if I hear you talking again, it’ll be another five minutes at break” voice should be noticeably different from your “let’s listen to the cells song” voice.
In addition, when giving instructions, explanations, rewards or reprimands, make effective use of the "pause", during which you say nothing at all. For example, if a pupil is talking over you, give them your teacher stare, pause, and then say: “Excuse me?” Pause again here, and then add: “I just asked for silence.” The pause helps to make the message clearer and often pupils respond better to a teacher who says less but seemingly means more. When combatting low-level disruption we often tend to ramble and end up getting ignored.
Keep up the pace
One thing you can do to curb your pupils’ unnecessary chatter, is keep them on the go. This just takes a bit of careful planning to avoid "dead time". If the class is watching a video clip, for instance, use this time to hand out your worksheets; don’t wait until the video has finished. And if they need to stick the worksheet into their books, make sure the glue sticks are handed out while they are doing the worksheet, not after they’ve completed it.
It is also good to plan lots of short, varied activities rather than longer ones, if possible, as this will help to hold pupils’ attention. Oracy activities can work well as classes who like to talk will often happily talk about work if given the right scaffolding.
Use your school systems
Of course, what works for one teacher does not always work for another. To further complicate this, what works for one pupil does not work for another. And to complicate things further still, what works for one teacher for one pupil, may not work for another teacher for the same pupil.
Nonetheless, it is good to have a fall-back plan. Most schools have a three warning consequence system, so if your voice doesn’t work as a first port of call, issue a warning by writing the pupil’s name on the board with a tick next to it. Firmly but politely tell them that you will be forced to give them a sanction if they continue.
If the disruption is coming from so many pupils that it would be impossible to give so many warnings, target the key players. In many classes there are about three kids who can swing the class in the wrong direction. Sanction these pupils according to your school policy and make a point of ringing home.
And never forget the importance of building relationships; be sure to always reward a child who has consistently maintained improved behaviour.
Omar Akbar is a teacher and author of The (Un)official teacher’s manual: What they don’t teach you in training