How To Handle A Student Who Habitually Calls Out

This week’s article is in response to a cavalcade of questions regarding one of the most frustrating classroom management issues. Namely, how do you deal with a student who, despite receiving consequence after consequence, continues to call out in class?

Before we get to the solution, it’s important to note that there are times during a normal school day when you may want to allow your students to respond to you or their fellow classmates without raising their hand.

Small-group instruction, certain learning games, and discussion of read alouds are a few possible examples.

These moments, however, must be clearly and narrowly defined—because unless there is thorough understanding of how to join the flow of give-and-take conversation, it will negatively, and often severely, affect your learning environment.

For the majority of the time the practice of hand raising should be in play. After all, done correctly, it serves a critical role. By allowing every student the freedom to voice their thoughts, ideas, and questions without fear of interruption, it safeguards fair participation of all.

For most students simply following your classroom management plan is enough to eliminate calling out. But occasionally you may come across a student who can’t seem to get a handle on it.

Typically, but not always, it comes from a new student—beginning of the school year or otherwise—who has acquired the habit of calling out because in her (or his) previous classroom it was the only way to be heard.

Like a lion cub that doesn’t get enough to eat, she has learned that she must assert herself or get pushed to the margins.

What follows is a solution to help her break the habit quickly and with compassion.

Provide assurances.

A student with a compulsion to call out needs your assurance. She needs to hear from you personally that raising her hand will guarantee her an equal opportunity to express herself. It’s a promise you make while looking her in the eye.

By the same token, she also needs to know that you will never respond to her when she calls out. Hearing this plainly and clearly from you will relieve a good deal of the internal stress that is causing the habit.

Prove it.

You must now prove to her, and to all your students, that you only call on and respond to those with their hand up. Answering even one call-out will further ingrain her bad habit and encourage others to do the same.

Because when you respond to those who fail to raise their hand, you send the message that they have to compete to be heard—which leads to more and more calling out, hand waving, and other disruptive behavior.

Look, but don’t respond.

If, after speaking to her privately, she calls out again, which is likely, it’s best not to follow conventional advice and simply ignore her. Ignoring the behavior will incite an even more vocal and disruptive form of the behavior.

Instead, make brief but pleasant eye contact with her (2-3 seconds) and then call on someone else. The eye contact acts as an unmistakable reminder of your previous conversation, and she’ll understand what it means right away. Continue to do this whenever she calls out.

Let her experience success.

When you do notice her sitting quietly with her hand raised—and you will—casually call on her like you would any other student. Don’t make a big deal or offer rewards or praise. A simple smile will suffice. Let her experience her success, on her own terms, down deep where new habits form.

Also, be sure and give her wide latitude in answering your questions or expressing her ideas. When she’s finished, pause and move on like it’s the most normal thing in the world. Then let the good moment percolate.

Enforce.

It’s best during this process not to enforce a consequence. Wait until she settles into her success for a day or two, then pull her aside and tell her that you’ll be enforcing a consequence from now on.

This final step will ensure that she won’t backslide. If another student asks why you’re not giving her consequences like everyone else, just be honest. “Because she’s new and is learning how we do things.”

Your Word

Responding to students who call out is the very thing that encourages it—along with encouraging a host of other disruptive behavior. More troubling, it feeds on itself, growing stronger and more urgent the more you allow it.

And sadly, amidst the disruption, hand waving, and yelling of answers are the shy, quiet personalities, relegated to the periphery because of their unwillingness to battle for attention along with the other lion cubs.

To reverse this harmful behavior you must teach, model, and explain to all your students in a highly detailed way the how and why of hand raising and the many ways in which it benefits them and their fair and happy classroom.

You must then prove to be a person of your word. You must show your students through your consistent behavior, and commitment to your classroom management plan, that their thoughts and ideas are important, valued, and beneficial to all.

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15 Responses to How To Handle A Student Who Habitually Calls Out

  1. Chuck May 15, 2013 at 8:51 pm #

    Hi Michael, can you make your new book available for the Kindle like Dream Class is? I would like to read it as soon as possible, but I only buy digital books now to save space and paper. (I literally have like a whole storage room full of books right now, and I shouldn’t add more!)

