Behaviour problem: The kids are running riot

9th April 2010 at 01:00
The problem: I'm a trainee on a new placement and the kids are running riot. I'm planning to use the wait for silence technique, but I'm not sure how they will react. Surely they will be glad not to work and sit there talking for 20 minutes

What you said

"You need to be certain you understand how to use the school's discipline policy and use it if you do not get conformance within a few seconds. You must wait at least 10 seconds for them to comply before ramping up - feels like an age but it does give the kids a chance to recognise you are serious."

Paul DG

"I say: `Right, pens down, looking this way in silence.' After 30 seconds or so, I'll turn to the board and write `1 minute'. It took me a few weeks of doing this and keeping them in at break for the number of minutes on the board, but after a while it worked."


"Sometimes writing nameslength of detention on the board can grab the attention better than bellowing. Whiteboard software often includes a stop clock - this can be effective for displaying how much time has been wasted."


The expert view

Waiting for silence is not a behaviour improvement technique but an invitation for pupils to take control of the lesson. Pausing briefly can work well when you know them and they understand what that means. When the pause is momentary, accompanied with a look of gentle surprise rather than anger, it can bring attention back. Offering to wait in silence until pupils decide to come to order is an invitation for more disruption.

I once watched a teacher wait for silence for 30 minutes. She repeated: "I'm waiting", endlessly and, in desperation, shouted and then screamed it. The pupils knew she was waiting. They had control and took advantage.

Try reducing the time you demand the attention of the whole class. Too much teacher talk drives low-level disruption. Consider structuring your teaching so you speak to small groups instead of the whole class at once. Build up to speaking to the whole class. It takes time, rapport and experience to sustain the attention of a large group for a long period.

When you do ask for their attention, immediately and assertively reinforce those pupils who give you their attention. Describe the behaviour you want to see: "Thank you for turning your chair and looking this way." Embellish your countdown with positive reinforcement and direction: "Five, thank you this group for turning away from the screens, four, Ashraf can you close the book, three, great Charlotte", and so on. Finally, when I am working with a new group, I immediately reflect the respect they are showing.

- Paul Dix is managing director of behaviour consultancy Pivotal Education



- Use pauses sparingly when you want to make a point.

- Try to reduce the amount of time you demand attention from the class.

- Reinforce the behaviour you want to see.

- Make sure the pupils realise there are consequences for crossing the agreed boundaries.


- Allow the pupils to take control of the class by waiting fruitlessly for silence.

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