Student attitudes about disruptive behavior

In most of the classes I teach the students are there because they want to be, or because they must have a certification (or for both reasons), and as a result, once the class knows they are going to be held to a standard of being on time, paying attention, etc. they all comply.

I had the experience of a couple of students who did not seem to understand that their talking to each other in class distracted others. They continued despite repeated reminders that had worked with previous overly talkative students.

I wondered how many of my students really did consider talking, ringing cell phones, etc. to be distracting and/or disruptive behavior, so I did a written survey of one class’s attitudes and found that they were distracted and annoyed.

About a year later the campus newspaper ran an editorial:

“Students: stop ruining it for the rest of class

Believe it or not, some of us are here to learn.

Apparently, the concept of the classroom being a learning environment is lost for many students at De Anza College. Too often there are a few that ruin it for all and make class a waste of time.”

(The rest of the editorial is quoted at the end of this page.)

This webpage is now being used as a part of an ongoing survey in my classes of students’ attitudes about disruptive behavior.

A basic definition of disruptive behavior is: a disruptive person is one, who through his/her behavior, speech or actions, interferes with academic activity. This can be as obvious as physical or verbal abuse; willful damage to person or college property; disorderly conduct; lewd, indecent or obscene behavior or use of illicit drugs or misuse of prescription drugs & alcohol.

But disruptive behavior also includes anything that distracts or intimidates students or disrupts teaching.

(A policy statement to inform students of their rights, policy and responsibilities at Foothill and De Anza College is at: http://www.deanza.edu/studenthandbook/academic-integrity.html )

I searched De Anza websites and online in general for the phrase disruptive behavior, and made up the ultimate list of potentially distracting or disruptive behaviors.

I asked a class which behaviors they had ever seen happen in a college class (any college, not just De Anza).

Every behavior I listed had been experienced by at least two students.

Here are the tabulations of what they had experienced in a college class:

ringing cell phones,pagers and other electronic devices,  
engaging in private conversations,   being late to class   (Each student mentioned all three of these.)

using cell phones, pagers and other electronic devices 18

packing up early 17

inappropriate language (profanity or vulgarity) or gestures 16

requesting excessive breaks 6

refusal to comply with instructor’s directions 12

wearing/using headphone or earbuds-type music/tape playing devices 13

inconsiderate personal hygiene habits 4 (such as)   noticeably offensive body odor 8   the use of chewing tobacco 2

disruptive noisemaking 8 (such as)   uncontrolled laughter 8   pen or pencil tapping 11   loud gum popping 3  loud or attention-distracting drinking 7   paper/book rustling 8

inappropriate body language 4 (such as)   propping feet up on a desk 9   refusing to remain seated 3
  glaring or making faces 6

inordinate demands for time and attention 3 (such as)   monopolizing discussions 9  

persistent questioning 12  

wasting class time by repeatedly asking unnecessary questions, such as those that have been answered in class or class materials 10  

incoherent comments 8   off-topic discussions 6 
interrupting the flow of class with interjections or questions 8  

overt inattentiveness and engaging in activities inappropriate to learning (such as)   staring out the window 7   completing homework during class time 12 &#160 
reading non-class related materials (newspapers, magazines, etc.) 10 
reading class materials at inappropriate times, such as when attention should be focused on videos, lecture, discussion or skills practice 7   applying makeup 7

Other (describe)   tapping foot

Every behavior I listed was considered distracting by at least two students.
I also asked them to rate the top five they personally would find the most distracting. (Put a 1 next to the worst, 2 next to the second worst, etc.)

