5th November 2010 at 00:00
The problem: I have just started in a school and there is one class that is very noisy and easily distracted. One boy keeps shouting and two other boys act up and encourage him. How can I get them to settle?

What you said

"I have two sides on the whiteboard: a happy and unhappy side. If they are not quiet I write their name on the unhappy side. If they continue I tick their name. After three ticks I send them out."


"The problem is, you have not got a strong relationship with them, and more than half of that is built outside of the classroom by your use of sanctions. Once they know you have got teeth they will be far more wary about crossing you."


"I have supervised groups picking up litter at lunchtime for poor behaviour. I do not like whole-class punishments, but sometimes there are so many misbehaving that one cannot spot the good ones."


The expert view

Ticks on the board and class punishments make an individual's behaviour everyone's business. Public humiliation encourages defensive reactions, creates an audience out of the class and builds up resentment quickly. Deal with the issue privately and calmly. Using fear and pure punishment might satisfy your own needs, but it will never meet the needs of your pupils. I don't want my pupils to be wary of me; I want them to be able to trust me.

Meet the pupil who is causing the most disruption and underline your boundaries with him. As you are new to the school you might choose to ask a more experienced colleague to sit in on this meeting. Tell the pupil precisely the noise level that you need. Describe it. A "three-bar voice" (from the volume setting on a phone) or a quieter "private voice".

You might choose to agree a cue for the pupil so that he knows when his volume control is appropriate and when it creeps over the limit. I have used volume crescendo bars to create a sign on the wall or a reminder on the desk that I can subtly refer to while teaching: "Clive, your five-bar voice is making my ears bleed, you need to bring it down to two bars."

Confront the behaviour and not the pupil. I once taught a pupil who would shout at full volume in private and group conversations. He wasn't seeking to disrupt, he was just loud. It was not until I visited his house and realised that eight people were living in a two-up, two-down that the penny dropped. Everyone shouted. He had learnt that unless his volume control was constantly on full, he might go unnoticed. Without referring to his home life, we managed to negotiate a diminuendo in learning time.

Paul Dix is lead trainer with Pivotal Education, www.pivotal For more advice, go to



- Talk to the most disruptive pupil privately, away from an audience.

- Set out the volume level you find acceptable and establish cues for letting pupils know when they are too loud.

- Concentrate on the behaviour and not the individuals.


- Attempt to publicly humiliate pupils - it provokes a defensive response and fosters resentment.

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