Teaching disobedient, disruptive five year old.
June 2, 2005 6:57 AM   Subscribe

Advice needed for teaching disobedient, disruptive five year old.

A friend of mine is teaching at the moment and he has a class of five year olds. There are a number of troublesome children in the class, one in particular is particularly disruptive, refusing to obey direct orders. He sets the tone in the class for the others to follow. The principal and parents have been alerted to the fact but no improvement has been gained. Getting him to sit and listen etc. is extremely difficult. I would greatly appreciate any tips pointers or advice on how to handle a situation like this or any accounts of similar experiences. What sanctions/incentives, techniques would you advise? The child is bright and my friends suspects that he is seeking attention more than anything else, but does not respond well enough to praise, nor is his behaviour ever particularly praiseworthy. I would also appreciate any links to relevant resources, which deal with such situations
posted by kenaman to Education (9 answers total)
I don't know how helpful this will be but there were a few things I tried with my exceptionally challenging students when I taught fifth grade. One was to have lunch with them. While other teachers sat in the teacher's lounge at lunch, I would sit in the cafeteria and eat my food. I didn't interfere with my students but if they wanted, they felt free to come sit with me and chat. Some of my favorite times with my students were then since I could pay a lot more one on one attention and get to know them. The biggest key is to get them to respect you so that during class time they understand that they need to follow the rules of the classroom. Connecting to them one on one helped in my class.

The other thing I did was to find one thing my student was really good at and praise him openly and loudly when he did that. This way he would associate attention with good behavior not disruptive one. I wouldn't single him out, I'd make sure to praise several students so he didn't feel awkward but I wanted to encourage the positive work so I tried to point it out as often as I saw it.

If I knew he was struggling with a particular subject and acting out because he was struggling and didn't want to admit it, i'd sit with him at lunch and work on it one on one so he'd feel more comfortable with it and then, again, praise him when he did accomplish the task next time in class.

It worked with some of my students and not with others. Each child is different and I feel for your friend. My teaching days were some of my hardest. I hope some of this helps.
posted by karen at 9:00 AM on June 2, 2005

I could write a very long essay about this, but because I am lazy and also because I don't have time, I will just touch on one point. I believe the key to having a successful relationship with children (or anyone else) is that you must have high expectations.

If you come into a classroom with low expectations and acting all nervous, you're going to have your face walked on. It doesn't sound as thought this is the case with your friend, though. Building upon this, it helps to not talk to kids like they are kids. It has to be age appropriate of course. For example, people often fall into the trap of barking orders and threats when they get frustrated. Ex: Sit down! Be quiet! I'm going to call the principal/your mother/your father.

Instead of taking this approach, try asking the child questions. Like: Why are you talking so loudly when we can all hear you perfectly fine? What is making you want to repeatedly get up from your desk? Do you think that hitting is a good way to communicate?

This may seem a bit ridiculous to pose such questions to a 5-year old, but it usually gives them pause. They start to think about their actions. It may not work immediately, but I've found that it eventually gets results. The job of a teacher (and parent) is to teach kids HOW to think rather than WHAT to think.

Also, consider asking more personal questions away from the rest of the class. Sometimes if you directly ask a child why they are being disruptive they will tell you that something is bothering them. And from there you can talk to the parents or take whatever further action may be necessary.

Again, I'm not sure how much of this applies to your friend, but it might be useful in some aspect.
posted by crapulent at 9:43 AM on June 2, 2005

Give him something to do with his hands. "Sit in your seat, be quiet, and process this information" just doesn't cut it for these kids (mostly boys). They are hard-wired, not deliberately disobedient, and you will not change them with reason or punishment. Do simple math with Lego. Cut words out of magazines. Ask for help decorating the class. Find some simple hands-on science experiments, like baking soda and vinegar volcanoes.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:55 AM on June 2, 2005

Howard Gardner has a theory that people have multiple intelligences, e.g. that rather than just linguistic and logical-mathematical, people have additional ways that they tend to learn that aren't addressed as well in school (musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist). Part of his reason for including these eight is that each area can be affected or even isolated by brain injuries, and part of his theory is that children that "act out" sometimes do so because the way the subject is being taught is not engaging them in the way that they learn best.

