Skip to main content
This is a new service – contact with any feedback


Video transcript

Presenter intro: Peps McCrea

Low-level disruption refers to relatively small but persistent distractions that many teachers will come across. Pupils talking when the teacher is, refusing to work with a talk partner, prodding a pupil when sitting on the carpet. These are distractions that can get in the way of learning, particularly during teacher-led instruction. This is different, of course, from interactions that occur when pupil are involved in meaningful activity, such as child-initiated play. It may be tempted to ignore low-level disruption, but it can reduce both the amount and quality of thought that pupils give to their work. So teachers need to find ways of reducing low-level disruption and supporting all pupils to stay on task.

Presenter main

When teachers respond quickly to low-level disruption, they send a clear message to their pupils that they have high expectations of them all. They show that they want to create the most effective learning environment possible, one in which all pupils have the opportunity to think, learn and grow. So what can teachers do? We might divide our approach in two. There are proactive strategies and reactive strategies.

Proactive strategies are things that teachers can do to prevent low-level disruption. Reactive strategies are ways to respond when it occurs.

Proactive strategies include things like clear routines and instructions, naming the positive behaviour that will help learning, and acknowledging positive behaviour when it occurs. Reactive strategies include pausing mid-sentence if a pupil is talking when a teacher is, reminding pupils of expectations or addressing an individual directly. For example, in an EYFS setting where a child is playing with another child’s chair on the carpet, you might quickly say the pupil’s name and state what they should do: “Theo, looking at the picture.” These are all least intrusive responses which teachers can deliver quickly without drawing too much attention to the disruption. There may be times when this won’t be enough, such as when bullying or behaviour threatens emotional safety. Teachers need to choose a response that is appropriate to the behaviour.

If a pupil is talking when the teacher is, the teacher can pause, wait until the pupil has stopped and then continue. When pupils haven’t followed the instructions that a teacher has given, it can be helpful for teachers to quickly and clearly restate or remind them of their expectations. Restating expectations can be helpful if a pupil hasn’t understood them. Reminding pupils helps if they’ve forgotten. Regular opportunities to follow instructions benefit all pupils.

Sometimes addressing an individual pupil directly with a concise reminder will be most appropriate: “Kaley, facing me.” Pupils often respond positively when they know that a teacher has addressed low-level disruption. It can help to build a culture of mutual trust.

it’s important that teachers respond to low-level disruption calmly and consistently using a neutral tone, including reference to the shared values of the classroom and school, and applying them fairly to all pupils. This can help to create a supportive and inclusive environment that benefits all pupils.

Presenter exemplification framing

In the next example, you will see a model of how to respond to low level disruption. Look out for the following.

  • Responds quickly to low-level disruption using least-intrusive interventions
  • Responds consistently to pupil behaviour

Exemplification: Ambition Institute coach

Low-level disruption can be a real problem in classrooms, and we need to address it quickly. I’m going to model some of the ways in which you can do this. The context is a year 10 music lesson. The pupils have been working at their keyboards working on their compositions, and I have now signalled for them to remove their headphones so they can hear me.

“Okay, so when I finish speaking, I want you to turn off your

[Teacher pauses and waits to gain full attention of the class]

Turn off your keyboards, unplug your headphones, and turn to show me that you’re ready. Off you go.

[Teacher stands still, intentionally scanning classroom to spot pupils who are following instructions]

I’ve got the back table facing me.

[Teacher notices a few pupils not following instructions]

Just waiting for three more people.

Okay, we’re ready. Okay, so Kaitlin I want you to play the first four bars of your composition, okay?

Everybody else, hands off your keyboards and listening out for the 4/4 time signature. Off you go.

[Teacher approaches a pupil who has not followed instruction and addresses them directly, in a quiet and neutral tone]

Riley, hands off the keyboard please.”

In this example, I used several proactive and reactive interventions for low-level disruption. Remember that you might not need to use all of these strategies at once or in the same order.

Firstly, I stopped speaking when one pupil was fiddling with the headphone wire. This was a reactive strategy. In my classroom, I’ve established the expectation that pupils need to look at me when I’m speaking. Pausing in a way which is obvious when one pupil is off task is often enough to get their attention and remind them and the others of the expectation to look at me. I’ve consistently maintained this expectation, and over time, the vast majority of pupils meet it.

A proactive approach I used was to use a positive frame. When some of the pupils were not unplugging headphones and turning off keyboards as I expected, I focused first on those that were. A quick reminder to pupils of what I expect them to do is often enough to stop low level disruption. I then follow this up with a second reminder, "I’m waiting for three pupils". An anonymous reminder like this can help get pupils get back on track without drawing lots of attention to the negative behaviour.

Finally, I modelled how to respond on an individual basis where appropriate. Riley wasn’t sitting still and listening to the composition as he had been asked to do. So I walked up to his desk and give him a clear reminder: “Riley, hands off the keyboard”. As with the previous examples, I used a quiet tone so as not to escalate the situation, but equally, I made my expectations clear. There should be no room for confusion or disagreement here. Notice that my tone throughout was formal and neutral when issuing the intervention. I reverted to my original tone when pupils were back on task. I want to respond to low-level disruption in the same consistent manner whenever it occurs. Spot it, address it and get back on with the lesson as quickly as possible.

Presenter key ideas

This video has covered a range of ideas and strategies to help you respond to low-level disruption. Read over the key ideas before you finish. Which of these ideas will you focus on first?

  • Use early and least intrusive interventions as an initial response to low-level disruption.
  • Establish a supportive and inclusive environment by giving pupils opportunities to follow instructions.
  • Respond consistently to pupil behaviour.

Presenter summary

Responding to low-level disruption isn’t something that only new teachers should think about. Staying on task can be difficult for all pupils. Learning requires effort, and sometimes it feels hard. All teachers need to be aware of this and know how they will respond when a pupil gets off task. This will help to maintain a positive and effective learning environment for all.