Teacher Randy writes:

“I teach high school, and I have a period that is extremely chatty, to the point that it is severely interfering with their learning. I’ve tried everything from changing seats, calling home, referrals, giving more work, or just giving zeros on assignments
that they do not complete. Plus, the whole cell phone/headphone thing is out of hand. They won’t put them away! What can I do?”

This is a great question, Randy. Our teacher helpliners weighed in, and here’s what they had to say:

  • I was in a similar situation once, and I invited parents to come in and observe their children. After that happened, there was definitely an attitude change among the students. It made a big difference. —Amber L.
  • Figure out who the students do connect with—it might be a coach or someone in another discipline. They might have some insight on how to work with the students you’re struggling to reach. —Allen L.
  • Embrace student-centered learning by creating a structured cooperative group project. Then they’ll be working with and managing each other instead of you having to direct the entire class at once. —Lisa S.
  • Document, document document: every time you reach out to parents and the outcome, each time you reach out to your department head and the outcome, any time the administration is in the classroom and the outcome. That way, you can keep track of what
    tactics you’ve already tried, and which ones were successful and which were not. —Nadia W.
  • Since they have cell phones and other items, can you set up presentations they have to record and then present? Maybe letting them post them to a Google presentation or something like that will catch their attention. —Alex G.
  • I like to praise the students who are on task. The other kids notice and then scramble to copy the behavior so they get a “nice job” too! —Erin F.
  • When my students don’t complete work, I have them fill out a personal responsibility report explaining what happened and a plan for finishing all future assignments. —Kristy H.
  • Have a shoe organizer with numbers on your door. All phones go into the shoe holder when they come in. They can pick it back up on the way out. If they forget to turn in the phone, then you take their phone, and they have to come pick it up from you
    at the end of the day. If it happens more than once (or twice … set your limit), their parents have to come in to get the phone. No phones during instruction, unless you are using it for an activity. —Stephanie S.
  • I would try cooperative learning. It made a huge difference in my teaching. —Sofie T.
  • Keep kids for a “working lunch” to make up the required assignments that they didn’t complete in class. —Lonnie S.
  • Put it back on them. You can ask, “What can I do to make you successful?” It’s amazing what you can get. It could be that the student is hungry or just feels lost and is trying to avoid the work. I’ve seen the difference this approach can make, and
    it’s incredible. —Rachel B.

    What advice do you have for Randy? Join the conversation at the We Are Teachers HELPLINE.