As educators, we all have had situations in our classrooms where the behavior of the students took away from the overall learning experience. Even in adult learning environments we can expect that student behavior can become disruptive, maybe not on the same level as in a elementary or secondary classroom. Something as seemingly benign as side conversations in class can distract the instructor and other students, becoming disruptive. My third grade granddaughter tells me that if she talks in class, she gets a ‘yellow’ mark. If she talks again, the mark turns red, which means there are consequences. Her goal is to stay ‘green’ all year long. That is a great goal, and she is learning that side conversations in class are not acceptable. Unfortunately we cannot use a technique like that in an adult learning environment, although sometimes I wish we could! Adult learners are especially vulnerable to this kind of behavior for some reason. I have more problems with side conversations in my college classrooms than any other kind of behavior problem.
Some possible responses to side conversations include:
- Don’t embarrass talkers.
- Ask their opinion on topic being discussed.
- Ask talkers if they would like to share their ideas.
- Casually move toward those talking.
- Make eye contact with them.
- Standing near the talkers, ask a near-by participant a question so that the new discussion is near the talkers.
- As a last resort, stop and wait.
There are other behavior problems that might arise in the classroom, including those of the incredibly shy student or the overbearing opposite: the student who dominates the discussion. Sometimes students will try to sabotage the instructor by heckling or arguing, even making personal attacks.
Some ways to manage your classroom so this kind of behavior does not occur include not holding the students in an iron grip, but allowing them a certain latitude, being sure to stop any unproductive behavior as soon as you detect it. Let the students know that you respect their status as adult learners without giving up control of the classroom. It is a fine line to walk, but one that will ensure a quality learning experience for all your students. Another tactic is to always come to class with a positive attitude. If you are feeling good about yourself and the class, your students will pick up on that and appreciate it. Be ready to own up to your own failings if you happen to make a mistake. The students will also appreciate that. When a student asks a question you do not know the answer to, do not make something up. Instead, tell the student you do not have the answer, but will find out. And then, follow up! Find the answer and get back to the student. You will be remembered for that.
If you would like more information on the subject of disruptive behavior in the classroom, the Institute for Instructional Excellence is running a class in September:
- CTE205B: Evaluating Student Behavior
Course Description: One challenging participant can disrupt the flow of a class and impact the learning for all other learners. Learn positive techniques to prevent boredom and other factors that trigger negative behaviors. Also learn creative ways to manage issues when they do present themselves.
The class starts September 20 and is 24/7 online through September 24. Check the REGISTER HERE link under September Specials at the top of the right hand column to sign up for the class.