The following are tabulations of the 1 though 5 worst:

ringing cell phones, pagers and other electronic devices  (eight #1s, six #2s, two #4s)

using cell phones, pagers and other electronic devices   (one #1, five #2s, four #3s, one #4)

engaging in private conversations   (seven #1s, two #2s, nine #3s)

inappropriate language (profanity or vulgarity) or gestures  (four #1s, one #3, three #4s)

requesting excessive breaks (was not in any student’s top five)

packing up early   (two #2s, two #4s, one #5)

refusal to comply with instructor’s directions   (One #1, two #2s, one #5)

wearing/using headphone or earbuds-type music/tape playing devices   (One each of #3 and #5)

being late to class   (two #1s, one #4, five #5s)

inconsiderate personal hygiene habits (such as)   noticeably offensive body odor   (two #1s, one each of number 3,4 and 5.)   the use of chewing tobacco   (One #2)

disruptive noise making (one each of #2,3,4 and 5) (such as)   uncontrolled laughter  (one each of #2 and #4)   pen or pencil tapping   (one each of #2 and 5)   loud gum popping 
loud or attention-distracting drinking   paper/book rustling

inappropriate body language (such as)   propping feet up on a desk (one #4) refusing to remain seated 
glaring or making faces

inordinate demands for time and attention (such as)   monopolizing discussions   persistent questioning (one each #3 and #4, two #5s) 

wasting class time by repeatedly asking unnecessary questions, such as those that have been answered in class or class materials (one #2, two #4s, one #5)   incoherent comments (one #2) off-topic discussions (one #2) 
interrupting the flow of class with interjections or questions (One each of #3 and #4)  

(None of the following were in any student’s top five.)

overt inattentiveness and engaging in activities inappropriate to learning (such as)   staring out the window   completing homework during class time   sleeping (or appearing to sleep, as in eyes closed)  
reading non-class related materials (newspapers, magazines, etc.) 
reading class materials at inappropriate times, such as when attention should be focused on videos, lecture, discussion or skills practice   applying makeup

The overwhelming majority in the poll had not read the rules and regulations in the De Anza Biological, Health and Environmental Sciences Division Student Handbook, nor the rules and regulations in the De Anza College Catalog, nor the rules and regulations from the De Anza College Catalog in the schedule of classes.

The overwhelming majority said that they had never had an instructor recommend in a greensheet or in discussion of class rules that they read any of the above.

I asked: Have you had any specific experiences with class disruptions or problems in a class discussion that you can describe for me?

One quarter in the class I was taking there was an excessive amount of whispering and talking. The teacher did not teach well, so people, I believe, distracted themselves in that manner. I also saw people doing their homework for another class in this particular class. Those of us near the front constantly had to shush those talking. It was extremely disrupting. While I felt the teacher was horrible and it was a waste of my time and money I still tried to give her respect as a teacher, even though she was disrespectful to me when asking questions. This class was by far the worst but I have seen similar distractions in almost all classes.

In a class I took last quarter this woman’s cell phone rang and she answered it in class. The teacher stopped lecture and the whole class turned around. Very rude! And the girl continued talking loud!

Sometimes students have to have private discussions and the teacher has to interrupt the class to inform them that they are disturbing the class. Some students are very unhappy about it. It is hard on the instructor!

In my xxx 40B class I sat in the middle of a group of friends who consistently talked and laughed. I realized they all were friends after sitting there for a couple of weeks. I eventually had to change my seat and never sit close to these people again. I got extremely distracted and had a hard time listening to the instructor.

Yes, when students ask questions that do not relate to the class itself or they repeat questions that have already been answered.

Just people talking near me which makes it hard for me to hear what the prof is saying.

Yes, two employees arrived nearly 25 minutes late to an academic night class – talking and stumbling around to find and open up folding chairs. They missed 99% of the teachers orientation. 🙁

The worst problem I’ve encountered is a student completely failing to grasp a principle after repeated explanations. The instructor politely asked them to stay after class or come to office hours.

In the forum auditorium people were yelling outside into the classroom while we were having class. When the teacher went to see what was going on, the people fled the scene. When the teacher went back to teach the class, the perpetrators returned and began yelling again.

