Disruptive Students

Recently I was demonstrating the proper technique to accomplish a defensive tactic according to the organization that certified me to teach. During the demonstration, I talk through each step working slowly so that the students see the hold and understand the correct form. I have selected one of the students in class as an assistant. As I talk through the steps, the student pulls his hand out of my grip and laughs. I can only believe it is because he showed the teacher that his tactic doesn’t work, but his resistance is outside the parameters for application of this maneuver. I attempt to use this as a teaching moment explaining to the class that this is only one way to confront a potential adversary and is intended for use on one who appears compliant and follows directions. I start over. The demonstrator pulls away again. Repeat one more time. Now it is obvious my student is disrupting the class and interfering with the learning. Instructors and teachers often have to deal with disruptive students in a classroom environment. Strategies for dealing with these students are widely available in text books, journals, and internet sites. No one talks about the disruptive student in the practical exercise environment. Over the years I have had many disruptive students in practical activities session who have challenged me, my skills and my techniques. How the instructor handles the disruptive student establishes his future credibility. Handled well and students learn the instructor is knowledgeable and respectful and gains the attention and respect of the class. Handled poorly and the students learn the instructor is self-centered, egotistical and is just as likely to treat them with contempt if they fail to live up to his standards resulting in lack of attention or respect.

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Attempting to address the misbehavior based on your perception of the student’s motivation you attract attention to the misbehavior and away from the lesson. Redirect the attention of all the students to the task at hand by acknowledging the slight and explain that this portion of the lesson is limited to the topic you are introducing. Use this as an opportunity to explain that there is more than one way to accomplish the task and this application has limitations that do not invalidate its use in the correct situation.

Keep your cool. I learned this rule the hard way. Anger about the student’s behavior manifests as a personal attack. Too often the anger results in the demonstration being completed at 100% force without proper preparation resulting in personal injury or property damage. Instead, stay calm, redirect the students attention, explain the parameters for the skill you are teaching and continue the lesson. A successful method is to change demonstrators.

Explain to the class as one instructor I watched. The instructor introduced information that was contrary to prior learning in another course. The instructor replied to the effect, “What I am teaching is a way to accomplish this task. It is not the only way.” Often when doing hands on work it is impossible to teach students the best options for every situation because the “What ifs” pile up in a hurry. Using the “A way” response validates the student’s position while maintaining your credibility.

Hands on training is an effective method to ensure students develop skills required to complete certain tasks. Unlike the lecture where the instructor controls the flow of information, during performance oriented training, students will often share what they know about the topic from prior experiences. Sometimes this is helpful, but often is is disruptive. Effectively keeping the class on topic builds your credibility as an instructor and subject matter expert. Validate the students point of view if valid in some cases if there is more than one way. Delineate the conditions for the task you are training. Keeping control of your emotions shows you are an expert deserving their continued attention and trust. When you follow these steps, you ensure students receive quality, consistent information, develop skills to accomplish the task in the given conditions to performance standards and increase the probability they will complete the task appropriately in a stress filled field environment.

Photo Credit:  U.S. Navy photo by Ensign Lily Daniels under Creative Commons License Share-alike and Attribution, Commander U.S. Navy 7th Fleet

2/1/14 I just posted a companion slide deck on SlideShare.  Check it out at http://www.slideshare.net/ChrisStCyr1/disruptedpractice

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Posted in Training
2 comments on “Disruptive Students
  1. John St Martin says:

    This is another insightful article with many valuable tools for Instructors.
    The first sentence of your second paragraph may be the greatest key.
    Too often the distractions are remembered well and the intended lesson diminished.
    Both Instructors and Students are pre-wired to strive for mastery.
    The greatest inherently human motivator is our common goal of being highly skilled and educated within our chosen profession.

    Like

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