NFER - Tests for Years 1-6
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How to Deal With a Very Disruptive Class

Behaviour expert Robin Launder tackles a real school’s dilemma...

  • How to Deal With a Very Disruptive Class

Q. I’m a deputy head and one class at my school is persistently disruptive. Not much learning is happening and there’s a negative culture and poor learning habits. Many factors have contributed to this, not least the use of two unsupported NQTs over the last couple of years, meaning that rules and routines haven’t been established. We are now trying to establish positive learning behaviours and mutual respect and have an experienced teacher and a couple of very good TAs, but it’s still a battle. We need help please. Any ideas?

A. It sounds like a very tough situation but don’t forget that the negative culture and poor learning habits developed over time, so it will take a bit of time to turn them around. Think marathon, not sprint. Here are some things to try:

Shift your attention

If most children are working most of the time, it’s harder for tricky pupils to misbehave. Praise students who are working well for their focus and progress. Make sure others can hear this praise too. Ask them (in earshot of others) how they made that progress.

In essence, give lots of attention to children who are behaving. If a pupil misbehaves, praise a nearby student who is doing the right thing. This is a simple yet powerful strategy that sidesteps confrontation.

Catch good behaviour

Catch tricky pupils being good, then over time make it harder for them to earn that praise. In other words, make them work for it. Remember, we want to raise expectations, not lower them.

Break your lesson up

Have multiple entry points into your lesson by breaking it up into various activities. If you don’t catch the students’ attention with the first activity, you might with the second.

Children tend to zone out at about the ten minute mark so don’t go beyond this unless your pupils seem deeply engaged. The transition from one activity to the next needs to be slick. Dead time is an opportunity for misbehaviour.

Use and embed routines

Model routines then get pupils to practise them, giving them detailed and high expectation feedback as they do so. From that point on, insist that the routine is carried out this way and commit to it.

Win them over

Sit down with each tricky student, one to one, to tell them how much you care about both their learning and other pupils’ learning.

If they feel guilty about their bad behaviour, good! Guilt is a great motivator to change. What will they do differently next time? Tell them that because you want the best from them, you will remind them of their commitment if things start to go awry.

Get together

Gather together the teachers and TAs who work with these students and share ideas about what’s working and what isn’t. Be consistent in your collective approach and give each other honest feedback.

Have fun

Fun reduces stress and anxiety for everyone – children and adults alike – so don’t forget to inject some into classroom life. And smile!

Fully prepare

Before each lesson, make sure the IT works, the worksheets are where they need to be and all materials are in the right place. Don’t let misbehaviour happen as a result of poor planning.

Have high expectations

Very high, in fact. After all, behaviour moves in the direction of expectation. These high expectations apply to both students and staff, of course.

Be consistent

Remember that the power of a consequence lies not in its severity, but in its certainty.

Embed four rules

Choose four rules and embed them. For instance:

  1. We are quiet when the teacher is talking
  2. We follow instructions right away
  3. We let others get on with their work
  4. We respect each other

Get pupils to do an exercise on them, such as explaining why a specific rule is good for them, the class as a whole and the teacher and TAs. Ask them to share their responses with the class. Keep on referring to the rules throughout the year.

Start in silence

Begin every lesson with a three-minute in-silence activity, such as a quiz about yesterday’s lesson. Always starting this way sets a tone. You can then move smoothly into the next part of the lesson.


Robin Launder is the director of Behaviour Buddy, a company that specialises in evidence based CPD, including behaviour management CPD. He tweets at @behaviourbuddy.

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