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Noise control

Behaviour Management

Noise control

a guide for classroom teachers and teacher aides

Young students in a school environment facing the front of the classroom.

It’s generally not hard to spot a novice teacher. The noise coming from their class is a dead giveaway. New and inexperienced teachers are rarely prepared for the chaos that is an unwieldy classroom. Not that their students are ‘misbehaving’ as such, children are just loud by nature. They are boisterous, excitable and social; the louder a single group is, the louder the next group becomes. Eventually, the unsuspecting teacher is overwhelmed with a deafening and uncomfortable classroom that would put a nightclub to shame. In such an environment, student learning is heavily impacted (Hepburn & Beamish, 2019).

This teacher is not incompetent per se – they are simply unprepared and under-resourced. There are so many things running through their mind at this point: planning, sequences, strategies, data, the actual learning; they are wondering how much longer until this chaos ends and they can get their coffee fix. Under this level of stress, time passes slowly. The teacher senses their control is slipping; balancing on a knife’s edge; something bad is going to happen – he or she can feel it.

Hint: An old-school trick is to ‘control’ the room from the second students enter. The ‘meet them at the door’ technique is explained earlier in this book. It is used to build rapport (by greeting students politely), but it also doubles as a ‘mood check’. Students who are excited can be told to calm down before entering. Teachers may even ask them to wait 60 seconds as a preventative measure. Another equally effective trick is to have students move their desks back to exactly where they were when they walked in (as they will often sit down and move their desks a few centimetres here and there). This firm, confident (but non-aggressive) instruction tells them who is in charge and signals your competence and confidence.

New and inexperienced teachers are rarely prepared for the chaos that is an unwieldy classroom.

The volume (or ‘noise’ as teachers call it) is the best and most telling yardstick of the level of control a teacher has with a particular class. There is a prima facie correlation between the level of noise and a teacher’s behaviour management skills. No matter how hard the novice teacher tries, their class is always noisy, overly excitable and ‘challenging’. What can be done?

Hint: Research has shown that class-wide interventions substantially and steadily reduce behavioural issues related to talking and noise (Lohrmann et al., 2004). To achieve this, the teacher focuses on 1-2 key areas (e.g. talking out of turn) and explicitly teaches rules, expectations and consequences while implementing a combination or new and improved behavioural and instructional strategies.

The key to overcoming almost any behavioural issue is in the planning and preparatory work. Think of your work no differently to Olympic runners – they don’t just show up on the day and expect to win – winning takes a lot of preparation beforehand. Implementing a proactive approach sounds easy enough – and it actually is – so why do so many teachers struggle with noise in particular? There are various compounding reasons: lack of time, lack of training, lack of experience and lack of strategies to call upon, to name a few. With experience however, teachers learn to identify and act on the tell-tale signs of impending issues and need fewer re-active solutions. Regardless of your experience, a proactive approach will resolve most problems in a few weeks. Controlling the overall volume of a class is one of those skills that improves with experience, practise and experimentation.

There is a prima facie correlation between the level of noise and a teacher’s behaviour management skills.

Teachers should not wait for noise to be a problem before something is done about it. Proactive strategies should be used from day 1. This includes clearly explaining your expectations and consequences, implementing short-sharp activities (a highly controlled structure means volume is reduced to zero every few minutes or so and students never get the opportunity to become overly excited). Use countdowns and an explicit teaching approach overall. Traditional teaching strategies such as silent activities for timed periods (e.g. active reading, graphic organisers and worked examples) reduce the opportunity for noise to occur. These are known as ‘engineered controls’. Again, short-sharp activities are best as they keep the momentum, pace and engagement levels high.

Graph demonstrating change in noise levels over the length of a lesson.

Figure: Noise increases quickly unless it is managed back to a comfortable level. The horizontal line is the teacher’s maximum allowable volume (their expectation). Notice how the teacher allows it to exceed this level at the end. In this example, the teacher is barely maintaining control. The activities are probably too long and there is no silent work such as individual practice.

If (or more than likely when) noise becomes an issue, a range of reactive strategies can be implemented. Hopefully, a plan is in place to manage such incidents. A gentle touch may be all that is needed for 1 or 2 students who get carried away. A loud ‘shhh, okay volume down please everyone thank-you’ is a simple way to address the whole class and will reduce the volume by 70% or so. Some teachers will call the class back to perfect silence, spend 30 seconds reminding them of the expectations and then require silent work for at least 5-6 minutes.

Circulating, attending to specific ‘hot-spots’ and even adopting a change in lesson direction may be necessary. If the class is supposed to be working in pairs, stop the activity and do something teacher-centred instead – a quick quiz or a few examples on the board for example. At this point, spend 20 seconds reminding students of the noise expectations. Speak with individuals privately next time you circulate past their desk: let them know that you noticed an issue and add some positive praise where due.

Move a few students around and see what happens. This strategy can be risky because some students may feel ‘hard done by’, particularly if they didn’t do anything wrong. Teenagers seem to be particularly sensitive to being moved. You will hear students say things such as, ‘but everyone else is talking too’. If this is true, you might be in a spot of bother. An easier way is to quietly ask a few students to move in preparation for the next activity (or any other excuse you can think of). If you move students around all the time (every lesson or so), they soon learn that it is part of your teaching style and won’t bother arguing anywhere near as much. Remember that for any instruction, especially relocation, the risk is that students will refuse to comply – choose and apply your strategies wisely.

References:

Hepburn, L., & Beamish, W. (2019). Towards Implementation of Evidence-Based Practices for Classroom Management in Australia: A Review of Research. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 44(2), 82-98. https://doi.org/10.14221/ajte.2018v44n2.6

Lohrmann, S., Talerico, J., & Dunlap, G. (Ed.). (2004). Anchor the Boat: A classwide intervention to reduce problem behavior. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 6(2), 113–120. https://doi.org/10.1177/10983007040060020601

About the author

Image of the managing director of ITAC.

ADAM GREEN

Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and a #1 best selling author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of ITAC, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.

Source: Behaviour Management Skills and Strategies for the Modern Classroom: 100+ research-based strategies for both novice and experienced practitioners.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to check his article for accuracy, information may be outdated, inaccurate or not relevant to you and your location/employer/contract. It is not intended as legal or professional advice. Users should seek expert advice such as by contacting the relevant education department, should make their own enquiries, and should not rely on any of the information provided.

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