This blog is related to a multi-part series titled “Creating Centers in the Classroom.” If you have missed that series, you can read part 1 HERE, part 2 HERE, part 3 HERE, part 4 HERE, and part 5 HERE.
You are ready!! You’ve planned your centers and are excited about differentiating them based on student needs; you are eager to watch what students do and learn about their understanding. It is going to be a great day of math in your classroom.
Then that kid walks in the door. The one that has you considering retirement at age 37. Before they have made it to their seat they have pushed someone, yelled a cuss word, pulled someone’s hair, and knocked over your coffee cup (“Not my coffee!”). Now they stand in front of you with that “what did I do?” look and a T-shirt that says Mommy’s Little Monster. There is always that kid. And increasingly we are lucky if we only have one of those kids in our classes.
Can you still run your centers? Should you even try? What do you do about that? That is a genuine question for you. What do you do when you have one or more students who disrupt your plans for the class and take learning experiences away from other children? Here are a few ideas to start.
Rotate Centers Instead of Children
With disruptive children, every step they take is a potential incident. Try keeping the materials for your centers in tubs and have the tubs move instead of the student groups. A designated helper can quickly deliver the tubs to the next groups which makes the transition faster and eliminates a lot of potential problems.
This Isn’t Your House
We want students to feel at home in our classrooms, but their idea of home might not be the same as ours. Explicit clarification can help. I witnessed a teacher effectively do this with a disruptive student. She calmly told the student, “This isn’t your house. We don’t do that here. Instead we…” The child quickly changed behaviors. We have to remember that our students are learning math AND social/emotion navigation. Heck, aren’t we all? The more clear we are about what is acceptable, the safer and more at home students will feel.
Disruptions are often a power struggle. One way to end the struggle is to give up a little power. Give disruptive students a choice. For example: “You can either work with your group, or you can work alone near me.” This isn’t a threat because neither is a punishment. The child is given power to choose where they feel most comfortable working, which can promote self-awareness and autonomy. If they are still disruptive, let them know that their actions have decided for them and they move to the other location. There are no automatic answers. Each child’s behaviors and needs are different, and there is not enough space in this blog to cover everything. I just want to acknowledge that we at the AIMS Center know these struggles exist and are committed to working together with teachers in all aspects of math education.
Please keep the discussion going by sharing what has worked (or failed) for you, or share any resources like this one that you have found helpful.