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Excerpt from "Educating America: 101 Strategies for Adult Assistants in the K-8 Classroom"

Deal with Misbehavior

by Paddy Eger

Misbehavior/discipline problems can be scary. Classroom assistants often comment, “What if the students don’t listen?”, “What if they won’t do what I ask them to do?” or “It just isn’t the same as dealing with my own children.”

Student misbehavior exists for several reasons. The more common reasons include:

Personal issues: hunger, sickness, abuse, anger, or the desire for attention

Uncertainty about group expectations and/or how to fit into the group

Inability to understand the task

Inconsistent, ill-prepared or off-task adult assistants

Most students want and expect you to take charge of their small groups and provide a sense of security and continuity for them. Occasionally, students want to take control of the group to gain attention or may attempt to keep the group off-task to avoid starting the task.

To maintain your role as group leader, use the Ways to Focus Your Group Chart at the end of this chapter. This chart may be downloaded from www.PaddyEger.com

When you plan the activity and think through your expectations, there is a greater probability that the group will stay on track. Work through these suggestions as you start to plan.

Come to the group prepared to lead the task.

State the goals of the task clearly.

Set clear expectations and limits then stick to them.

Create an action plan for disruptive students.

Compliment desired behavior and quality work.

Use rewards sparingly.

Keep the group activity focused.

Respect student answers.

Monitor student progress and adjust to individual needs.

Keep track of your allotted time.

End all groups with positive actions.

Update the teacher on activity and student performance outcomes.

Come to the group prepared to lead the task.

Know the goal of the activity and how you will begin the task. Will you start with a hook activity, a brief review, introduce a new task, or start right to work? Do you have the needed materials gathered and ready for use? Have you planned your introduction so it will engage the students? What important tool or supporting material will you hold back to focus student attention until you finish giving the directions?

State the goals of the task clearly.

Explain the activity in a simple sentence.


“Today we will talk about and practice eight math spelling words to prepare for writing math observations next week.”

Explain how a new activity relates to another skill they already know.


“Let’s take the math problem 3x3 apart. Multiplication is a pattern for adding numbers in groups. 3x3 is 3+3+3 or 3 groups of 3. When we work through the math, both equal the same amount.”

Set clear expectations and limits then stick to them.

Use expectations that match both teacher and school goals. Review the expectations through compliments made to students or by having students model the skills.


“Thank you for coming quietly to our group.”

“Remember how we sit to share the table space?”

“Show me how I will know you are ready to listen?”

Create an action plan for disruptive students.

The best way to handle disruptive students is to follow the classroom teacher’s lead. Watch the teacher. Listen to the phrases used. Notice how the teacher physically moves around the room, and monitors for off-task or unacceptable behavior while keeping the rest of the class focused on the discussion or directions.

Misbehavior also occurs as a group begins a task or moves to a new activity. Watch how the teacher controls transition times. Copy the techniques you see and hear. They are based on the teacher’s experience of what works best for the class.

When students slip out of control or disrupt the group, take action quickly. Use the teacher’s discipline plan or follow the Misbehavior Four-Step Plan, an escalating system found at the end of this chapter and downloadable from www.PaddyEger.com

Step One: Give a non-verbal reminder.

Focus on the disruptive student with a serious look, a gentle touch on the hand or a touch to the edge of a work paper. Simple warnings and/or praise often lead students to modify their behavior.


“I like the way James is starting his work without talking.”

“Thank you for passing the books carefully. That is very considerate.”

Step Two: Talk quietly and privately with the student.

Move away from the group for that conversation


“Mary, you seem to have a hard time listening today. What can I do to help you become part of our group?”

“Mary, can you tell me why you are not waiting for your turn today?”

Let the student answer. Explain what changes you expect to be made. Discuss the lesson briefly to insure the student can resume work.


“I need you to use a quieter voice and to share the table space with other students. Do you understand?” (Wait for a response.)

“When you go back to the group, put your name on the top of your paper and begin writing the words in alphabetical order. I’ll be watching, and, I’ll be ready to help you if I see your thumb raised on the desk.”

