Disruptive Students… What to do?

Disruption When we last met, we were talking about disruptive students.  Many teachers are foiled by these, and many classes become worthless due to student disruption.  I’ve been in many a class where open discussion is encouraged, even expected, but everyone in that class knows that the discussion needs to be relevant, wholesome, and adds value to the class.  There comes a point when certain scenarios need to be dealt with and class must go on.

CSU East Bay provides interesting insights on dealing with disruptive students.  Here are a few examples from their article:

Making unreasonable demands for time or attention: make a reasonable adjustment for a students’ requests, but at times it might be worth getting administrative staff involved for intervention.  I would also suggest having the student seek a tutor or additional support for their academic problems.
Continually speaking out of turn: Do your best to answer any relevant questions or respond to any comments related to your subject at hand, but be sure to make it clear (and it might take some reiteration) that the discussion should focus on the topic.  Any excess conversation should be conducted outside of class time.
Ringing cell phones, talking to other classmates, or audible distractions: Obviously there should be a policy put in place to minimize these, but my best suggestion would be to simply walk the class.  If you walk behind the person who is generating the distraction, they should get the hint and cease their interactions.  If this doesn’t work, then (in my opinion) you should address them directly and ask them to stop distracting the class.  Some teachers even ask for them to share their conversation (or text message if it’s a ringtone) with the whole class.  I’ve even seen some professors answer their students’ cell phone and ask the person on the other end not to call while the student is in class.
Threatening or abusive behavior: This enters into a whole different realm of classroom management.  If you have a threatening student, you have your own security (and that of the rest of the class) to keep in mind.  Take responsibility for the student and ask the disruptive student to leave.  If they refuse, then they should be escorted by you to the administrator.  You need to have a little more of a backbone in this scenario, but safety is key.  Don’t be a hero and try to do anything irrational.

I found a recent article from the National Education Association (NEA) on handling disruptive students,  It provides an interesting anecdote, and focuses mainly on threatening young adult students.  It names the interaction between teacher and student as a “delicate dance”.  This is true, as a teachers’ method of dealing with students can be a make-or-break situation.  It could set a bad precedent, make the students lose respect for the teacher, or even cause additional problems with other students in the class.  It’s important to deal with any scenario that way class can resume and education can continue.

What are some interesting stories that you’ve seen or heard?  Have you ever been the target of disruptive student behavior?  Let’s chat about it and share experiences!

Photo credit: Inspiring Teaching

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There’s Always One…

classroom I was in a concert today in Reno, and we were singing Ralph Vaughan Williams “A Sea Symphony”.  We had just gotten through one of the more difficult parts of the second movement, and all of a sudden, we hear a familiar tone come from somewhere in the audience.  It was the tone of someone’s cell phone turning on, and the AT&T theme playing during a time when you can hear a pin drop in a packed concert hall.  I can only imagine that at least half of the choir and orchestra members were rolling their eyes or wanted to strangle those people.

Obviously this is a more drastic example of what would happen in a classroom situation, but the idea is the same.  We all have had those classes where someone inevitably has their cell phone make a sound, where they constantly ask questions to the point of being disruptive, or turns around and talks to the person behind them while you’re trying to talk to the group.  Many teachers have different ways to deal with these disruptions, and there are a number of different schools of thought on how the teacher should react to distractions in the classroom, but the fact remains, something must be done.  You can set a very bad precedent if you leave the distractions as they are, as other students can see that as a sign of lost credibility, trust, and authority.

Whatever happens, you need to have a good policy of classroom management.  You need to set up an environment of comfort and respect for the students, but ultimately you need to have a policy of discipline and authority so that you can maintain the class as needed.  Set up (in your mind or class syllabus) an understanding that any disruptions to the class will be dealt with accordingly.  Most importantly, follow through on that policy.  Having a policy and not following it makes the teacher seem like they don’t care or don’t have the authority to keep students in line.  It may make the difference between success or failure, not to mention the teacher keeping their job!

Ever had a student that won’t stop asking questions?  Ever have a group of talkers that don’t regard you?  Ever felt so irritated at a student that you want to just kick them out of your class?  Stay tuned to see what you can do.  It’s your class, and you have the right to impose order.

Photo credit: PublicDomainPictures.net

Establishing Credibility as a Trainer

credibility Have you ever been to a class or training where the teacher didn’t seem like they knew what they were talking about?  You probably sat there with your arms crossed, wondering when it would be over.  You stare at the clock, waiting for it to hit the time when you get end your misery.  As you sit waiting for the teacher to finish their stammering, you take a few scribble notes and lose precious time sitting in a training room with a number of other victims.

There are many things that a teacher or trainer can do to boost their creditability in a classroom.  You don’t necessarily need to be a full-on expert of the given subject (although that almost never hurts) but you do need to have a firm grasp of the content.  Avoid saying things like “Um…” or “Uhhh” too much, as it may give away your hesitation.  When you ask a question of the class, give them a moment to respond before you answer it for them.  If you have a disruptive student, deal with it in a professional manner without embarrassing them in front of the class. Langevin Learning Company has some additional tips on boosting one’s credibility in class.

