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Understanding and redirecting students who misbehave. The classroom discussion is rolling along well, and you call on a student who rarely participates. But before that student can answer, a voice calls out from the other side of the room. Momentum is lost and the moment is ruined.You are passing o

Nov 08, 2018

Understanding and redirecting students who misbehave.


The classroom discussion is rolling along well, and you call on a student who rarely participates. But before that student can answer, a voice calls out from the other side of the room. Momentum is lost and the moment is ruined.

You are passing out a test students have been preparing for all week, when suddenly a student shouts out a challenge like a courtroom attorney. The test wasn’t announced, the questions look too hard, and how could they prepare with the big game the night before? Soon others join in and valuable time is wasted.

And there are other troublesome students. Kids who say they can’t do the work no matter how simple. Others say they won’t do the work no matter how many incentives are given. You could call their parents or send them to the office, but is that the best way to handle the problems?

Childhood Adversity Leads to Classroom Struggles

Before the 1990s, teachers took such problems in hand in a few simple ways. After-school detentions, time-outs in the hallway or principal’s office, and lower grades. But these solutions were short-term and failed to get to the root of the students’ real problems.

In the last few decades, teachers have gradually come to the understanding that many students who act out in class are often struggling for reasons that have nothing to do with academics. A new book, “The Deepest Well; Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity,” digs deep into the issue of childhood trauma. The book shows how situations like physical and sexual abuse, parent divorce, parent incarceration, hunger, and neglect not only harm children physically, but make it next to impossible for students to perform well at school. Many students realize they are struggling academically and act out in hopes that others won’t notice.

The author of the book, California physician Nadine Burke Harris, also has a TED talk, “How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime.”

Each Child Has a Unique Story

So what about that student who is always blurting? Or challenging your right to give a test?

One classic book, “You Can Handle Them All” by Robert L. DeBruyn and Jack L. Larson, acknowledges that issues kids bring with them from lives outside school cause most classroom challenges. Then, in encyclopedia style, profiles student issues and gives answers. Here’s a sample:

The Blurter: Answers when others are called on, makes irrelevant comments, speaks while the teacher is speaking. Time is wasted and others follow the blurter’s lead. Soon it is impossible to complete a lesson.

Solutions: Blurters are attention-seekers. They aren’t getting what they need at home so they try to enhance their status among peers. Answering back gives the student reinforcement. Try standing close to the blurter during the lesson, quietly reminding him or her not to shout, and give them plenty of praise when they wait their turn. Doing so will give the student the positive reinforcement they crave.

The Student Who “Won’t Do It”: Refuses to try new tasks, starts then stops, can appear busy but doesn’t accomplish much. Peers are influenced to do nothing if the teacher does not give the student consequences. But teachers also spend a disproportionate amounts of time on this problem.

Solutions: Students who refuse to work are rebelling against authority. They may have issues with adults outside of school and are trying to escape that pain. Challenging a teacher feels safer than challenging a problematic family member. Listening to excuses or lowering standards for the student just allows the student not to work. Teachers should calmly set clear goals and deal with the student consistently. Look for small improvements and celebrate them.

The Test Challenger: This student does more than whine. He or she challenges the teacher’s right to give a test. Often test-challengers also fight over whether or not answers are correct. Time is wasted as other students join the argument. Some students may begin to doubt whether the tests being given are fair.

Solutions: Test challengers may have confidence problems. If they complain that a test is not fair before it is given, that might excuse their poor performance. Their lack of self-esteem comes from problems outside school. Teachers should avoid getting sidetracked with the challenger. Simply give the test and meet privately with the test challenger later to get to the bottom of the issue. It might be that the student just needs a few minutes to review before every test to feel more confident. That could also help other students in the class who have milder test anxiety.

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