    • Michael Linsin May 16, 2013 at 6:27 am #

      Hi Chuck,

      We’re working on it, but I don’t have a date yet. I’m hoping late July or early August.

      :)Michael

  2. Lucero May 17, 2013 at 8:43 am #

    Hi =)
    After reading your suggestions for months, I understand that kids have to develop new habits, that’s why we set a Security System to avoid accidents and to correct certain bad habits. A different student is in charge of giving fines to his/her mates every class. When their bags are not placed properly, if shoes are untied, if tables are out of place, chairs were not pushed in or they sit on the table, if they leave a pencil dropped or little things like that, they get a fine. In case they get 3 fines, they go to Time-out. The environment is much neater and it works. We still have fun and they are improving their habits. Thanks =)

  3. Greg May 17, 2013 at 9:44 pm #

    I have the same thoughts as Chuck. I would like to buy your new book on Kindle or my IPAD since I love Dream Class!

    • Michael Linsin May 18, 2013 at 7:00 am #

      Thanks Greg!

      We’ll do our best to have it available before summer is out.

      Michael

  4. Zdenek Rotrekl May 18, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

    Very nicely explained.
    However, it doesn´t deal with the situation which I find common in my class. We do a puzzle and there is just one solution and these disruptive students shout out the answer before the others finish it. For them the compulsion to be the first is much stronger than anything else.
    Otherwise, thanks for your blog.
    Zdenda

  5. Douglas August 23, 2014 at 12:06 pm #

    I’m wondering what to do when a student’s IEP states to “plan to ignore calling out.” This student will be a regular education setting and is the only student with an IEP. Ignoring it will cause distrust and loss of respect from my other students, but I can’t very well tell them that he has an IEP. Suggestions?

    • Michael Linsin August 23, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

      Hi Douglas,

      You absolutely have to follow the IEP. However, does it say that you must ignore calling out or is it just a warning of sorts for the teacher? If it’s the latter (which is likely), then you’re in a great position to help this student curb their particularly disruptive behavior. If it’s the former, then although you won’t share that the student has an IEP, if you remain consistent with the rest of your class they’ll get it fairly quickly. They’ll understand that there is a unique difference with this one student. Your body language and reaction to the student calling out will also be a factor. The problem arises if you become inconsistent. Then they won’t understand. Then you will lose respect and behavior will nosedive. I’ll add this topic to the list of future articles.

      Michael

  6. KC January 4, 2015 at 3:24 pm #

    Thank you immensely for sharing these observations and tips. I teach high school and I haven’t thought about this heavily. (I think this is because, secretly, I WANT the quiet, uninvolved students to be as excited and demonstrate what they know like those who call out. This article has made me look at these incidents more professionally.

    • Michael Linsin January 4, 2015 at 4:33 pm #

      You’re welcome, KC!

      Michael

      • Mary Ann Kronk October 12, 2016 at 11:36 am #

        what to do when your having a class discussion and a student politely raises hand to answer a question…and then says something totally wrong intentionally to be funny! It is so disruptive because everyone laughs and it halt the entire flow of the lesson.

  7. Marcie February 12, 2015 at 7:47 am #

    HI Michael, do you think that it is important with the read alouds to allow a free flowing discussion? I have a class of 16 and we do study a novel together. When I ask those critical questions, I make them raise their hands, even when they want to respond to what someone else is saying. Do you think that this is too strict and might hinder the discussion?
    Thanks!

    • Michael Linsin February 12, 2015 at 5:15 pm #

      Hi Marcie,

      Although you may indeed have a more natural give–and–take among some students (without hand-raising), others will, without a doubt, get lost in the shuffle. Any more than 5-6 students and it’s best to require them to raise their hand.

      Michael

  8. JC September 17, 2016 at 1:57 pm #

    I work in classrooms as an E.A. I see teachers that do both….they allow some calling out and then switch to times where they will require hand up only…it seems these teachers can intuitively sense of when to allow calling out and when not to and the children seem to just follow the teacher’s cues as it were. I think as students get to know their teacher they just know how she operates and follow suit. That said, I have seen teachers who struggle with classes that are disrespectfully calling out (depending on the class) where your strategy would be most needed and be very helpful. I like your articles, thanks.

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