Minimising Low Level Disruption

When the Head Teacher showed around prospective parents (unannounced) I would always cringe. I took a quick look around my (often chaotic) classroom and tried to see it through a strangers eyes.

My ideal world when post-chalk & talk discussions occur.
My ideal world when post-chalk & talk discussions occur.

Often things were going swimmingly – mainly because the bulk of my lessons are pupil centred and have everyone actively involved in a task of some sort. On rare occasions though, I was caught instructing the class. It was then that I cried inside. Why? Three words: Low Level Disruption.

Low Level Disruption (in my world) is a pupil playing with their neighbours pencil case, passing notes, having a quiet conversation, voicing their idea without raising their hand (shouting out), doodling, suddenly getting out of their seat to pick up a dropped pen, swinging on their chair, slipping a peek at their phone…. These basic behaviours which aren’t exactly bad, but they look bad when an outsider is watching!

I reflected on my lessons and pinpointed the peak times when LLD occurred. A lot of it happened during class ‘discussions’, a time after I have finished my ‘chalk and talk’ where pupils are encouraged to ask questions. As a matter of fact, I rarely got a descent question during these sessions. The vast majority of hands raised were for procedural clarifications, toilet requests or pupils ‘showing off’ their knowledge with ‘did you know?’ statements or long winded loosely linked stories. No wonder the rest of the class switched off!

So what did I do about this? – I took away the time and tools pupils used to participate in Low Level Disruptions. Basically, I eliminated the items they fiddled with and cut down on the ‘discussions’ & ‘what are we going to do?’ questions! I now use these rules:

  1. On your desk should only be a pen, pencil and ruler. Pencil cases go on the floor, tucked under the desk. There is no need for a 6-part puzzle eraser shaped like a hamburger.
  2. Mobile phones are not allowed. If they are seen (even if they are turned off) they are confiscated and passed to the office for the rest of the day.
  3. Instructions are quick and (as much as possible) involve the pupils. This can be in demonstrating, answering random-name questions or chanting the steps in a procedure.
  4. I have written instructions on the board (to get rid of those kids who ask questions for things I have already gone over). They are very clear and list the names of equipment, amounts and what to do when finished.
  5. Questions are only accepted after everyone else has started the activity. This dissuades the story-tellers as only I will be listening to their amazing anecdotes and frankly they would rather get on with the activity.
  6. No-one is allowed to use the toilet during my lesson. Ever. (I would allow a note from the school nurse though).
  7. No-one is allowed to see the school nurse during my lesson. Ever. (Unless they are injured during my lesson. A sore tummy can wait.)
  8. When pupils enter the room, during settling time, they are made aware if they are working in pairs, individually or groups during that lesson and have time during settling time to identify who they will work with. (I found that this was all they were concerned about when I was demonstrating how to do a practical and therefore they didn’t listen to what they would shortly be doing). I convey this information by writing it on the board.
  9. I have an ‘open/close’ sign on my board which says ‘Yes we are doing a practical experiment today’, ‘No, we are not doing a practical experiment today.

All Low Level Disruptions are subject to my Consequence Escalation Protocol. I try my best to be consistent with it.

My Consequence Escalation Protocol

Each lesson is a fresh start.

  1. First LLD: Warning. Name is written on the board.
  2. Second LLD: Warning: tally mark is added next to their name.
  3. Third LLD: move seat: I have a special seat away from everyone else reserved for this moment. If that seat is is use I move a desk under the white board at the front of the room and sit them there. Form teacher informed.
  4. Fourth LLD: out of the room: they take a bubble timer and sit in the corridor away from their friends. Hopefully a member of SMT will come across them and reprimand them. Once the timer had ended they come back into the room. They are supposed to listen carefully whilst outside. I use the timer because I have a tendency to forget children are out there! If I remember they are out there and it is safe to do so I will have a short conversation about their choices in the corridor. Form teacher & parents informed.
  5. Fifth LLD: Sent to a different classroom: they will stay here for the duration of the lesson. They take work with them or work is sent with another child after they have left. SMT, Form teacher & parents informed. A lunchtime reflection detention is also set.

Sanctions for LLD & Poor behaviour choices

The first 4 can all be done non-verbally. Writing a name on the board, adding a tally mark, taking a child’s book and moving it to a new desk, handing them the timer and pointing at the door. Only when they get to step 5 do I verbally reprimand them. A quick recall list of everything they did to result in being sent out of the room, tell them where to go (prearranged at the start of term with another member of staff) and a quick ‘we’ll speak about this later’.

There is the notion that some children listen better while doodling or fiddling with something in their hand and therefore I try not to give a sanction for this type of activity unless it is distracting others or they jump out of their seat to retrieve a dropped piece of stationary.

By analysing my lessons I discovered the common types of LLD and when they occurred. I then acted to take away the common tools used for LLD and reduced the time that was available for it. For those who still found the ways and means to disrupt others learning my sanctions protocol (when consistently applied) helped to make even those resilient offenders reconsider their actions.

I’m sure I’ll now discover other times when LLD rears it’s ugly head but that will be something else to tackle in the constant learning curve which is teaching.

Love, cuddles & death stares,