Every educator has “that” student. That brilliant student who is a born leader, innovator, and amazing problem solver that also happens to be a frequent flier in disciplinary referrals, detentions, and the principal’s office. But when we think about the type of teacher-driven, content-heavy instruction students are typically getting (especially during testing season), it should be no surprise that bright and high-energy students sometimes struggle with behavioral issues and pose challenges to effective classroom management. So here are three powerful, but practical strategies that leverage critical thinking instruction as a proactive classroom management tool for some of the most common disruptive student behaviors.
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Talking in Class: Don’t Fight it, Invite it
Excessive, off-task student talking is probably the most common disruption for a meaningful learning environment. Instead of giving out teacher stares, saying the painful “I’ll wait” phrase (I promised I would never use that phrase as an educator but hard not to sometimes), or otherwise punishing students for the natural inclination to want to talk, build out multiple opportunities for students to engage in compelling conversations in your classroom. Almost every student responds to issues around fairness and justice or learning activities involving debate because they are craving opportunities to use their voices. So why not design talk-heavy learning activities for science where students are reviewing and debating viewpoints on evolution and whether the Earth is round, or use math as an opportunity to look at two incorrect problems and argue over which should receive more credit? Don’t fight it, invite it!
Move them or lose them
Schools have come a long way in recognizing that movement is important to student learning, but many teachers still struggle when students frequently get out of their seats or otherwise physically disrupt the classroom environment. Intentionally building movement into your lessons proactively addresses this challenge. Conduct polls, and have students move around the room based on the viewpoint, and allow students to move back and forth if they end up changing their minds. Use fun dance videos like this to help students memorize vocabulary words in geometry. And because sometimes you just can’t avoid long blocks of delivering nothing-but-content, a good, old-fashioned stretch session is another way to get those juices flowing your students.
Bullying and other anti-social behaviors are probably some of the most serious threats to a safe and productive learning environment faced by teachers. So many powerful anti-bullying and social-emotional learning programs have done a great job in addressing these challenges, but teachers have the power to tackle this within their own instruction! Every state has some English and Language Arts standard for every grade level about speaking, listening, and asking questions to understand a speaker’s purpose and perspective. Even the Next Generation Science Standards call for students to be able to look at arguments on multiple sides of an argument and to “respectfully” give and receive critiques through a back-and-forth process. Designing lessons with questions that do not have a clear right or wrong answer – especially questions that involve a “what would you do if this was you” component – is a meaningful way to build empathy by encouraging students to put themselves in another person’s shoes and see different perspectives.
Deeper learning activities that involve engaging and rigorous critical thinking should be the first tool educators grab from their educational toolbox to improve classroom management. But this short list is just a snippet of all of the instructional strategies you can use to reach “that” student. So please share this list and add some of the instructional practices you use to proactively address common classroom strategies!
Colin Seale is an educator, attorney, and critical thinking expert. He was also that kid that talked too much, “laughed too hard,” and was an all-around smart Alec that eventually suffered from #IDontCareSyndrome in his high school years. He founded thinkLaw, an award-winning organization to help educators leverage inquiry-based instructional strategies that can close the critical thinking gap to ensure they teach and REACH all students.