Anything involving extraneous conversation or speech is highly distracting. Usually disruptive behavior is more distracting to the instructor than the students, but of course the students also reap the results.

A student did not understand a math problem, so she questioned the teacher about it. After a couple of tiring tries, the teacher asked the student to meet at her office. The student became upset and wouldn’t comply with the teacher and was asked to leave the class.

In the survey I stated: In my classes sometimes I will take answers off the cuff, but often the best way to answer is to raise your hand and be recognized. Occasionally I will ask a question and request that no one answer it out loud for a moment until all have had a chance to think about it. And I asked:

Are you okay with always having to raise your hand?   Yes 17, No 4, Rarely 1

Are you okay with people being allowed to just say answers out loud?   Yes 13, No 3, Sometimes 4

Do you have any preference …  No preference = 8, raise hand = 4, (shout = 2)

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When I first posted this page I sent an email to various graduates of the De Anza lifeguard training class who still come back to volunteer with classes. I got this response:

Hey Mary,

How’s things? I hope all is well. I enjoyed your survey and have experienced all of the behavior mentioned, even the chewing tobacco in class and I would like to share my latest experience with disruptive class behavior. I was taking my final in Partnerships and Corporations with Renae yesterday and this young lady finished her exam, turned it in, walked out of the class and stopped right outside the door to call her friend to voice her displeasure about the test and her project grade. The door was open and she made no attempt to be quiet. The room was still full of students trying to finish the exam and it was a very glaring distraction for the entire class. Everybody kind of stopped what they were doing and looked at each other like “Is this little B for real?”. At least, that is what Renae and I were thinking. I became so frustrated by this person I got up, walked to the door, gave her a look and closed the door. I might have said something too, but self control got the better of me. Are people these days so self absorbed that they are unaware of boundaries/common courtesy? On my way back to my seat I received many looks of appreciation, approval, high fives, hugs, kisses, chocolate, flowers, money, standing ovation.

I just try to think of it this way and you can pass this on to your students if you like. These people are your competition for jobs. If I see these people in a job interview applicant pool for a position I’m applying for, then I am going to get a big smile on my face because I’m about to get hired.

Best wishes,
Kevin Halseth

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The campus newspaper published this editorial on 2/26/07:

“Students: stop ruining it for the rest of class

Believe it or not, some of us are here to learn.

Apparently, the concept of the classroom being a learning environment is lost for many students at De Anza College. Too often there are a few that ruin it for all and make class a waste of time.

Students appear to be under the mistaken impression that if they are gracious enough to show up, then they are free to do anything they please. But God forbid that they should actually learn anything.

Apparently, the classroom is the only place where they can eat, text message back and forth on their cell phones, listen to their iPods or do anything else other than sit quietly and take notes.

Indeed, many are so inexplicably pressed for time that they can’t wait for the next break in an hour to take care of their business.

There are also those who equate classtime with a social hour, chatting away in the back of the room with their friends about things that must be important enough for everyone else to hear. And no one wants to complain about them to the instructor. It’s taboo, since the only thing worse than a gossip is a snitch, and we’re all adults here, supposedly.

Unfortunately, it seems like we’re back to preschool, since there are students who use class time for naptime. Nothing is more comical or annoying than seeing someone’s head bob back and forth from falling in and out of sleep.

Students don’t realize that they are hurting themselves when they don’t take class seriously. Instead, they start eating Cheetos from their loud, crackly bags, and then the whole class suffers. Once the concentration is broken, there’s no turning back.

Add up all the distractions, and many class sessions end up ruined for everyone. Tuition becomes a waste of money, and the rich experience of higher education is lost.
The solution is simple: take care of your business before or after class and come prepared to learn. The less attention you bring to yourself, the better.

After all, the focus is supposed to be at the front of the room with the instructor, where it belongs. By simply being more considerate of your fellow classmates, you can make De Anza a better place to learn and thrive.

So stop with the distractions and take some notes already.”