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Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

How disruptive is a disruptive child?

September 7, 2012

As teachers, we know that a disruptive child can change a classroom environment. When a child is acting out, the teacher has to spend time redirecting that child, and then refocus the lesson for all students. Over the course of a day, interruptions from a disruptive child (i.e., a child with low self-regulation skills) really wear on a teacher and students. But does it have lasting effects on that child's learning? How about the learning of other students in the class?

New research on children's literacy growth in relation to classmates' self-regulation published in the Journal of Educational Psychology suggests that a child's self-regulation skill is related to his growth in literacy. While important, that's probably not surprising: A child who is able to use cues to regulate his emotions and behaviors is likely to be able to focus on reading and writing. One who isn't good at regulating his behavior may have trouble settling in to learning.

However, what's more interesting from this research is that the class average self-regulation score predicts how much an individual child will learn. So, the greater the number of kids with low self-regulation skills, the lower the class average, the less literacy learning for all kids in that class. Again, not super surprising results, but it is striking to see the results quantified in terms of Woodcock-Johnson subtests of comprehension and vocabulary.

I learned about the study through Daniel Willingham's Science and Education blog, a blog I highly recommend reading. Dr. Willingham states that this may be less of an issue in the younger grades, because younger grade teachers have "ready tools to deal with disruptive behavior," more so than middle or high school teachers. Ready tools? That wasn't the case for me!

In my teacher preparation program, I had one 3-hour course in behavior management sometime during my junior year. We covered everything from bulletin boards to assertive discipline to writing notes home to parents. The bulk of my behavior management "training" came from those early (painful) years of teaching as I struggled with boisterous kids and a sometimes too-loud classroom.

What's your experience? Do you feel disruptive kids disrupt everyone's learning?

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"I used to walk to school with my nose buried in a book." — Coolio