Working with children who call out
September 9, 2023
The OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) revealed about one quarter of Australian teachers’ classroom time was spent on classroom discipline and administrative tasks, rather than on teaching and learning. Behaviours such as calling out, teasing, being ‘in the face’ of others, using personal devices in class, passing notes, being intentionally late to class, not starting work when requested and speaking disrespectfully all take up teacher time and energy and interrupt the flow of lessons. These behaviours require calm emotional reactions from teachers. It is helpful to build a repertoire of effective verbal and non-verbal responses.
This blog offers several practical suggestions for teachers to consider when a student frequently calls out. Calling out behaviours can include blurting out answers to questions, talking out of turn, and other disruptions such as ‘off topic’ comments, unsolicited suggestions and remarks and making distracting noises. Reducing these behaviours will help contribute to a respectful classroom climate, improve the flow of lessons, and support student learning and engagement. Teachers should not reinforce calling out behaviours by responding to it. Often teachers accept an answer that has been called out and this reinforces the behaviour.
We invite your suggestions for effective practical classroom strategies to help manage calling out behaviours. We also invite your ideas about how parents/carers and students might contribute to a respectful learning environment. We plan to produce a short ebooklet on this topic so please include references for any copyright materials you suggest. You can email us at: email@example.com or use the form at: www.psych4schools.com.au/contact-us/
Calling out in the classroom is common among students who are:
- lack interest in the topic
- prone to push boundaries and/or break rules, and
- used to yelling, arguing or being aggressive to get their own way with others, including peers, teachers, parents/carers or siblings.
Other factors that may lead to calling out behaviours include:
- lessons perceived as boring, or too challenging
- inconsistent expectations from teachers and other adults
- differing, harsh or inconsistent parental expectations
- vulnerable children – including those with disrupted or chaotic families, or trauma backgrounds, those with learning disabilities, neuro-developmental disorders and others who have unresolved or worrying psychosocial experiences.
The techniques suggested below, work most effectively if the teacher or any student who is responding to an unwanted behaviour remains calm, and works within already established classroom norms, rules and routines, and within an environment where supportive relationships exist between students and the teacher.
For the teacher
There may be a need for explicit teaching, private, group and whole class discussion related to turn taking and sharing ideas, including respectful listening, acceptance, and valuing of difference. It is helpful if everyday classroom practices ensure that all students are given the opportunity to speak and share their ideas and views. Teachers may need to go over classroom rules and be specific about the consequences for repeated calling out behaviour.
Some factors to consider for improving class discussions or question and answer sessions:
- Support neurodiverse students and those with ADHD. For example, some students who have ADHD can find it very difficult to hold their thoughts in their minds. They need to blurt out the answer before the idea is forgotten and new thoughts push existing thoughts out of mind. This can be true whether students are medicated or not.
- Settle all students. Unsettled students are prone to calling out. Reading the next chapter in an appropriate text to the class after break times (such as recess and lunch), or after transitioning to a new activity or class, can help to settle students. Presenting ‘fun facts’ – interesting information and statistics from books such as the Guinness book of records can create whole class interest and engagement.
- Use a range of strategies to reduce the need for hands up to answer or to reduce the urge for some students to call out. What strategies do you find effective such as students having to wait to hold a class ‘microphone’ before speaking.
- What strategies can other students use that help to promote a calm, inclusive and pro-social learning environment? For example, there may be a general understanding that students might occasionally use a disapproving look, or other non-verbal signal that enough is enough.
- While the teacher is responsible for building a pro-social learning environment and for behaviour management, how might students promote good student-to-student and student-to-teacher relationships? For example, students might help formulate a classroom code of conduct that frames rights and responsibilities in a positive way.
Responding to low-level disruptive behaviours in the classroom
Use a least-to-most-intrusive approach  when responding to low-level disruptive behaviours. Punishments or reprimands (beginning with ‘no’, ‘stop’, or ‘don’t’) in the context of low-level disruptive behaviours give little latitude for the child to save face, self-correct, or provide their own pro-social solution to a problem or issue. Using a minimally intrusive response first, demonstrates to the student a commitment to fair and reasonable treatment. For example:
- Where possible, continue teaching in response to low-level disruption. Simply, ignore the interruption, or include the child’s name into your explanation and make eye contact, to signal that the behavior is not acceptable.
- Use a non-verbal signal to indicate that the behaviour is not acceptable. For example, a disapproving look or a pre-agreed hand signal.
For further suggestions and examples using the least-to-most approach, see the Psych4Schools ebooklet Working with children who are unmotivated and disengaged in the classroom. Members can access strategies from the ebooklet on pages 15-16 titled ‘Effectively manage low-level disruptive behaviours.
Non-members can access an excerpt of the ebooklet.
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For more information contact me via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Murray Evely, Psych4Schools Psychologist/Guidance Officer
 Thomson, S. and Hillman, K., The Teaching and Learning International Survey 2018. Australian Report. Volume 1: Teachers and School Leaders as Lifelong Learners Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER). https://research.acer.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1006&context=talis
 Department of Education, Victoria, School operations, Behaviour – Students. Reviewed 3 June 2020. https://www2.education.vic.gov.au/pal/behaviour-students/guidance/3-challenging-behaviour-influences-and-triggers
 Rogers, B. (2011) Classroom Behaviour: A Practical Guide to Effective Teaching, Behaviour Management and Colleague Support. Sage, UK.