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Dealing with Disruptive Students

Disruptive students often dominate or derail class discussions and/or confront the instructor in angry or aggressive ways. These behaviors can take many forms and if left unchecked can create an uncomfortable learning environment for everyone.

If students dominate discussions…

  • Suggest that you would like to hear a variety of opinions. You could say, "I'm sure that others of you have an opinion about this. Could someone else comment?" If the problem persists, ask the students to suggest what might be done to give all students a chance to participate.
     
  • If the speaker goes off topic, jump in and say, "Excuse me. That’s a bit off topic. Would you please wrap up your ideas about what we were previously discussing?"
     
  • Have 2 to 3 students act as "discussion observers" for a day. At the end of the class session, have them report on their observations of how the discussion went, what problems they noticed, and what suggestions they have.
     
  • Let students know that people's attention spans are very short. Set time limits for responses. Teach and practice PRES statements that include the Point, Reason, Example, and Summary in 45 seconds or fewer.

If the behavior isn't improving…

  • Remain calm. Don’t become defensive.
     
  • Do not ignore the student. Try to diffuse his anger and arrange to meet him during the break or arrange to talk with student in a more private setting.
     
  • Listen to the student. Talk to the student (in private) about the unacceptable behavior. Ask the student to explain reasons for his conduct.
     
  • Make sure that the student is clear about how the unacceptable behavior is affecting the class, how to change the behavior, and how you will respond if the behavior does not change.
     
  • Don't assign blame. Talk about the student's behavior rather than your interpretation of what is behind the behavior. This approach often elicits a more productive response from the student. Also, in written reports it gives the reader of the report a clearer picture of what is actually happening. Notice the difference between these two sets of responses to inappropriate behavior in the chart below.

Assigning Blame Identifying inappropriate behaviors
You seem to have a really bad attitude. It looked like you were doing work for other classes during yesterday's lecture.
You are immature and unruly. You continue to chat with your classmates during lectures and often you give "joking" answers during class discussion.
You are rude You answer your phone and/or text during class

If student behavior is consistently getting in the way of other students’ learning…

  • Bring the issue to your Director.
     
  • You may wish to file a grievance against the student. This generally happens in extreme cases. Talk to your department director about the grievance process.

If a student seems to be dangerous or threatening to you or to other students in any way…

  • Call 911, security and your department director immediately to have the student removed from the classroom and building.