Category Archives: Low level disruption

Year 9 Boys in isolation: doing it differently?

Year 9 Middle ability boys who spent a lot of time being sent out of science class to Isolation.

Brief report:

Target group of 14 boys  identified as underachieving in relation to their target grades: Student A attended two sessions overall and found it difficult to cope with being out of his normal class. Most students had between 7 and 9 sessions overall prior to their Y9 exam.

The first class began with the students thinking about what they wanted to achieve and what they could do in class to help their journey.  This was done by asking questions to them as individuals and asking for their response as individuals written down and collected in. The questions were based around those used in the cycle of change developed by DiClemente and Prochaska (

Surprisingly the students all expressed a desire to improve their grades and also identified their own behaviour as being a barrier to achievement. Several felt that in class if they did not understand a concept it was easier to act the fool than to admit they did not understand. A lot of their concerns were about losing face in front of the class. Isolation was easier than having to think hard.

Most seemed to enjoy the small group sessions; with the exception of Student A who found it difficult to work in this way. During practical or kinaesthetic activities the boys were more likely to begin to ask questions about why things happened and were keen to show off their extended knowledge in areas. They particularly liked practicals such as adding acid to metals and then testing for oxygen and hydrogen. Small video clips such as Felix Baumgartner falling to earth worked well also and aided discussion along scientific concepts.

The students liked being able to question others and use the white board. We did this when doing speed calculations etc. They set each other questions to do etc.

It was difficult to plan practicals and conduct them in classrooms so in future it would be good to ensure that lab space was available for these sessions.

The classes the students came out of were all on different topics. It would have been really useful to ensure that this was the same or limited to two different areas. I used to split the class into two sections and we all did topic one for half an hour and then the plan was to move onto topic two.  However sometimes we were so engrossed in topic one that we didn’t have time for topic two. This may have meant some students were less well prepared to go back into their taught class. In the group were there were students from 3 classes this was not possible. However students reported that it helped them when they did do the topic in the future or helped with remembering things from that topic.

The group size varied from 7 to 2. The optimum group size in my opinion was five.  This enabled me to really ensure that each student understood the concept well and could answer questions in detail. I made each student answer me in full sentences and avoid the word it or thing.

I felt that the students did well, worked well and it would be worthwhile continuing in the future perhaps even identifying the cohort from the end of Year 8.

I think it important to keep the group single gender even though it perhaps goes against equal opps. The camaraderie and the focus of lessons was focused on the way boys like to learn and enabled them to admit to not understanding concepts well in a way that they might not if girls were present.

Results:  (This was pre new spec and when we still did SATs in Y9)

Three boys stayed at the same attainment level. One boy went down a full level. Five boys increased by an attainment level and five increased by two attainment grades. This represented an increase of 14 levels for the group as opposed to three levels across the group from October to the end of January.


If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading. Lao Tzu

As a teacher of some thirty years, I have often seen students with talent and ability throw it all away. The reasons are different, but the waste of opportunity is always the same. Recently I met an ex student in a deserted street, I had sadly permanently excluded him when I was Principal. These situations are never pleasant and I wondered how he would react all these years later.

Luke* noticed me almost as soon as I noticed him. He crossed the street and came right up to me blocking my passage on the pavement. He put out his hand and greeted me in a jovial fashion. I shook it and smiled back as my heart rate and adrenaline levels slowly decreased. He told me he was doing well now and that he had a girlfriend, a job and a flat of his own. He went on to say he was pleased I had taken a hard stance with him, because it was what he needed to make him recognise where he was headed. I cannot tell you the joy that I felt in my heart when we had finished talking. The heartache at the time was all worthwhile. Luke* was only one of two students I had to make the decision to admit we had failed. I now realise that with Luke* we had not failed, but made the right decision to help him on his first step to success.

Recently more so than ever before, I have noticed an increasing lack of willingness by students to even try to answer a question or start a task. For some reason they seem scared of getting it wrong. They do not want to see scored out work or teacher crosses on their pristine work. I am doing my best to get students to have a go and explain I really do not mind if they get it wrong. I deliberately do not rub out my work on the board anymore if I get something wrong. I put a line through it. I actively go overboard at thanking students who have a go at a question but don’t quite get it correct. Later in the lesson or the following one, I will quietly check with this student that they now know the answer. Then you guessed it – I ask them in front of everyone and they give the right answer so being rewarded with a merit (or chocolate or sticker). They have learned from making a mistake.

I told a class about Thomas Edison and how he is reported to have exclaimed “I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that did not work” when experimenting with the light bulb.  A lad said “That is inspirational Miss”. I thought he was being flippant, but afterwards he told me he really did find it a good way to look at things.

James and David* did not see how their continued low level disruptive behaviour was affecting their teacher. This is where I came in to try and assist as I was coaching this particular teacher. They did not see that it affected the work they completed or that they did not understand much of the content being taught. James and David* failed to recognise that some of their class mates were getting frustrated by their antics. The more the teacher tried to discipline them, the sillier they became. The class teacher was using all the tools available to her and when she finally had to send them out I took the opportunity to work with them.

We went into the Science work room. I placed four sheets of sugar paper around the room on the walls.

You may not be able to discern exactly what is written on each sheet, however just by looking at the number of comments it is possible to unpick their thinking.

It was so interesting to see James and David* work together on this task and the sudden realisation that carrying on the way they were was not going to get them to their destination or preferred future.HTC 1658

HTC 1656

This task was adapted from the work of Prochaska and DiClemente on the Cycle of Change. Both boys were certainly in the precontemplation phase during the lesson. They did not realise that their behaviour was having an effect on their future or that of others. It was just a bit of a laugh to pass the time of day.

When I set them a task with the four questions posed above, they were made to think about change and how it would benefit them or how it would be a drawback. The speed of realisation was quite fast and they were both very honest about how the process made them think about what they were doing.

A summary of the stages in the Cycle of Change

  1. Precontemplation : I’m not even thinking about change/ I did not realise there was a    problem
  2. Contemplation: I may change or I may not – I am thinking about it
  3. Decision: I have decided to change / I have decided not to change
  4. Active Changes: I have started to change
  5. Maintenance : I am keeping up with the change/ I have changed
  6. Relapse : I have gone backwards

It is important as a coach to recognise and remind yourself  that you cannot bring about change in another person. They must want to change themselves. It is their choice to decide whether to make a change or not.

After doing the task, I asked David and James* what they thought about the future and explained to them whatever they did was a choice. They were making a decision.

James said he felt that sounded “heavy” and he had never really thought about it before as being a choice. David said he felt ashamed he was affecting other people’s chances in the class as he was not too bothered about his future as his Dad would always have a job for him. He however was the student saying how hard it was to think and maybe he was doing it because he had lost the knack of thinking through a problem.

As always in a school, life is governed by the bell and the boys went off to their next lesson. The thing that struck me most about this session was that I did not have to do or say anything other than to ask them to be honest and answer the questions on the sugar paper. I have brought the horse to water – will it drink is the question?

I have had many such conversations with young people over the past thirty years and most where I did the “telling” rather than facilitating. I look back to the first part of the blog and wonder if I could have prevented myself and Luke from a lot of angst if I had let him do more of the talking.

*Names have been changed to protect their identity.

Further Reading:

Prochaska,J.O , Norcross, J.C and DiClemente, C.C. ( 2007) Changing for Good, William Morrow & Co.