Step Three. Move the disruptive student to another location.

Sometimes a simple shift in seating remedies a situation.


“I have moved you out of the group so you can focus better. When you are prepared to return to the group and follow our directions, you may rejoin us. This is your last warning. Our next step will be to talk with the teacher.”

Some students find it easier to stay on task when they are separated from the group. If possible, have a nearby space available for use after directions are given. Remember to include these students when the review and clean-up are started.

With younger students, a brief change of activity, like a stretch or sending the disruptive student on a brief task (bring a stapler to the group, put away extra papers, etc.) provides a chance for the student to regain self-control without adult intervention.

Step Four: Take the student to talk with the teacher.

Stay calm when you reach this step. Explain to the teacher what you observed and the steps you’ve used with the student.


“Ms. Smith, Mary needs to speak with you. I spoke privately with her about interrupting. She said she’d remember the rules, but then she continued to shout at children in her group even when she was seated at the extra table. I think she needs to explain her decisions to you.”

Your responsibility for the disrupter ends once the teacher begins speaking with the student. Return to your group and continue with the task. Student privacy dictates that discussing the disruptive student with the group, other assistants, or students is not acceptable.

Let the teacher set the course of action or consequences for the disruptive student. That’s a teacher responsibility. You will need to work with the off-task student in the future so do not create a negative situation.

When the student returns, start fresh; watch for ways to compliment improved behavior. A sincere smile or a positive comment signals a fresh start.

Asking the teacher to “take over” is not a sign of failure; it indicates that you know you’ve reached a place where an intervention is needed. However, if problems continue, set up a meeting with the teacher for advice on how to change your style or method of setting expectations and following through.

Do not argue with students. It is counter productive. Listen to their concerns with an open mind. Let them know which expectations they are ignoring or what behavior they are not controlling, but do not argue with them. They will outlast any argument you initiate. Also, the rest of the group will suffer from your lack of attention to their needs.

Begin each day as a “fresh start” for everyone in your group. It signals that you are fair, forgiving and reasonable.

Compliment desired behavior and quality work.

Stop the group after the first five minutes of work to check their progress. Use that time to compliment specific student effort on a skill.


“I appreciate the quiet work time this group is providing each other.”

“Wow! You all remembered to put your name on your paper!”

“Thank you for taking turns and sharing your ideas. We have twenty minutes left to work today so let’s get back to our reading.”

Show acceptance, sincerity, and understanding in your tone, facial expression, body language and posture. Look students in the eye as you acknowledge their answers. If some students wish to share their beginning ideas, encourage them to share then send the group back to the task.

Use rewards sparingly.

If the group has problems settling down, a reward might be helpful. Consult the teacher. You need to stay within the classroom guidelines.

Start with a verbal reward. Know that immature groups may need a more tangible reward: stickers, a chance to play a favorite game, or points toward a special activity.


“Thank you for using all your skills today. We finished right on time.”

“Today everyone listened, took turns and worked quietly. Let’s spend time working on the covers of our science notebooks.”

Extrinsic prizes like candy, toys and trinkets need to be avoided. Learning should be the prize. Plus, extrinsics may cause disappointment for students who are not allowed to accept such things. It may also create competition with other assistants who cannot or do not choose to provide prizes.

Keep the group activity focused.

Pace the activity so there is little time for misbehavior.

Call on all students equally, not just those who try to
answer first.

Use quiet signals like “thumb up”.

Ask questions that cannot be answered by “yes” or “no.”
Start with:

“Tell me…” “Show the largest…” “Describe…”

“How many ways can you…?” “Compare…”

Use wait time. It allows students extra time to think of their best answers.

Respect student answers.

When students have problems answering questions, help them handle their misinformation and wrong answers so they will not feel embarrassed in the group


“How are 3, 6, 9 and 12 related?”

Mary: “3 plus 6 is 9.”

Provide a hint to Mary without telling her the answer. In this instance rephrase or restate the question yourself.


