How do I control a classroom full of adults?

Answered Dec 15, 2019

This comes from the perspective of student who has seen a wide range of classroom behaviours.

The need for control depends on the particular circumstances.

If it is ten postgraduate students, then they have already been heavily filtered for acting civilised.

If it is 20 or 30 students in some type of low-level (pre-degree, foundation, developmental, remedial, etc) type of course, with zero intake filter, then you may face serious challenges. I previously described the horrific classroom conditions at a place that I call, Low Rent Polytechnic…

Victoria Campbell’s answer to What are your biggest classroom management issues?

Some ideas on how to avoid that kind of Students Gone Wild situation…

Be as organised and prepared as possible.

Pacing is important, to keep their attention, without going too fast.

If possible, arrive early, and arrange all of the tables and seats in rows facing forward. Avoid the “U” shape arrangement.

Clearly lay out behavioural expectations right from the start, during the first class session. Emphasise that, it is in their own best interest to meet these expectations. Also have a section about this at the beginning of your printed syllabus or study guide.

Emphasise that they are paying, in money and time, to have you teach them, while they learn. And that, it is a two-way contract. Mention that, everybody should respect the fact that, their classmates are paying, and may be making large sacrifices for this opportunity.

Ban the use of laptops. If there is a clearly articulated disability issue, then there might be grounds for an individual exemption. Otherwise, clearly and firmly state that, the teaching won’t start until all computers are turned off, and preferably placed in bags.

If a student gets bored, and pulls out their computer during the session, calmly go over, and remind them of the rule. If they don’t immediately comply, clearly and firmly state that, the teaching is now on hold, and will resume after the computer is turned off and put away. Make sure the entire room hears this.

If your institution doesn’t give you the authority to ban laptops, then try requiring all users to sit in the back row. Tell them that, this is for courtesy to others who don’t want to be distracted by the screen, regardless of what is on it.

Have a small supply of paper and pens ready, if they neglected to bring them. Mention that, tests and exams will require hours of writing by hand, so they will benefit from getting accustomed to it.

Mobile phones need to be turned to silent/vibrate mode. Demonstrate that you are doing the same with yours. Phones should preferably be in their pocket or bag. Tell them that you are OK with them responding to an emergency, or update on a sick relative. But emphasise that, people aren’t as good at multitasking as they think, and that, phone use will reduce their ability to pass the course.

It is important to deal with disruptors rapidly. Just ignoring one individual sends everyone else the message that, they too can disrupt without consequence.

If someone keeps talking inappropriately, you might call on them. Ask if they have a question about the material. Or ask if they had something to offer or share with the class.

A common problem seems to be what I call Disruptive Duos. The pair always sit together, and talk. Sometimes loudly and incessantly. There may be multiple Disruptive Duos in the room. If they keep doing it, then start the next session by shuffling the seating. Perhaps say that, they need to get accustomed to sitting with new people, since jobs will eventually require that. In severe, repeated cases, you might resort to assigning seats to separate the Disruptive Duos. Perhaps best to assign all of the students to avoid the perception of being harsher only on certain people.

Some subjects can be punctuated with, “Are there any questions about that part?” before moving on. Reassure them that, any question they have is probably on other people’s minds, as well.

If it is a regular classroom (i.e. not a large lecture theatre), move around the room a bit.

Attendance rolls and requirements can be a problem. There may be a legitimate need. But sometimes, they encourage people to show up just to be marked as physically present, when they don’t want to be mentally present.

Never, ever get visibly angry. That makes the out-of-control situation worse.

If anyone gets an attitude of, “This isn’t high school, and we are adults, so we will do what we want”, then calmly explain two things. They are choosing to be there and learn. Also, adults are expected to behave in an adult manner.

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