Dealing with Disruption

Jocelyn McWhirter, Religious Studies

About a year ago, I took stock of my efforts to promote a civil learning environment. I patted myself on the back for things like dressing well, being prepared, starting and ending class on time, creating norms for classroom conduct, and establishing trust from day one. I was setting the tone for a civil learning environment.

I realized, however, that I wasn’t effectively addressing the inevitable disruptions. I resolved to be more proactive in this area — and I’ve kept my resolution! Here are some techniques that have proven effective.

 For the student who is always late: Find a private moment and ask, “Is there a reason that you’re always late? How can you arrange things so that you’ll arrive on time?”

For the occasional smartphone user: Move closer to the student’s desk.

For the consistent smartphone (or laptop) user: Find a private moment and ask, “Is there a reason that you have to use your device in class?” Follow up with, “I think you’ll learn better if you put your device away.”

For the student consistently talking to a friend: Cold-call the student with a question that can be easily answered.

For the sleepy student: As I’m speaking, interject, “Are you with us, Sam? Just checking!”

For the sleepy class: Invite everyone to stand and assume the superhero pose.

I did that last one in my 9:15 class yesterday. One student even explained a little about embodied cognition as we stood there feeling more and more powerful. We then sat down and finished the class as if we hadn’t been up late the previous night writing papers and grading exams.