Responding to Student Behavior: Using Minimal Interventions

Research has shown that teachers lose up to 50% of their teaching time ineffectively dealing with students who are engaged in small, annoying time-wasting behaviors. At times, it is the teacher’s mismanagement of these behaviors that can often cause them to escalate into larger, full-blown confrontations.

As part of ChildSense‘s four level system for using positive behavioral interventions in the classroom, Minimal Interventions follow Planned Ignoring as the second step in MORE TIME TO TEACH. This level refers to the non-confrontive cues or reminders we use with students who are engaging in these smaller “time wasting” behaviors. Many of us already use these techniques such as:

  • Proximity
  • Wait time
  • Gestures
  • Secret signals

What is perhaps different about the way we suggest using them is to think about them as reminders or cues for students who may have lost their focus or have forgotten about what they are supposed to be doing. While giving them this “benefit of the doubt” regarding their intent may seem counter-intuitive when students are disrupting our teaching, it creates a dynamic that reduces the potential for confrontation.

Imagine a student who is humming, blurting out comments, looking out the window or engaging other time wasting behaviors. A teacher can either continue with their teaching and offer a moment of wait time or use proximity by standing closer to that student while delivering their instruction with little disruption to their teaching.

Compare that to the teacher who stops the teaching for the rest of the class to confront the time wasting student by staring at them, publicly addressing them, tapping loudly on their desk, etc. Now the rest of the class is waiting to see what the student or the teacher will do next. Often the student will respond with something similar to the following: WHAT? WHAT DID I DO? And now a full confrontation has begun.

Minimal interventions are not meant to force or coerce a student into changing their behavior. They are designed to REMIND them. Often, the difference between these intentions can be subtle, as in the teacher response of gently touching the desk of a student or tapping loudly on it. The behaviors may look similar but actually have a different message behind them. Similar to putting a finger up to one’s lips in a gesture meaning “quiet,” when a teacher instead draws that finger horizontally across their throat accompanied by a grimace, that gesture now becomes a threat and invites confrontation.

Minimal interventions, when used systematically, are an integral part of any teacher’s positive behavior intervention process. Regaining lost teaching time while avoiding confrontation: a nuanced skill for the master teacher.


November 1, 2009. Uncategorized.

One Comment

  1. Briana Sykora replied:

    Very simple but very powerful tools! Thanks for the reminder!

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