Patrick is constantly calling your name. Even when he knows the answers to questions, he needs your assurance that his answers are correct. You are sick and tired of reprimanding him for talking out loud without being called upon first.
Melissa is demanding and argumentative. If you say the sky is blue, she says it’s brown. She is always calling her peers inappropriate names and, when reprimanded, shrugs you off and refuses to listen to your requests.
Duane is bored with school and with you. He is frequently caught sleeping in class or at the very least, with his head on his desk. He is unmotivated and puts out little effort. When not sleeping, he is looking for ways to bother the other students so that they can’t complete their assignments either.
When students refuse to complete assigned tasks, disrupt your class, or are disrespectful to you and others, you may be tempted to treat the symptoms with the harshest of penalties. While there certainly should be consequences for misbehavior, effective classroom managers look beyond the symptoms to find the causes of disruptions. This is why relationships are so important. It is during those relationships that you may discover some of the causes for the misbehavior.
There appear to be four major reasons for student misbehavior: desire for attention, desire for power or control, boredom, and feelings of inadequacy. Let’s examine each cause independently.
1. Some students need your attention and the attention of their classmates as well. For whatever reason, they get the idea that they are either being ignored or not receiving the percentage of your time that they feel they deserve. When they have gotten on your last nerve, you may be tempted to engage them in a power struggle or order them out of the classroom. Did you know that negative attention is considered better than no attention at all? Even if you argue with them or banish them to another location in the building, they have received the attention they seek.
2. A second reason that students misbehave involves their need for power or control. Many of your students have an inordinate amount of control in their homes. They may be raising younger brothers and sisters as well as themselves and, as a result, are calling the shots and making major life decisions. Then they come to school and cannot understand why everyone, including you, will not dance to their music. The opposite also exists. Some students feel that they have little or absolutely no control over their personal lives; therefore, these students exhibit characteristics of belligerence, disrespect, and downright disobedience.
3. Other students misbehave because they are just plain bored. In many classrooms, students sit for long periods of time without any active engagement of their brains or bodies. Their brains are not getting enough oxygen, and they may either yawn repeatedly, fall, asleep, or think of other things while the lesson is being taught.
4. The fourth reason students disrupt has to do with feelings of inadequacy. They really cannot do what you are requesting of them. Their brains do not have the confidence to believe that they are capable of being successful on the assigned task; therefore, they do things to divert attention away from their poor performance. After all, it is better to be considered the class clown than the class dummy!
You can deal with difficult students if you first recognize their primary needs. Once you look beyond the symptoms of misbehavior, you may discover the causes. Simply treating the symptoms may stop them temporarily. However, if there is to be meaningful behavior change, a deeper inspection is warranted.
What the Research Says
Students who need attention are often either kinesthetic or visual learners who do not learn best when the instruction is predominately auditory (Tileston, 2004).
If students are behaving badly because they are bored, the one way to solve the problem is to incorporate strategies that actively engage their brains (Jensen, 2009).
Students should never be allowed to feel that their misbehavior is ignored or condoned simply because they have difficulties in their lives (Cooper & Garner, 2009).
Make It Happen
- Students who seek attention need attention. However, give them the attention when they are doing what is expected of them. Provide them with special recognition when you see them meeting expectations. Compliment them in front of their peers, write positive comments on their papers when their writing shows improvement, and provide them with privileges that indicate growth. In the case of middle or high school students, special recognitions may be given in a private, rather than public, setting.
- Providing students with choice can give them some measure of control. Allow them to choose among several options for completing an assignment or responding to an assessment task.
- By using 20 brain-compatible strategies outlined in my bestselling book Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites: 20 Instructional Strategies That Engage the Brain, students in your classroom will become actively engaged in learning. When they have opportunities to role-play vocabulary words, move to meet with a discussion partner, complete a project, or play a content-related game, students do not have time to be bored, and their behavior naturally improves. These strategies appear to work for all student populations including gifted, regular education, special education, and ESL.
For more examples of understanding the symptoms of misbehavior, consult the 2nd edition of my best-selling book, Shouting Won’t Grow Dendrites.