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How to Deal with Chronic Misbehavers

Learn how to deal with chronic misbehavers from education consultant Grace Dearborn in this Howcast video.


There is a five-step process that you can try that usually works for intervening with chronic misbehaviors. You keep in mind that this is not for every student. It's for the one or two students who need it the most, because it is really labor intensive for you, as the teacher, to run an intervention of this kind. So this kind of intervention has five steps. The student has to want to change, know how to change, be aware of roadblocks to the change, practice the change, and receive support for the change. So let's say that I have a student like Johnny, and Johnny's in my third grade class and he is always the last person done cleaning up after art and getting ready for the story activity that happens after. So I pull Johnny aside, maybe at recess, and I say, "Johnny, do you want to always be the last person done cleaning up and always be getting in trouble for that?" and he says "No." Alright. Number one, he wants to change. If he says yes or I don't care, then I'll say "Yeah, I hear you saying I don't care, but let's work together as if you do and see what happens." So I say, "Johnny, do you know where all the art materials go?" He says "Yeah." I say "Well, show me. Just sit at your desk and you'll put the materials in front of you and just point where do they go." "That one there, down there, over there." Great, so he knows where they go. I say, "Alright, Johnny, let's practice get up and put all the art materials away." He gets up, he puts them away, no problems, super fast. I say, "Johnny, that was fantastic and that's what I'm looking for everyday in school. So what is in the way of you being able to do that in class?," He says "I don't know." I say, "Okay, well, let's think about it. What kinds of things are happening in class that aren't happening right now?" And he eventually says 'Ricardo distracts me." "Okay, anything else?" "I don't hear you say it's time to clean up." "Okay. So with you don't hear me say it's time to clean up, tomorrow, when it's time to clean up after art, I am going to tell you first, before I announce it to the rest of the class, so you will be the first person to know. Now, if Ricardo, if he tries to distract you tomorrow, what could you do?" He says "I, I don't know." "Well, we'll think about it. What could you say to him?" "Shut up, Ricardo?" "Okay, well, that's a possibility," but we come up with other possibilities. I coach him a little. We role-play. I play Ricardo. He plays himself. The next day he has to receive the absolute minimum amount of support I can provide. That will absolutely ensure his success that first time. The minimum amount of support might mean that for five days in a row I hold his hand and I walk with him to each bin and get him on the carpet and then for five days I walk with him, but I don't hold his hand, I'm just with him. And then for five days I stand on the edge of the room, and every time he gets to a bin and puts one of the materials away he has to give me a thumbs up, so I'm still in the mix. It could be a month before he becomes autonomous with the behavior, but the slower that I remove my support, the faster he will gain autonomy with the new behavior. This is a little bit counter-intuitive, but the smaller the steps are for him to take, the quicker he can get up those steps to the top or what I want from him.

At the secondary level, let's say that Johnny is a blurter. He's a student of mine in one of my periods that is just calling things out, is always disruptive, or maybe even calling out correct answers to things, but just calling out without permission and it's very disruptive. So, again, I go through the process, I pull Johnny aside, and this is really the hardest part, is figuring out when you're going to pull him aside and what you are going to say to him. And I say "Johnny, do you want to keep getting in trouble?" "I don't care." "Yeah, I hear you saying I don't care, but let's work together, as if you do." I say "Johnny, if you try your hardest not to blurt out at all tomorrow in class, how many times do you think you would blurt out?" He says, "none. But if I didn't want to, I wouldn't be doing it." Well, now, I know that's unrealistic as his teacher, so we work towards a more realistic number and we come up with the number three. Now I know as his teacher, if he only calls out three times tomorrow in class, that's golden because this kid yells out a lot. So I say, "Johnny, this is what we're going to do. Tomorrow when you come into class, I'm going to put three small post-it notes on your desk. Every time that you call out inappropriately, I'm going to give you a non-verbal signal. When you get the non-verbal signals, take one of the post-it notes, pull it off your desk, crumple it up and put it in your pocket. Let's see if at least one of those post-it notes can be there by the end of the period." So the next day Johnny comes into class, I catch him at the door, "Johnny, remember what we talked about yesterday? Do you see the post-it notes? Do you remember what the non-verbal signal is? Alright, I'm on your side, I know we can do this." Ten minutes into class all three post-it notes are gone. Now what do I do? I give him three more, because he must succeed the first time that he tries. So by the end of the period, Johnny has blurted out seventeen times. I pull him aside, "Johnny, great job today. Seventeen blurts. Now we know exactly where we're starting. Tomorrow, I'm going to put sixteen post-it notes on your desk, let's see if at least one of those can be there by the end of the period." He might get sixteen for a couple of days and then fourteen for a couple of days and then twelve for a couple of days. As he slowly starts to slow his thinking down to what we call the choice-point. Because right now, when he's blurting out, this is an unconscious, knee-jerk reaction. It's just his way of being, and if I want him to stop being that way, I've got to provide an intervention that allows him to notice. And that's what the post-it notes are doing. Allows him to notice how often he's doing it and when he's doing it. So eventually, it gets to the point where he's about to blurt, he sees the post-it note and he can choose not to. We're slowing him down to the choice-point. That's how you break the cycle of misbehavior for the chronic misbehavior.

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