Teaching the ‘unteachables’ by @secretsciteach

Lighting the spark...

I often hear other teachers talk about groups of students that are unteachable and how they can’t learn in a main stream school. I couldn’t disagree more with this! I understand that there are individual students who (often because of reasons out our control) are removed from main stream school. Whole groups of students that are often described as being too difficult to work with or that are too poorly behaved to learn can be frustrating. If we can try and understand the reason for their behaviour and create a positive safe environment for them to work I guarantee that you will start to enjoy teaching these groups again.

I thought I would share some strategies that seem to have worked with these so called unteachable classes. These are very simple strategies that have worked for me and could help these groups make better progress as more importantly enjoy learning.

1. Start all over again every lesson – What I mean here is that when we have a bad or difficult lesson we often explain to the students that we don’t want a repeat of this. By doing this we are reminding the students of their behaviour and often reinforcing the unwanted behaviour. Instead, forget about the last lesson, start again, welcome them into your classroom, create a positive, safe environment for them to learn in. This can be incredibly difficult to do, especially if a poor behaviour cycle has begun.

2. Create a positive/safe learning environment – I have often noticed that behaviour in messy, poorly kept classrooms is different to that in well organised, tidy classrooms. I’m not saying we need to be neat freaks all the time but some simple maintenance of your classroom shows students that we value our work space and that we have high expectations for the area they work in and therefore the work they produce.

3. Settle them before they enter – If students enter the classroom in an unstructured way it is very difficult to then settle them for the rest of the lesson. One strategy that I found worked very well for a difficult group with lots of low level disruption was to have a very simple ‘walk through the door’ activity. Have something they can get on with without any support at all. When you greet them at the door, ask them about their weekend or day, something that diffuses whatever they are talking about. Then allow only those students who are settled to enter the classroom and ask them to silently get on with the work on the board. If there are students still not listening ask them to go to the back of the line outside the classroom. Continue to let the settled students in, you are in the doorway watching the class working and you will find you are left with the students outside who have the potential to disrupt the lesson. This is your opportunity to make yourself the ‘pack leader’ and explain your high expectations. Now allow these students to enter your classroom and they should settle with the others. Do this for a few weeks and the students will eventually know exactly what to expect before the lesson has even began.

4. Use non-verbal cues during the lesson – Some students will try and draw us into a confrontation because negative attention is often much easier for them to get than positive attention and it is often more predictable (especially if we have lost our temper before!). By simply only speaking in a certain place in the classroom e.g the middle of the room and moving to a different spot as soon as a student speaks is often a much calmer way of grabbing the students attention. This takes some time to master but will certainly save your voice.

5. Praise praise praise – students with behavioural issue ms often don’t get enough positive attention at home and as result crave any kind of attention. You are much more likely to get through with regular positive praise. As soon as a difficult student does something positive, phone home, send post cards home, email, send letters home and watch the difference this makes.

6. Follow the behaviour policy – I know we get sick of hearing this but there is a reason the behaviour policy is there. There must be a consequence for poor behaviour and if you follow everything up behaviour will improve. This is completely exhausting and will take time but keep at it and their behaviour will eventually improve. If behaviour doesn’t improve, take things to the next level, speak to your line manager and request support.

7. Meet the parents – Meeting the parents of difficult students shows them that you care about their education and getting parents on your side can be very powerful. Set the meetings up as progress meetings and explain what you think is stopping students from making progress. Ask the students how they feel about your lessons and take this opportunity to build a positive relationship with parents and students.

I hope these suggestions are helpful!

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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