Four Tips for Teaching Students with Behavior Issues

by Angie Barnett | Jul 9, 2012

Four Tips for Teaching Students with Behavior Issues

fixing behavior problems in the classroomI’ll never forget being in my 4th-grade classroom when out of nowhere one of my peers started yelling, shoved his desk to the floor, and then hit at my teacher as she tried to escort him out of the classroom. Our sweet teacher came back a few minutes later in tears and said: “you guys don’t deserve that!”

Our teacher truly was one of the nicest ladies in the world—and—remembering the scene, not only did we not deserve to be scared, she didn’t deserve that either. She didn’t deserve to have a student yell and hit at her.

None of us deserve to experience threatening situations. But in every classroom are students that are prone to get upset, angry, hyper, or disruptive on occasion. So… what can you do? How can you better preserve the safety of your classroom? How can you help students with behavior issues adapt and cooperate in the classroom in a way that doesn’t distract or cause problems?

Although many of these problems need to be addressed by a certified professional, there are some things that you can do to help minimize behavior issues in the classroom.

Here is Reading Horizons Director of Training, Shantell Berrett, discussing what she has found to be effective when working with students with behavior problems through her experiences working with teachers and students as well as through working with her own son.

Where is the disruptive behavior coming from?

As Shantell pointed out, behavior issues can be very difficult to address because they are all case-sensitive. Every student comes from a different background and there are different reasons that underlie problematic behavior. It could be their family life, problems with friends, learning disabilities, etc…

class bullying reading problems

There is a reason for every behavior. And although many bad behaviors can be the result of a student’s family life or peers, often bad behavior is the result of a student struggling in school. Whether they are struggling with reading, or math, or science … students are embarrassed to struggle and fall behind. And so … they act out to cover up the fact that they are struggling.

“It is a whole lot easier to be the bully or the class clown than it is to be the kid that can’t read.” – Shantell Berrett

“When it comes to students that struggle with reading, the older the student is, the more likely they are to have behavior problems.” – Shantell Berrett 

If you can get to the core of why a student has behavior problems and remediate that issue, a lot of times the student’s behavior issues will go away.

Four things you can do to minimize disruptive behavior in the classroom:

The same deficits in the executive functioning of the brain that causes students to struggle with tasks such as reading and math are the same deficits that make them subject to disruptive behavior. These deficits result in poor impulse control and a difficult time switching from task to task.

Here are four things that Shantell suggests you do to help students with behavior issues smoothly transition from task to task without eliciting negative behavior:

1. Remediate learning difficulties.

Because many behavior issues are the result of students trying to cover up their academic weaknesses, one of the most effective ways to eliminate problematic behavior is to get students the help they need to succeed in school. Pulling out students in small groups or one-on-one to get them the reading, math, or science help they need.

Oftentimes, when you help a student who struggles with reading (or any subject) and the student improves to the point that he is confident in his reading skills, that student’s behavior problems will vanish. Research has found that multisensory, explicit phonics instruction is the most effective way to help students improve their reading performance.

2. Keep your class schedule very consistent.

Because sudden changes can throw students with learning disabilities off—often times eliciting a negative reaction, it is important to keep your class schedule very consistent. These students often have processing issues which make anything that is out of routine overwhelming for these students.

Give students warnings before switching tasks so they can start to transition and know that change is coming. A 5-minute warning, 3-minute warning, 1-minute warning that you are about to move on is very helpful for these students.

3. Create a calming environment that isn’t overstimulating.

Overstimulation is going to increase the likelihood that a student will get upset or hyper in your classroom. Don’t place students with behavior issues under bright lights or by active students. It is wise to place these students in quiet, darker places in the classroom.

4. Compliment them on every success.

Students with behavior problems are used to being scolded and often struggle academically. Their self-esteem is rarely in a healthy state. It is important to complement these students and celebrate their successes. Positive reward systems are very helpful for boosting these students in their efforts to improve both academically and behaviorally.

What has worked for you? What strategies have you found effective as a teacher?

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