Maximizing Teaching Time in a Very Difficult Class

Getting It All Done in a Very Difficult Class
 

Do you have a very difficult class?  Do you wonder how you can possibly get EVERYTHING done, despite all of “the drama,” as you deal with discipline problems, tattletales, meltdowns, and other related interruptions throughout the day so that you can TEACH?  Well, never fear- you are not the ONLY one with this problem!  Here are a few solutions that should help.

Question:

Heidi,
I have a very difficult class. One of the biggest problems I am constantly trying to figure out is how to give the well-behaved students the time and teaching they deserve. Many of my students are not emotionally and mentally available to learn each day but I do have less than half of my class who come from relatively stable homes and show good self-regulation skills. Do you have any advice on how I can better meet the needs of these students so that their learning isn’t sacrificed due to the constant disruptions by the others. Thanks for any suggestions you may have.

Answer:

Hi, Laura,
Thank you for your question. This is really a TOUGH one, as I’m sure you know. I’ve been trying to think of some suggestions for you, and this is what I have come up with.  I do hope it helps!

1.  First and foremost, try REALLY hard not to let your misbehaving students decide whether or not you will be able to teach a lesson!  Try to cut off the misbehavior, make a note of it, and commit yourself to deal with it at an appointed time during the day.  Move the child to a corner of the room if necessary and go on with your lesson if you can.  See if you can get into the habit of making this the rule:  no misbehaving child is allowed to “hijack” your lesson.

 

Maximizing Teaching Time in a Very Difficult Class: Motor Challenge
Try having a misbehaving child fill a bowl or tub with pompoms while using a tweezer. This fine motor activity can sometimes distract and calm the child down.
 

Some children may actually need some kind of distraction in order to calm down.  In this case, it’s probably quicker to give the child what he or she needs than to try to avoid it.  If your misbehaving child fits this profile, there a few calming activities that might work.  Try having him or her put clothespins around the edge of a tub, watch a snow globe for a while, or color a picture that describes what he or she is feeling.  Others might respond to using tweezers to put pompoms into a basket, or any other similar fine motor challenge.

 

Try having a misbehaving child clip clothespins around the edge of a tub or bowl. This can sometimes distract and calm an angry child.
 

2. Find a way to document what your disruptive students did as quickly as possible and with as little interruption to any lesson as you can, so that you don’t have to actually get up and leave the lesson to take care of it. For example, if you can wear an apron with pockets and keep a notepad on a small clipboard in one of the pockets, then perhaps you could make a quick note of what the child did and then move on with the lesson.  Have a form copied and ready to go.  Designate a helper to get the child his bowl of clothespins, etc.

Kinder-Gardening Apron for Sounding Out Words
This apron is from Kinder-Gardening. It has large pockets and even has a POCKET CHART sewn right on it! 🙂
 

Perhaps when you come to a natural stopping point in the lesson, you can choose to deal with the child during that time. I know that this will not always be possible, but perhaps sometimes it will be- and that will help you regain some of your instructional time back again.

3. Develop some abbreviations that you always use when making notes on children’s behaviors, so that you don’t have to take much time to write down what is happening. For example, I always used “int.” for “interrupting,” and “tat.” for “tattling.” When two children were talking, I wrote both kids names (often abbreviated as well, if the names were long,) and then wrote “talk” afterwards.

4. Consider giving your children that are well behaved extra play time (or free time, for the older kids) so that you can deal with the misbehaving children during that time. That is when you can discuss what the correct behavior would have been, and what they should do next time. That way, your well behaved children are rewarded, and don’t have to sit and get bored while all of the attention in the room is focused on a couple of misbehaving children. This only reinforces the wrong behavior anyway, of course! Here is a video of “Five Minutes of Fun” I did with my Kindergarten class.  Only the children who had had a good day (no behavior problems all day) got to participate.  The other children had to sit out.

 

5. If your kids are old enough to write, have them fill out a form that tells what rule they broke, what the consequences of their behavior were, and what they will do differently next time.  Some teachers actually have the children fill out a cause and effect flow chart so that the children will really have to recognize that they actually were the original cause of whatever consequence they received!   I found a good one here on Laura Candler’s site, but it’s probably only appropriate for grades two and up.

My colleague uses something called a “Think Time Slip” but she can not remember where it came from! So, I used the idea to make something similar. Pictured above is my version of the slip. I call it a “Think About It” slip! Click here to download this slip!
 

If your children are able to do something like this, you might want to put a misbehaving child right on it, because it would immediately stop and redirect the behavior you don’t want anyway (hopefully, anyway!) If the child is too angry or upset to do it, then he or she will have to just wait until later to fill it out. But the child would not be able to participate in any fun activities that the class has, (such as playtime or even recess,) until the form is filled out. Click here to download this Think About It slip.

