Classroom Disruptions: The Common Cold of the University Classroom – Amanda Clark


I’m sure you’ve all experienced disruptions in the classroom at one point or another. In fact, they are as prevalent as the common cold – and equally bothersome I might add. Whether it be excessive chattiness, overly argumentative students, late comers/early departers or students engaging in non-class related activities like reading a newspaper or playing on their laptop, we all face some sort of disruption challenge at one point or another. Many instructors I’ve encountered take a hard line on this topic and strictly enforce classroom guidelines for acceptable behaviour while others seemingly ignore the glaring disruptions.

Last fall, I taught a section of Psychology 101 with 250 students and my most typical classroom management concern was chattiness. I attacked this classroom management concern with my usual arsenal of building rapport, clearly defining the classroom expectations, modelling respect, making direct eye contact with the talking group of students and I even became silent several times to draw attention to the inappropriate behaviour. But, while I thought I was following all the rules of how to prevent and manage a classroom disruption, several students later said that it was more of a disruption to them when I interrupted the class to quiet the conversations than the conversations themselves.

I think this situation highlights an interesting conundrum that instructors face. What exactly is the role of a university instructor in managing the learning environment? Is it our job to police classroom conduct? Or are we supposed to ignore disrespectful behaviour and go full steam ahead in covering the material? If so, how to we teach effectively when the learning environment is being filled with disruptions?

Personally, the next time I teach a class my goal is to proactively engage my students by helping them interact with me and the material before they can become disruptive. Beyond that, if disruptions persist, I plan to speak with the disruptive student(s) individually, outside of class time, to remedy the problem without interrupting the flow of the lecture by reprimanding the student(s).

Do any of you deal with these issues in your classrooms? If so, what have you done to prevent or manage the disruptions? Do you have any advice for those of us who struggle with this issue?

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