Some of the most basic things can help your credibility as well.  These things might not come to mind immediately, but they are good things to remember when setting up a training class:

  • When you prepare the training, get as much information about your audience, the topic, and the intention as possible.  This is part of the Analysis phase of ADDIE.
  • Set up the room to be comfortable yet professional.
  • Do a thorough review of the materials and look for any confusing information, or items that need to be revised to make it easier to understand.
  • Prepare cheat sheets or handouts yourself to pass out to your students to help them remember the information (and more importantly, the class itself).
  • When you speak to the class, speak with authority and clarity.  Enunciate, make sure everyone can hear you, and make sure that nobody has a potential distraction.
  • Finally, if you see someone in the class giving you a bewildered look, feel free to ask them (either in class or during a break) if they need some help.  If the whole class looks utterly confused, then take the time to explain yourself in more detail.  It will make you look like you care about their success in learning.

As a teacher or trainer, credibility is one of the most important things that must be maintained in a classroom.  Without it, your students will disengage from the class and not learn anything, because they won’t take you seriously.  Worse yet, they may not even believe what you’re trying to tell them.  You need to demonstrate that you are trustworthy and that their time with you is well spent, and that they will learn what they need to in your class.

Photo credit: Knowledge Bridge Inc.

Keeping Attention on You

training  We’ve been spending some time talking about motivation in the classroom, but that is only part of the equation.  Some students have a hard time focusing and paying attention in training.  In a business setting, it is assumed that all of your trainees are adults and will do their best to pay attention to what is going on in class.  You need to keep up their attention so that they can maximize their absorption of the materials, and be able to recount them when needed in their jobs.

From personal experience, one of the easiest and quickest ways to get your class’ attention is to say something like “you might want to write this down… it will be on the test.”  Telling the class that there will be an assessment at the end of the course has its merits as well, but this is dependent on your reputation and the precedent of giving assessments at the end of every training.  We’ll talk about assessments in a future blog post, since it’s a major talking point in business training.

Indiana University states that the normal adult attention span is 15-20 minutes.  In a training class, the teacher needs to be able to use this attention span to their advantage.  Barraging your trainees with a mountain of content can overload them, so you need to break it up into smaller, easier to digest, chunks.  I found an interesting list here to reference some tips on keeping an audience’s attention.  Some of them are pretty easy – offer refreshments, give them a quick break, and use humor to keep them interested.  I like #9 in particular: shake things up.  Maybe assign an impromptu skit or Q&A session.  Get the students up and moving around, maybe with an ice breaker or other activity.  Keep the mood light, and be open and honest with your class about how important the material is, and you are there to facilitate their learning in the easiest way possible.

Sometimes you’re lucky enough to have managers in your class, who might be there as part of their job, or because they need to learn the materials just as much as their employees do.  To keep their attention, all other external stimuli should be removed.  Set some ground rules before the class begins: laptops should be closed and phones should be put away.  If you’ve got a class where hands-on exercises on a computer is planned, walk around the room while you teach.  Use your presence as an authority figure to press them into paying attention and not goof off on their computer.  Distractions should be as limited as possible, obviously except for those that you plan as part of the course.

Above all, remember that people are still people, and that they can only hold their attention for so long.  If you keep these things in mind, and make your class as interesting as possible, then you can say that you did your best to teach the materials and your class is ready for what’s coming next.

Photo credit: University of Texas

Creating Motivation in Learning

Motivation at work  There’s always one.  One person who comes to you before or after class and says “Why are we here?  What is the point of this class?”  Heaven forbid this person blurts this out in the middle of class.  If it’s not a class that you are completely sold on, or perhaps something that you’re not completely qualified to teach (a math teacher in a science class, for example), you may not have a direct answer quick at the ready.  You might be caught off-guard with the question and be sitting there saying “Uhhhh… Ummmm….”

How do you deal with that?  How do you create motivation in your students, be it for a required class in school or a business training that the entire company must attend?  Teachers and trainers alike struggle to answer this question, and many don’t come up with a simple answer.  The bad news is, there is no simple answer.  The good news is, there are plenty of things you can do to generate motivation in your students, it just takes some creativity and prep work ahead of time.

We talked about motivation a while back in a previous blog post: “Motivation is Key to Learning“.  There are mountains of evidence (not to mention personal experience of any trainer or teacher) on why motivation is important to the success of a class.  I found an interesting (albeit somewhat outdated but still relevant) article on Stanford’s website about Motivation and how one can create it.  For any class, relevance to the audience is key.  Make the learning objectives personal for them and show them how the material can help them succeed, or where they might need to remember this in the future.