Granted, I don't know if that's the case here; I'm not a teacher; and I've had few ways indeed to test the theory. But I did find it thought-provoking. At any rate, if you're interested in reading any more about it, Wikipedia has a writeup that could get you started.
posted by Tuwa at 10:28 AM on June 2, 2005

Find the book The Omnipotent Child. It is all about these sorts of children, what they're seeking, what you can do.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:31 AM on June 2, 2005

Are you familiar with the Responsive Classroom series of books? The idea is to build classroom community as a way to handle classroom management. I knew a teacher who used it and got great results with a classroom full of hyperactive boys.
posted by mai at 10:36 AM on June 2, 2005

Okay, I happen to be the mother of a boy like this, and while yes, he may sometimes be "disruptive" and "disobedient", he is also a whole slew of wonderful things, like bright, creative, funny and kind. I'm a little concerned about the number of negative adjectives in your post. The first task for this teacher is to focus on the positive about each child. No, there are not a lot of "troublesome" children in this class. There are a lot of five year olds. Five year olds are not troublesome per se, they are high energy, high curiousity & low impulse control. That is just the nature of the beasts. And there is always something to praise. "His behavior is not praiseworthy" doesn't work for this age - it is the teacher's job to find something that is.

What worked wonders with my son at this age was first, individual attention, and second, preparation. Is there a classroom aide who can spend some one on one time with him? That will help a lot. As for preparation, some kids take longer to adjust to transitions than others - they simply aren't equipped yet to say "how high?" when the teacher says "jump!" When I taught pre-K students I never gave direct orders without warning, like this "We're going to go to lunch in 15 minutes and we're going to start cleaning up in 10 minutes." Repeat every 3 minutes or so. An hourglass or kitchen timer is a really great kindergarten tool.

Five is a great age and a lot of fun.
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:59 PM on June 2, 2005

In my earlier days as a preschool teaching assistant, I solved this problem by making that child my enforcer. I would tell him to go tell the other kids what to do (stop climbing on top of the monkey bars, stop hitting, etc.). I turned my disruptive bully into the playground cop, and it worked beautifully. I was somewhat surprised when talking to his Mom, that the changes extended to his home life, as well. His Mom informed me that ever since his father had left he'd been raising hell at home and that rather suddenly, he'd stopped and that whatever i was doing was working.
The real lesson for me was that if i had had enough time and interest to find out the source of the behavior, I might have been more able to understand the behavior that was displayed in my class and that might have helped me to deal with it more effectively. As it was, i got lucky.
posted by doctor_negative at 2:12 PM on June 2, 2005

Response by poster: Excellent stuff so far thank you all -

mygothlaundry - I dont mean to sound negative about the child, it is the situation that is troubling my friend. In his defence I will say that he has taken over a class which have been in school for 9 months already, so it is reasonable for him to expect that they would generally respond to instruction, and as I said this child is kind of an inspirational figure to others in terms of disobedience. He simply needs/wants constant attention and it is a hell of a lot easier to garner this for disruptive that for good behaviour. As I said in the post he doesnt give much to praise and would be smart to see through any seed praise you might offer. I know you said that - The first task for this teacher is to focus on the positive about each child, I agree that this is important, but not the first task, the first task is to teach, and this is made impossible by one or a number of children. I take a lot of your advice and like the idea of 'warning' kids about what was coming next, but whn you take over a class that has obviously been this way for the previous nine months, there is 1 month left in the year and you just want to get through it (and are willing to put in effort, preparation and hard work), what do you do?
posted by kenaman at 12:01 AM on June 3, 2005

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