Directing behavior in the classroom is essential to keeping students on task as well as maintaining student-teacher relations. Disruptive students impede not only the lesson in progress, but also the atmosphere of the classroom and the positive environment a teacher works to create. Methods for dealing with good and bad behavior vary between subjects and grade levels. Since I’ll be teaching high school science, I will focus on techniques appropriate for high school students here.
Good behavior is expected at the high school level and therefore most instances of following the rules and behaving as expected will not be acknowledged. That said, if a student goes out of their way to help me or other students during class, I will certainly acknowledge their effort. As shown in the flow chart at the bottom of this post, if the behavior is particularly notable, I will give a student’s parents acknowledgement of their good behavior. Helping other students and taking on a noticeable positive leadership role in the classroom is an example of this type of outstanding behavior.
Dealing with non-ideal behavior is more important than rewarding good behavior in a high school science classroom. Catching this behavior early is especially important in a science classroom since safety is a real concern. Physics students can make potato cannons, which send the potatoes flying at high velocity, and chemistry classrooms can contain numerous dangerous chemicals. Mitigating the risks that come with these environments starts with stemming inappropriate behavior and creating a classroom environment that does not tolerate disruptive, and possibly dangerous, behavior.
The flowchart below identifies several possible disruptive behaviors. If a student is not actively disruptive, there’s no point in interrupting class to deal with the issue. Indeed, it’s better not to give the behavior any more attention than necessary. Non-verbal techniques that acknowledge that the student is misbehaving, but don’t draw attention to the student, will be my first line of defense. If the behavior continues after several indications from me that it is inappropriate, I will pull the student aside after class. A student clearly under the influence of marijuana, but not causing any disruptions, is an example of this. Another example is a student who is misusing their cell phone, but not causing any distractions to their classmates. In the latter case, I would likely remind them quietly of the rules of cell phone use in the classroom, but wait for a full confrontation until after class.
If a student is only disrupting a few students, say just the students sitting next to them during group work, I will give them non-verbal signs to cease their behavior. If this is not effective, I will come speak to them quietly during a moment that does not take away from class content. Examples of these students include students who are talking to their friends, but not staying on task, and students who are interacting with groups that are not their own. This is not unusual in high school since friend groups are often split up during group work and students are often distracted by each other for whatever reasons, e.g. flirting, etc. If the student continues to engage in the inappropriate behavior after we have had a conversation about it and the disruption continues, I will have to issue a formal warning to the student. A formal warning will have to be communicated to the student’s parents, so it holds more weight than just me correcting behavior. If the warning is ignored, then I will send the student to the office and contact their parent about their behavior. This is the last thing I want to do, but willful disobedience cannot be allowed in a science classroom where such behavior could put other students at risk during lab activities.
If a student is disrupting the class as a whole, I will try to use the power of peer pressure first. Chance is there are students in the class that do want to get through the lesson, lab or group work. Thus, I will use group contingency strategies. An example of this includes a student that refuses to follow the correct steps during a lab. The entire class will get to wait for the student to conduct the correct steps or we will not continue with the lab. Since labs are the “fun” part of class, the peer pressure will be considerable. If disruptive behavior occurs during lecture, I will issue a formal warning to the student. Since this warning means I will be contacting the student’s parents, this will usually be enough to redirect behavior. If the negative behavior continues despite these steps, I will once again have to send the student to the office. I would like to use that method as a last resort, but the class needs to continue and if a student stands in the way of that I will have no choice.
As I go through the process of deciding how to deal with student behavior, I will use a flowchart like the one below. The good thing about formalizing the process is that I will be consistent in my reaction to student behavior since I have an immutable guide.