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Dr. Ken Shore's
Classroom Problem Solver

Silly Behavior in Class


Almost every class has a clown -- that student who will do or say just about anything to draw attention to himself. Determined to be in the spotlight, hes willing to persist with his wisecracks or smart-aleck responses until he gets the attention he craves. In extreme situations, his behavior might encourage other students to follow his lead and engage in antics of their own.

Although other children might think the class clown is funny -- and their reaction to him often reinforces his behavior -- the teacher rarely views the situation as a laughing matter. Thats because the clowns antics often disrupt the class and interfere with lessons. The class clown is adept at drawing the attention of other students and impeding their concentration on their schoolwork. In the process, he often doesnt get his own work done.

Teacher reprimands often have little impact on the class clown. Indeed, he might enjoy the attention even if it is in the form of a negative comment. Although it might be possible to ignore some of his less disruptive antics, youll need to be more responsive if you see that his clowning is diverting the attention of your other students.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Have a one-on-one talk with the student. Take the student aside and ask him why he is acting up. Do that in a calm, emotionally neutral manner -- without anger or sarcasm -- so he feels comfortable talking with you. Let his comments guide your response, which might include a simple appeal for cooperation. Help the student understand that his behavior interferes with your teaching. Let him know that there is a time and place for clowning around and your lessons are neither the time nor the place.

Develop a non-verbal signal to alert the student when his behavior crosses the line. The student might need your guidance -- perhaps a simple non-verbal signal -- to develop self-control and learn when to stop. Talk with him privately and decide on a signal you will give when you observe him acting up. Some possibilities include pausing while you are speaking, raising your eyebrows, tugging on your ear, or winking. You might need to say his name to get his attention before signaling him, but do not stop class to reprimand him. The idea is to provide a reminder without interrupting the flow of your lesson.

Take away the students audience. A student who clowns around will persist with that behavior if he is successful getting others to pay attention to him. You might be able to lessen the disruptive behavior if you can persuade other students not to respond when he is cutting up. Find a time when the student is out of the room and talk briefly with your other students, asking for their cooperation in not responding to his antics. If students cooperate, make sure you do the same by going ahead with your lesson.

Stand near the student. If a student is cutting up while you're teaching, move in his direction while continuing the lesson. Stand near him -- perhaps making eye contact -- for a minute or two. Your presence likely will be sufficient to quiet him down. In general, it is a good practice to move around the room in an unpredictable manner and vary where you stand when you present your lessons.

Provide the student with positive attention. If you conclude that the students behavior is designed to gain your attention or that of his classmates, look for opportunities to pay attention to him when he displays positive behavior or has an academic success. Similarly, you might find ways to highlight his accomplishments to others in the class. In that way, he might feel less compelled to seek attention in inappropriate ways. Be on the lookout for ways to channel his energy constructively and for opportunities for the student to use his entertaining qualities productively -- in the school play, for example.

Develop a behavior modification system for the student. Provide the student with classroom privileges or material rewards if he shows evidence of improving his behavior. An easy way to do that is to divide a 3x5 card into ten boxes and tape it to the students desk. Set a timer for 30 minutes at the beginning of the day. If the student does not act up within the 30-minute period, put your initials in one of the ten boxes and reset the timer. If he does act up, reset the timer immediately, but do not initial the card. When all ten boxes are initialed, provide the student with an agreed-upon reward or privilege. Adjust the length of the period and the number of boxes needed to obtain a reward with the age of the student and the severity of the problem.

Identify when the student is most likely to act up. Note the circumstances of the students behavior. Pay attention to what happens just before and after incidents, when the incidents usually occur, and where the student is when he acts up. You might observe that his antics are worse at certain times of the day -- during a particular class, while taking a test, or while doing seatwork, for example. Recognizing when he is making noise might lead you to understand why he is doing it. He might be acting up because he finds the work boring or tedious or difficult, because he is confused about what to do, or because he has difficulty focusing for a sustained period of time. Identifying the reason for his behavior might suggest a need to adjust the level of the work, the length of the activity, or the way you present the lesson.

Consider a classroom consequence. If the problem persists, give the student one or two warnings and then provide a consequence. Some possible disciplinary measures include missing part or all of recess, staying after school, or losing a privilege. Or you might have the student call his parents in your presence to inform them of his behavior. Be matter of fact and to the point when letting him know about the consequence. If his behavior is severely disrupting the flow of your lessons, consider removing him from his seat and placing him away from the rest of the class. Tell him that he can listen to the lesson but cannot participate. Let him know that he can return to his seat when he is ready to behave properly.

About Ken Shore

Dr. Kenneth Shore is a psychologist and chair of a child study team for the Hamilton, New Jersey Public Schools. He has written five books, including Special Kids Problem Solver and Elementary Teacher's Discipline Problem Solver.

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