In this section, we have gathered resources that define disruption, analyze possible causes, and offer ideas on how to respond to students. We shared these resources with faculty in a discussion-based program on classroom management techniques. Below, we integrate the ideas that emerged in our discussion with advice from the research on classroom management.
Redirecting Disruptive Students
Research Suggests that …
- Disruptive and uncivil behavior incidents are numerous and increasing on college and university campuses.
- Many professors avoid direct interventions because they hope ignoring the behavior will make it disappear, worry about not being supported by administrators, worry that disruption reflects on their teaching, and fear retaliation.
- Combining prevention and direct action are research-recommended strategies.
What Is Disruptive Student Behavior?
Disruptive behavior appears in today’s classrooms in many forms, including lower-level or naive disruptions like packing up early, and more challenging behaviors like disrespectful comments, incivility, and bullying.
- Naive disruptions include arriving late, leaving early, or using a cell phone or computer for non-class activities.
- Intentional disruptions include being disrespectful to instructors, teaching assistants, or classmates; wasting class time; or projecting negative attitudes about the class or instructor.
- Incivility is rude behavior that interrupts learning.
- Bullying is physical and/or verbal aggressive behavior that causes harm.
Instructors can work to prevent classroom disruptions by building a classroom persona that demands respectful behavior. Below are a few research-tested ideas to build into your course planning:
- Balance your authority and approachability.
- Show students that you care.
- Establish ground rules.
- Reward civil behavior.
- Set an example.
- Keep students engaged with effective presentation strategies.
Best Practices for Redirecting Disruptive Behaviors
In the pages linked below, we look at five levels of disruptive behaviors and potential redirections recommended by the research and UMBC faculty and staff. Typically, you should …
- Address disruptions immediately.
- Give students clear, concise instructions about how to correct their behavior.
- Document even lower-level incidents in case a pattern emerges.
- Clarify when (and how) to get help.
- Level 1 or Naïve Disruptions: tapping and fidgeting, using a cell phone, or passing a note.
- Level 2 or Intentional Disruptions: asking persistent questions, making disrespectful or attention-seeking comments.
- Level 3 or Challenging Behaviors: questioning your credentials, grading policies, or expectations.
- Level 4 or Refusals: refusing to stop the behavior or refusing to follow your directive.
- Level 5 or Intimidating or Threatening Behaviors: threatening you or your belongings.
See the UMBC Guide to Helping Faculty and Staff Deal with Disruptive Student Behavior for additional information.
Link here to view an annotated resources list.
Please note that student behaviors in the classroom may result from any number of factors, and each situation is a singular case. Suggestions offered in FDC resources may not be appropriate in every instance.