“Mary, you added 3 and 6. They do equal 9. Now look at the bigger pattern. Can you see how 3, 6, 9 and 12 make a pattern if we keep them in order?”

Allow Mary time to think. If the group becomes restless, offer a challenge:


“While I help Mary, I want the rest of you to write down the numbers that would appear next if the pattern continued on six more numbers.”

While they work, help Mary follow the pattern and understand that each following number increases by ‘3’.

Monitor student progress and adjust to individual needs.

Pace the task to match the skill level of the group. If you want quality work, provide adequate quiet work time and support for all students.

Know when to stop talking. Keep student chatter and your interruptions to a minimum. Model quietness; whisper with students who need your assistance. When a group has an extended quiet time, students have a greater opportunity to produce quality work.

Struggling students may slide off-task. Watch for restlessness or frustration. Check their work often to determine if the task is being done correctly. If not, talk with them, explaining what changes are needed.

Expecting a student to rework everything from the beginning is overwhelming and may cause a student to give up or refuse to go back and make the changes. Instead, circle the item numbers that need to be checked. After discussing one or two of the problems, draw a line across the paper and begin any necessary changes below the line. The student can go back and makes changes above the line after completing the task below the line.

If a task is sequenced, use your discretion about what and how much needs to be completed. Work for understanding the activity rather than finishing everything.

Stay alert to student reactions over the changed task. Not completing everything may frustrate some students. You will need to decide how to handle it based on your individual situation. Remember to check back with the student every few minutes and give a 5-minute reminder at the end.


“I see everyone is working carefully. Today please stop after you finish your next sentence. We will complete this task the next time we meet.”

When students get off-track, direct them back to the task by focusing on a specific detail of their work to “reconsider,” share, change, or restate.


“What does this word (pointing to word) mean?”

“I see you used the word ‘sprint’ instead of ‘run’. Tell us way you chose that word.”

“What do you plan to do on the next part of the activity?”

“Remember, we are drawing trees for all four seasons.”

When students become comfortable with adult assistants they begin to test your boundaries. Don’t accept rude or disrespectful behavior toward yourself or others. Remind them of the teacher’s behavior plan or use the Misbehavior Four-Step Plan to settle them.

Keep track of your allotted time.

Give a 5-minute warning so students can select an appropriate stopping place. Plan enough time for students to complete an orderly clean-up. Keep the clean up calm and student voice levels low. Remember, uncontrolled transitions and clean-ups lead to noisy and off-task behavior. Plan ahead.

Keep an activity in your pocket to fill in unstructured time with students if you complete your task early. Do not dismiss your group early unless that is approved by the teacher. Movement in one group disrupts other groups still working. Respect other group work times by controlling your group’s movement.

End all groups with positive actions.

Even if your time with the students was difficult, let them know you like them and appreciate their efforts.


“Today we got a good start on the math page. Thank you for working quietly and letting others finish as much as possible.”

If necessary, explain which behaviors were not acceptable and what changes you expect the next time you meet.


“Today this group had a hard time getting started and no one finished. Next time, we will work with quieter voices so you will be able to finish on time.”

“Time to go. I’ll watch you as you move to...If you are able to do it quietly, I’ll mark down 2 points and we’ll be closer to our science game activity.”

If you say you’ll watch them, be certain you do. One or more students will look back.

At your next meeting, hold the group accountable. Remind them of their previous problem and explain your expectations. Watch for their compliance so you can compliment any improvements.


“Last week we had difficulty getting down to work. Today, after I give directions, I expect you to start the math puzzle without any reminders.”

“Today we need to finish the math puzzle first. I’ll come around and help you individually if you have questions. So, turn on your thinking and begin working quietly.”

Update the teacher on activity and student performance outcomes.

Record your comments on the teacher’s accountability form, in the adult assistant notebook or wherever and however the teacher designates. Begin by relating the successes, positive outcomes and students who formed new understandings. Next, explain student problems. Use the teacher’s evaluation form or the Group Evaluation Form sample found at the end of the chapter and downloadable at www.PaddyEger.com.

