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Tackling low-level disruption


According to the teachers’ union, NASUWT, the main concern for staff in schools in all areas, is the growing pressure from ‘low-level disruption’, which is recognised as the most common form of poor behaviour. Therefore, in order for teachers to encourage productivity and boost attainment, in-class disruption must be kept to a minimum. 

Allie Palmer, ex-teacher and training and support manager at MINTclass, discusses the importance of creating pupil seating plans and the role they play in significantly reducing the impact of pupil disruption, making teachers’ lives easier and creating an effective learning environment.   

In Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) Annual Report 2012/13, concerns were raised about low-level disruption in schools. As a consequence, inspector guidance was tightened to place greater emphasis on the issue in routine inspections. In addition, HMCI commissioned a survey to ascertain the nature and extent of low-level disruptive behaviour in primary and secondary schools in England. The findings from this survey showed that teachers, parents and carers are rightly concerned about the frequent loss of learning time through low-level, but persistent, disruptive behaviour.

Low-level disruptive behaviour includes talking to friends off-topic or passing notes between one another, which tends to only last a couple of minutes, but can significantly impact the flow of a lesson. As a teacher, if you are faced with low-level disruption in your class, there are some simple steps you can take to make your life easier.

From my experience, it usually occurs when there’s inconsistency in school processes being applied, for example, not always sticking to a strict behaviour policy. The responsibility ultimately falls to senior leaders to enforce consistency when it comes to behaviour, which in turn, makes classroom teaching much easier and more productive.

Praising the positive behaviour is also a good tactic. By focusing on the disruption, you can trigger more negativity and commotion in the classroom. Therefore, it’s important to concentrate on rewarding those students who are delivering. If those who behave are rewarded by being allowed to sit next to a friend one lesson, then disruptive students may take note and follow suit. 

allie_0.pngAllie Palmer


However, I’ve found that one of the easiest, yet arguably most powerful steps, is  to create a seating plan!

In order to avoid disruption in a class, you need to be in control of your students, right from the beginning. It’s important to set expectations; line them up outside and tell them where they need to sit as they enter. Doing this avoids any confusion and also focuses them on finding their name on the seating plan, rather than talking to, or messing around with friends. It also ensures that your students know how every lesson will start, so they’ll begin to accept the routine.

Historically, teachers would have to manually create their own seating plans on Word or Excel, which means endless copying and pasting, for it to all change and be out of date after a few weeks, when the whole process would have to be created again from scratch. What may work for one subject, may not necessarily work in another, and the typical alphabetical or boy, girl, boy plans aren’t always the most effective. Thankfully, there are now digital seating plans available that make this process much easier. Once you get to know your pupils, their behaviour and friendships within the class, you can easily and quickly move them around, using the data collected to assess who they will work best with. This can be done regularly, every half-term for example, or on an ad-hoc basis, whenever a child’s behaviour suggests that they may benefit from being moved away from potential disruption.

Every teacher will take a different approach when it comes to classroom organisation, but the important thing is to ensure that you have a process in place, which is enforced and integrated consistently into the routine of the lesson. It’s likely that the students will challenge your decision as they will want to sit with their friends, but remember, you have arranged the seating plan to maximise their attainment, so it’s vital to stick with it.

The layout of your classroom may seem unimportant in comparison to everything else that a teacher has to deal with, but being in control of this means you can also manage disruption whenever it occurs, encouraging a productive learning environment and maintaining the highest levels of attainment.


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