sleeping in class February 13

Disruptive Students: Personality Styles and Recommended Responses

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In a perfect world, college students would always be eager, well disciplined, and respectful.

In the real world, some students come to class late, miss deadlines, or fall asleep during lectures. Others monopolize class time, make insulting or abusive comments, and even physically threaten or intimidate other students and professors.

In extreme incidents, there is even the occasional student who poses a dangerous risk to the entire community.

A supplement to the Coping with Seven Disruptive Personality Types in the Classroom whitepaper, this quick reference guide explains how to recognize typical styles of troublesome behavior and exactly what to do in response.

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disruptive students February 5

Coping with Seven Disruptive Personality Types in the Classroom

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The typical college professor is bound to run into his or her share of difficult students during the course of an academic career. Some students create nuisances by engaging in annoying behavior, such as interfering with classroom proceedings, making irrelevant comments, and causing noisy interruptions. They may turn assignments in late, disregard the course expectations, and insist on special treatment for themselves. Other students, however, may pose a very real threat to the safety of the professor and fellow students.

Relatively few college professors are trained in how to recognize and respond effectively to these challenging or threatening behaviors. Sometimes, faculty will have difficulty distinguishing between a student who is a mere nuisance and a student who poses a very real threat to the community. It is comforting to know that many of the most difficult and disruptive encounters with students tend to fall into predictable, known categories.

This white paper will help you to set enforceable standards, expectations, and boundaries flexibly with students, depending on the exhibited personality style.

After reading this white paper, you will know how to better manage passive-aggressive behaviors such as sleeping in class, lateness, and procrastination. You will learn essential principles regarding the value of collaborating with on-campus resources to resolve disruptive crises. This white paper also provides guidance to help professors know whether and when they need to report certain disruptive incidents.

Perhaps most important, this report provides the guidance necessary to help instructors and administrators recognize “red flags” that portend physical risk when dealing with potentially dangerous students.

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student discussion activity October 18, 2017

Scenarios to Facilitate Discussion on Student Entitlement

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The scenarios here can be used to explore the salient issues, starting with a deeper understanding of what entitlement involves. Most of the definitions are clear, but pretty generic. The conversation gets interesting when it focuses on what entitlement looks like when students have it or do it. The scenarios highlight some situations typically associated with entitlement. The discussion could start with student responses and actions that illustrate entitled attitudes and beliefs. But not every student request or objection is an entitled one. Sometimes students have legitimate concerns. Could that be the case in any of the scenarios outlined below?

Another rich discussion area involves whether certain faculty policies or practices promote student entitlement. Greenberger et. al. (2008) asks about the circumstances within higher education that foster it. The discussion could encompass higher education, generally, but the focus on faculty is important. Are we part of the problem? Are any of the policies and practices described or hinted at in the scenarios encouraging the sense of entitlement? Grading systems that rely on points? Policies that allow for absences? Giving partial credit?

The most needed discussion is the one that explores faculty responses to entitled attitudes and actions. Is the best approach to take the offensive—start the course by clarifying expectations? Outright discussions of entitlement—what it is and why it’s wrong?

The scenarios have been purposely written with a certain degree of ambiguity. Some responses to them will reflect entitled attitudes and beliefs, however, in some cases, the student may have a legitimate issue. Students could start by first discussing whether the scenario reveals entitlement or a legitimate concern. You might find there’s some disagreement among your students in terms of what is entitled behavior and what isn’t.

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chat symbol with quotation marks April 11, 2017

How to Respond to Hostile, Inappropriate Comments in Class

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When hot moments ignite in the classroom, it is important to engage thoughtfully and purposively in strategies that maintain a supportive communication climate. Managing hot moments is a complex endeavor, and it is our responsibility to maintain a climate that is conducive to learning by not adding fuel to the fire.

How to intervene when someone makes a blatantly inappropriate remark (Adapted from Obear, 2010):

Ask clarifying questions to help you understand intentions.

  • “I want to make sure I heard you correctly.  Did you say…”
  • If they disagree with your paraphrase, you could end the conversation. If you suspect they are trying to “cover their tracks,” you may consider making a statement about the initial comment.
  • “I’m glad to hear I misunderstood you, because, as you know, such comments can be…”

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April 8, 2017

Managing Hot Moments and Difficult Discussions in the Classroom [Transcript]

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As an educator, how you respond to heated moments in your classroom can make a big difference in maintaining a supportive environment for your students. A difficult discussion can be a teachable moment, or it can create a defensive climate that has a negative impact on your students’ learning experiences.

When handled correctly, conflict and controversy can be powerful learning tools. But some faculty may not be well prepared to handle these types of discussions, especially when hot moments arise. They may choose to have a superficial conversation about the subject or, worse, ignore it completely, which can be a barrier to learning.

Get the transcript to the online seminar How to Create a Transformative Learning Experience for Students by Managing Hot Moments and Difficult Discussions in the Classroom. Featuring advice from Tasha Souza, PhD, you will learn how to:

  • Lay the foundation for a productive classroom discussion
  • Use strategies that are most appropriate to your specific classroom context and situation
  • Understand how faculty and student nonverbal communication can affect the classroom climate in both positive and negative ways
  • Recognize an OTFD communication framework and how to use it as a strategy for managing difficult dialogue
  • Assess the effects of a difficult classroom discussion on your students and know what to do afterwards

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male professor calling on student December 1, 2016

Embracing Tension in the Classroom

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As instructors, we strive to generate thoughtful and engaging classroom discussion while maintaining a collegial and inclusive environment. In doing so, we may be tempted to avoid topics that can ultimately add to students’ learning. Hot moments in the classroom refer to discussions that become contentious, acrimonious, or even disrespectful. None of us wants to promote a toxic classroom environment, and when such moments happen, we work diligently to diffuse them. However, when done strategically, creating what I call positive tension can help students better understand ideas central to a course while learning to engage in productive debate in the classroom and beyond.

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Bored student November 9, 2015

It’s Not Me, It’s You: Coping with Student Resistance

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A little before the middle of each semester, I ask my students to fill out an anonymous one-minute paper to indicate what they would like to “stop, start, or continue” in my course. I like to think I am a good teacher, and good teaching, it is generally acknowledged these days, asks us to reflect on our teaching, scrutinize our teaching, and challenge our assumptions about teaching. We’re also encouraged to ask for and be responsive to student feedback.



October 8, 2012

Classroom Management Tips for Regaining Control of the Classroom

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Losing control of the classroom can be one of the most frustrating and intimidating experiences for both new and experienced teachers. Losing control can happen in several different ways. The most common would be where the class is distracted. This could be from a situation outside the classroom such as noisy conversation in the hall, or from an event elsewhere that students find out about, such as a rumor of the football coach getting fired. Losing control can also happen within the classroom, such as when one student monopolizes the discussion, or where there is a general lack of interest in the lecture, and many students are obviously not paying attention. Here are nine possible ways to regain students’ attention.