Other Behavior Considerations


When the classroom rules don’t come to mind, most every behavior can be covered by a blanket of respect.

Respect yourself

Respect others

Respect property

Respect your environment

If a student doesn’t finish work, that’s lack of self-respect. When a student is noisy and disruptive, that’s lack of respect for others. When students don’t help clean-up, that’s lack of respect for others, school property and the school environment. Add a fifth “R,” responsibility, and most group expectations are covered.

How will students treat each other?

All individuals, children and adults, deserve respect. Classroom assistants are role models and must:

Give students full attention when they speak.

Keep eye contact with students when they/you speak.

Respect student answers.

Compliment the quality of individual student work.

How will I help students handle their own problems?

One of the purposes of education is to help students become independent enough to handle their own situations. It is an important goal that can be taught through modeling and practice. Don’t rush in to “save” students. We need to encourage them to solve issues through problem-solving techniques, school rules and classroom expectations along with the positive interaction skills they brought from home.

Academic problems are usually best handled by asking a student to go back and think through what needs to be done. When a student says, “I don’t get it.”, don’t start from the beginning. Ask, “What do you think you need to do?” or “What do you remember about what we are working on today?”

Often a student has a small question like “Where do I put my name?” or “Can I do this on my own paper?” If you jump in and give all the directions over again, you may be wasting time. One thing is for sure; you will forget this trick at least once, but when it clicks, it will prevent long minutes of frustration for everyone.

With the responsibility back on the student to rethink the directions, you can guide from the place where the confusion began rather than “from the top.”

If you have a detailed task with multiple steps, provide a written copy of the directions. Students can refer to the directions on their own and ask clarifying questions along the way.

If directions must be repeated, it is wise to have a student restate the directions. They speak the same kid language. Listen in to be sure the explanation is accurate and properly sequenced.

But it’s my child!

One of the more awkward situations occurs when you work in a group with your child or a child from your neighborhood. Sometimes that child acts silly, withdraws, or refuses to work. Because you are there for the entire group, you need to find a way to handle the situation tactfully.

In our classroom one parent and child decided to call each other by more formal names; Dad became ‘Mr. Smith’ and the child became ‘Miss Smith.’ It sounds silly, but it worked for them while they adjusted to their new roles.

When a behavioral problem arises between your child or a friend’s child and another student, encourage the students to solve the problem. Take off your “parent or neighbor hat” if you cannot find a neutral adult to mediate the situation.

One year in our primary classroom, a parent attempted to mediate a recess problem with her own child. The parent of child ‘A’ got the two children together to discuss the problem. Child ‘A’ felt her parent was taking sides with child ‘B’ Child ‘B’ didn’t think the adult was being fair and was favoring child ‘A’. When the discussion ended 5 minutes later, all three were near tears and the problem still dangled in the air.

The wisest choice is to stay out of the middle when you know one of the children. Regardless of who is in-the-right or in-the-wrong, if you stay neutral you can provide 110% support later at school or when the problem comes home to the neighborhood.

Encouraging and supporting students to handle their problems leaves us out of the loop. When children learn to express their concerns in a positive way and begin to talk through their problems, they are developing important life skills.

Deal with Misbehavior is excerpted from Educating America: 101 Strategies for Adult Assistants in the K-8 Classroom, published by Tendril Press ISBN 978-098315875-2- $14.95 available through all major book sellers nation wide and on the web internationally at BN.com and Amazon.com. Join her blog and visit her web site for volunteer support tools and materials at www.PaddyEger.com.

Paddy Eger is a veteran teacher from the Edmonds School District 15, Edmonds, Washington. She has participated in classrooms as a community volunteer, a parent volunteer, a parent trainer as well as a teacher in primary and intermediate grades. Her years in the Parent Cooperative Education Program (PCEP), as teacher and trainer created the foundation for this book. All practices, suggestions, and examples come from actual implementation by Paddy, parent helpers, and other adult assistants. For training or group presentations visit www.PaddyEger.com.

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