6.  If your kids keep you from teaching with constant tattletales, you might want to try giving them “Tattle Reports” to fill out.  If the children want to tattle, they must do it in writing.  (Of course, this will only work if your kids have at least a few writing skills!)  She said that most often, the children give up on filling it out unless it’s very important.  I guess that’s the point, isn’t it?

Again, my teammate uses one but she’s not sure where it came from. Below is one I recreated for you. Click here to download the Tattle Report.

 

7. I think it’s a GREAT IDEA to encourage the kids to be nice as well.  We use this Nice Note that they fill out when they’ve done something nice or someone has done something nice for them.  Encouraging kids to come tell me NICE things about each other rather than bad things about each other was something that my kindergartners REALLY responded to, even though I didn’t ask them to do it in writing!  Then I gave them a “high five” and they went off to play.  (That was outside at recess.)  It was SO MUCH MORE PLEASANT! Click here to download the Nice Note!

 

Each note has it’s own tray. Have the kids turn in their note to the correct tray. My teammate has hers labeled on the counter like this!  I like that they are nice and organized and that the children can get them themselves.

 

8. Remember that some children misbehave in order to get attention. So make sure that whatever you are doing when you deal with their behavior is not the way that they get this need for attention met! Try to deal with the child out of the view or earshot of the rest of the class if at all possible. Let the class play “The Quiet Game”or read a book, etc., while you deal with the child, if necessary. Whatever you do, DON’T give the child MORE attention for breaking the rules than he would have gotten for being good, or it can be a vicious circle!

9. Many teachers use a color changing clip chart like this one.  I do not, but this is a photo of my team mate’s chart.  She gives each child a number instead of using their names so as not to give any misbehaving child extra attention and to maintain a small bit of privacy. Everyone starts with the color green, which means GREAT!  Blue is good.  Yellow is the warning color, when they’ve gotten a warning or two.  When they get to red, that means they have not been behaving correctly.  When they change colors to yellow or to red, she has them fill out a paper explaining what they did.  They take home the note to their parents and have to bring it back with a parent signature. Click here to download the Color Change note!

Maximizing Teaching Time in a Very Difficult Class: How is Your Day? Pocket Chart
 

 

10. If you feel that a child is really not “emotionally or mentally available” to learn on a given day and this child is preventing others from learning, then I would try to distract and redirect the child to a different activity that does not disrupt everyone else’s learning. I once had a child that was like that sometimes, and on those days I would let her read her “Social Story” book and then color a page in it. She did this rather than participate in any instructional activity we were doing.

Maximizing Teaching Time in a Very Difficult Class: Social Story
 

Now I know- she was losing that instructional time. But let’s face it- she wasn’t learning anything at all when she was in that kind of mood, and she was making DARN sure that nobody else was, either! So if I gave her something else to do, at least the REST OF THE CLASS was able to LEARN! It worked for me!  You can read all about it here, and get a free download of the Social Story she used, too!

11.  Develop as many daily instructional routines as you can so that your class runs like a well oiled machine!  Once your kids know the routines, they will be able to continue them whether they were listening when you gave the directions or not! Try including songs  and routines from my Classroom Management collection, or reading my Wiggles book about paying attention!

Wiggles Books
 

I hope this post was helpful!! 🙂

Heidi

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Heidi Butkus

About Heidi Butkus

Heidi Butkus has been teaching in California public schools since 1985. She has somehow managed to stay in Kindergarten all of those years, with the exception of five years in first grade, and also taught a parent participation preschool for a short while! Combining a strong knowledge of brain research with practical experience, Heidi has created a wealth of fun and engaging teaching techniques that work well with diverse populations. She has presented at conferences nationwide, and is the owner and founder of HeidiSongs.com. Heidi has also created fourteen original CD's and DVD's for teaching beginning reading and math skills, three musical plays designed especially for young performers, and has written some picture books and many other teaching resources. Heidi's multimedia workshops are filled with fun and motivational educational activities that have been classroom tested and revised for effectiveness with all types of learners.
  1. Thank you – this is good for thought. I know each situation is different and you have presented very useful information. Thank you…

  2. Thank you for giving ideas for these struggling children. I teach developmental kindergarten in a school that has 75% poverty rate. Some of the ideas are very useful for my students.

  3. I feel like this post was written for my class this year! One thing that I have noticed with a particularly disruptive child is that these fine motor activities are really engaging for him and help him sit with the class without being disruptive. I’m really excited to try out the clothes pin and pom-pom ideas with him! I think that they will really help! Thank you!

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