3rd April 2009 at 01:00
Problem: How do I stop a girl from humming in my lessons? She doesn't know she's doing it until I point it out to her. She's always apologetic, but it's very annoying

Humming in lessons is a typical example of low-level disruption and just like with chatting, fidgeting and calling out, a structured approach will help minimise and eliminate the problem. What makes this example different is that the pupil is not aware of her effect on the lesson and therefore not subject to the normal sanctions such behaviour would warrant.

So in this instance, consider what underlying issues are creating this situation, what can be done in the short term to stop it happening and how she can be made aware of her own humming to prevent it from disrupting further lessons.

She may be humming to herself for a number of reasons. "People tend to hum when they are either a little bit stressed or bored and looking for subconscious ways to distract themselves from it," says Tom Bennett, head of religious studies at Raine's Foundation School in east London. "Either way, it's an attempt to prevent the mind from wandering." First, Mr Bennett advises, make her aware of what she's doing. Tell her individually, not in front of the class, and keep reminding her every time she does it to let her know that you find it distracting. Eventually, she will become more conscious of her actions and learn to restrain herself.

To start with this may just involve a simple gesture known only to the pupil and yourself, thereby keeping the flow of the lesson and not drawing attention to it.

Tim Cooper, head of year at Hampton School in London, suggests a short tap on her desk each time you notice it as you walk through the classroom. He says that if the pupil is bored, you need to look at what methods you use to engage her.

"Increasing each pupil's participation is important, particularly at the start of the lesson. Boost the amount of Qamp;A to include her more often and perhaps discuss the situation with the learning support department. This may be an issue in other lessons than your own," he says.

Mr Bennett agrees with this approach, adding that in order to prevent the humming from recurring the pupil will need to be fully involved in the lesson. "Give her tasks that require her to engage every part of her brain. Keep the lesson fast paced and make sure she can't switch off," he says.

Of course, even with the liveliest of lessons, pupils' minds will occasionally wander. "The trick is not to let her resort to her ingrained response to boredom, which may take some time to overcome," he adds.

An alternative strategy is to introduce a reward system, advises Nicola Morgan, a behaviour consultant who is writing a book on troubleshooting behavioural problems.

"A humming child is obviously distracting to the teacher and other children's concentration. If persistent, the child could be ridiculed, which is damaging to her self-esteem. It is important to work on raising her awareness of the behaviour and then eradicating it," Ms Morgan says.

She recommends seating the pupil near you so you can praise her easily and reward her, perhaps through the use of tokens. Agree an interval with the pupil and reward her with a token for each interval in which she doesn't hum. Continue this throughout the lesson, so that if she reaches a pre- agreed target she is rewarded. "A consistent, positive approach with encouraging reinforcement is essential to achieve the desired goal," Ms Morgan says


Next week: Pupils bullying teachers

DO . make the pupil aware of what she is doing, without publicly embarrassing her.

. Keep lessons fast paced, while engaging the whole class so as not to give the pupil's mind a chance to wander.

. Introduce a simple reward system and reinforce positive and appropriate behaviour.

DON'T . Expect miracles straightaway. It may have taken the pupil a long time to build up this ingrained response and so it might take time to overcome it.

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