In a business setting, most likely the trainees are directed to attend the training as part of their jobs.  This leads to some inherent motivation, but not necessarily because they want to be there.  You, as a trainer and subject matter expert, need to tell them why this information is necessary for the completion of their jobs.  It may even be necessary for the survival of the company – take SOX compliance or customer privacy training as examples.  This information should also be echoed by management.  They may not be excited about being in training, but you can help by making the training more fun.  Use some humor, pass out candy or run some interesting exercises.  Ice breakers and impromptu skits are a good way to keep the energy going in the room.

Whatever you do, any trainer or teacher will tell you that motivation is essential, otherwise there is no point in anyone wasting their time.  This motivation will help the students engage in your materials, and they might even enjoy the time they spend in the classroom, learning new things.

Photo credit: Examiner

Was it all Worth It?

Assessment Word block  Businesses all around the world spend billions of dollars on quality assurance and control. They ensure that all products that they put out to market meet a certain standard, usually somewhere around 99%. They have trained professionals checking a sampling of products that meet the expectations of the business and can be sold to waiting consumers. If this product is no good, ideally the business will get consumer feedback and continuously improve the products. Products improve over time, and businesses can measure how effective (or popular) their products are based on certain quality measurements and marketing research.

Training has little differences with quality control. In the fifth and final phase of the ADDIE instructional design model, trainers Evaluate their courses and see how effective they were. Ultimately, a trainer uses the Evaluate phase to determine how well the solution achieved the objectives of the training, through measurement and assessment. This can be done through having the students complete evaluation forms, assessments of the students’ performance either during or after the training, or direct observation of their comprehension of the materials. Once this measurement is completed and analyzed, the trainer should then determine if additional instruction is needed, and make the necessary corrections.

An interesting methodology of measuring training effectiveness comes from Donald Kirkpatrick. He breaks evaluation of training into four distinct levels, getting more complex and deeper in evaluation as you go higher.  The four levels are as follows:
Level 1 – Reaction: How favorably do the participants react to the training?
Level 2 – Learning: How well did the trainees acquire new knowledge or skills during the training?
Level 3 – Behavior: How effectively did the trainees apply what they learned in their jobs after the training?
Level 4 – Results: How well were the target objectives achieved as a result of the training?
Source: kirkpatrickpartners.com

Depending on the answers to these questions, the ADDIE cycle should be completed.  If the objectives aren’t met to your satisfaction, you might need to restart the model, or go back to the design phase and try revamping the training.  Sometimes you will need to re-apply the training to additional employees to better permeate the culture.  You might need to adjust your materials, delivery style, or assessment methods to get a better result.  Ultimately, the goals of the business need to be met as best as possible using the tools at hand.  The ADDIE model is designed to be a cycle, something that can be used over and over again until the objectives are met.  Using this model will allow you to structure your training courses and make your job easier.

Photo credit: University of Connecticut

It’s All in the Delivery

SeminarComedians need to be able to deliver a good punchline in order to entertain their audience.  Pizza guys need to be able to deliver a good quality product to satisfy their hungry customers.  Doctors need a good bedside manner to make their patients feel welcome and secure.  And trainers or teachers need presentation skills and a good technique of delivery to make classes successful.

The fourth stage of the ADDIE instructional design model is the Implementation phase.  This is where it all comes together: the pieces and parts that were developed in the first three phases are now on the table, ready to be served.  This phase is where all of the materials are presented, the exercises executed, the course modules uploaded and published.  Depending on the medium that your class is, there are a number of things to keep in mind when implementing your course.

MIT provides an interesting tool for training delivery ideas and tips.  For a typical eLearning course, you want to make sure that the course is easy to access and that users will have few (hopefully no) problems with entering and participating in the course.  Courses that are given over a virtual environment (say over a video conference or internet call), this can be its own beast in itself. (We’ll cover online trainings in a separate blog post).  The most prevalent delivery method is the tried and true Instructor Led Training, or ITL.

If your class is going to be an in-person ITL course, there are a number of things to keep in mind.  The environment is one of the more important elements – it needs to be comfortable (not to the point of putting your students to sleep) and open.  If needed, there should be a decent projector and screen for your slide show or other presentation media.  Each student in your class should have their own space.  As for the trainer, you need to present yourself as an authority figure on the subject matter.  Speak with clarity and annunciation, and ensure that everyone in the room can hear you.  Ask questions.  Call on people to answer.  Interject a little humor or jokes to keep the mood light.  Avoid getting too far off topic if you can help it.  I could talk about this for hours, but let’s just say we’ll be covering this more in future posts.  A good read for pointers on the training delivery can be found here, from the University of Kansas.

Delivery of a course is the part where a trainer can see their effort bring good results.  And speaking of results, how do you know that your training was effective?  Can you call your class successful in retaining the materials?  Do you need a follow-up class or re-training?  We’ll answer these questions in the last part of the ADDIE model – Evaluate.  Subscribe to my blog and stay tuned for more!

Photo Credit: eCOM Solutions, Inc.