Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

How to Handle Pupils Who Love Playing Up

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

How to Handle Pupils Who Love Playing Up

Article excerpt

Some students crave the limelight - and their attempts to grab attention can disrupt lessons. Gordon Cairns offers advice on neutralising this threat to classroom order

You know the kind of student I'm talking about. We've all taught them: those pupils who can't cope with order in the room and have to break it by drawing attention to themselves. They usually create the kind of disruption that's not going to get them into serious trouble, but will create just enough static to allow them to bask in the glow of the teacher's disapproval or break the monotony of a quietly working classroom. Researchers at the University of Texas have officially coined this behaviour as "need for drama".

I recall one student who could tie you up in linguistic knots because of a misspoken word or an off-the-cuff remark. Five minutes of discussion would follow between us, in which I would clarify what we both knew I meant and he would seek further elucidation. The result was a pupil getting all of the focus he desired while the concentration of the class was lost to verbal ping-pong.

Another extreme pupil in this category was a serial confessor of misdeeds, from smoking at lunchtime to stealing from his mum's purse, all without evidence, all invented but all serious enough to cause an investigation, creating lots of drama for the instigator.

These students needn't be verbally dexterous; they can use props. A flying insect bouncing off a window is fertile ground for disruption, as the pupil knows how to work the room. Their overreaction gets the attention of the teacher, who may struggle to tell the pupil off for hyperventilating over something about which they seem genuinely scared.

It seems most likely that this ability to create drama has been tried and tested in the home environment to grab the attention of a distracted parent before it is unleashed on the new school audience. The behaviour will be refined and polished as the pupil moves through the educational system.

Fortunately, there is much that a teacher can do to combat this behaviour.

First of all, it is important to remember that the pupil is acting up for a reason and not just attention-seeking for the sake of it. The pupil is actually getting satisfaction from it. It could be about breaking the boredom in a lesson they don't really understand, or it could be about getting the warm feeling of knowing that everyone in the class is focused on them. Or it could be something more serious. Finding out is important and it should influence your decision about what to do next. …

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