This week’s issue of Behaviour Matters looks at the methods you can use to give pupils specific directions − keeping them on task and reducing class disruptionsIntroduction

The modern teaching and learning environment is stimulating and exciting, but can sometimes be a source of distraction for some pupils. Positive aspects of the classroom include displays, technology, seating groups and differentiated activities to suit a wide range of learning styles; all used to motivate and encourage an ethos of enquiry and success. It goes without saying that there will also be negative influences present, such as gossiping, disruption, movement and general off-task behaviour. It is important, therefore, that your directions relating to academic activity and behaviour are clear, precise and effective. Amazingly, some individuals have a natural talent for remaining on task and focused when all around them there appears to be distraction and interruption. However, this is certainly not the case for all pupils. If your directions or instructions are not effectively delivered, with clarity and structure, there will be a number of pupils who will simply not have “taken in” the instruction or will have only caught part of the information. Failure to hear or understand your directions will inevitably lead to one or more unwanted outcomes:

  • The need to use reminders, reprimands and/or sanctions.
  • Frustration (for you and the pupil!).
  • A style of “learned behaviour”, ie pupils will learn to not bother listening as you always repeat things!

Practical Tips

You should plan and deliver a specific direction in much the same manner as you deliver a part of the curriculum. Use your well-rehearsed and understood techniques for attracting the attention of the individual or class group. These should be used in a consistent manner, don’t be tempted to use one technique at the start of the lesson and then keep changing throughout the duration. Choose a technique that you are comfortable with, and obviously one that works. For example: To attract the attention of a group, try clapping your hands once while saying “thanks folks!” Ensure you teach the meaning of the technique to the pupils. “Thanks folks,” means:

1. Put everything down.

2. Stop talking.

3. Look at me and listen.

Remembering that specific instructions should be taught in a similar fashion to any part of the curriculum, it is important that you follow the next stages. Once you have given your specific instruction, it is important to follow up with a structured and consistent teaching model that addresses the needs of all learning styles:

  • Gain the attention of the group.
  • State your instruction/direction clearly.
  • Check for understanding by asking questions related to instruction.
  • Try a role play with the group (for practise).

Simply stopping the class and giving a verbal direction will invariably prove ineffective. As the group becomes accustomed to your expectations and routines, the need to use the model will reduce. It may also be helpful to use a reminder for yourself as to what should be included in your specific directions. The main elements may well change depending on the situation. The components of the directions should include:

  • the materials that are needed to complete the task
  • whether pupils should be in or out of their seats
  • the appropriate noise levels for the session.

Once the directions have been given, recap using the model above. For example:
For other situations, the directions will change but the same format model should remain. For example: Teacher-led session:

1. Clear the desks/tables, you only need paper and pens for note-taking.

2. Stay in your own seat for the duration of the activity.

3. Use a raised hand to ask questions. Speak one at a time.

For a discussion session:

1. No materials needed.

2. Stay in your seat.

3. Speak one at a time and remember to listen to others.

Being clear with your instructions and expectations will reduce the likelihood of ongoing disruption and interruptions. If you are aware of particular pupils who have difficulty in listening to and following instructions, it is also worthwhile to consider where you are standing when giving the directions to the group. Close proximity to the target pupil and using his or her name will give more opportunities for engagement in the activity. Remember to ensure your instructions are clear and can be observed − avoid comments such as “come on now!” or “right let’s get going now!” Once the instructions have been given, questions have been answered and the activity practised, scan the room and circulate, look for the pupil who is complying and make a positive comment about those who are following the instructions.

Pupils will quickly become used to the system and the process will soon be familiar, feel less awkward and will have a positive effect on the behaviour of both yourself and the whole class group.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2008

About the author: Dave Stott has nearly 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher. He has worked in mainstream and special schools and Local Authority Behaviour Support Services, and is now a wrtier, consultant and trainer.