Excerpt from the MATA Certification Program.

A common misperception is that ignoring misbehavior—or addressing it by praising students who are behaving (proximity influence)—is the least invasive form of intervention. 

But ignoring misbehavior is the most invasive form of intervention because it becomes more likely that the behavior will persist and expand. 

Like a small fire in the classroom, your goal is to address misbehavior quickly—the first time it appears and while its manifestation is still minimal and the required response still small.

The Six Levels of Intervention

NOTE: These are not in a strict order, but the first two are the sweet spot to start in. However, some cases require skipping down the list.

1. Nonverbal intervention. Gesture to or eye contact with off-task students while doing something else, preferably teaching the others. By many measures, instructors interrupt their lessons more than students.

2. Positive group correction. A quick verbal reminder to the group about what students should be doing and not what they shouldn’t be doing: “We’re practicing our forms”; “Everyone is practicing their forms.” It is used just as student attention appears on the brink of wandering.

3. Anonymous individual correction. A quick verbal reminder to the group, similar to positive group correction, except that the anonymous individual correction makes it explicit that not everyone is where they need to be: “We need to focus.” “Please check yourself to make sure you’ve got your eyes on your partner.”

4. Private individual correction. When and if you have to name names (you will have to, especially when you are setting expectations for under-ranks), seek to correct them privately and quietly. 

Walk by the off-task student. Lean down confidently to get as near to him as possible and, using a voice that preserves as much privacy as possible, tell the corrected student what to do quickly and calmly. Something like, “John, I’ve asked everyone to focus on forms, and I need to see you doing it too,” will usually be enough. 

If you need to return, it’s time to put the student on notice about the consequences. Again you want to do this privately: “John, I need you to focus so you can learn. If you do not focus, you will have to do 10 burpees and say “focus” every time you come up. Do you want that? I don’t, so please show me your best so you can learn this faster.”

Keep the focus on purpose, not power. You’re not exerting your authority as much as helping John to succeed.

5. Quick public correction. You will be forced at times to make corrections of individual students during public moments during class or in exams. 

Your goal is to limit the amount of time a student is “onstage” for something negative and focus on telling the student what to do right rather than scolding what he did wrong. This also helps remind the class of your expectations as the instructor. 

Saying something like, “John, I need your eyes on me. Thank you, John. Much better,” is quick, confident, and more effective than a five-minute speech to the class on the importance of eye contact and focus.

6. Consequences. The idea is to solve a case of noncompliance quickly and with the least possible disruption to the class. In the long run, it makes an instructor stronger when he/she only occasionally uses external consequences. 

Solving issues without external consequences reinforces the instructor’s position of power. However, if a situation cannot be addressed quickly and successfully without a consequence, the consequence must be given so that instruction is not interrupted.

Ideally, an instructor has a scaled series of consequences from which to choose, so he can match the significance of the response to the disruption and, in so doing, ensure he/she own ability to administer it quickly, decisively, and without wavering. 

Minimum consequences include sitting out a drill or game to more serious consequences like being held back from testing or expulsion.

As professional instructors, we’re in a delicate place where the parent of a student may object to our consequences and pull the child out. Parents do not like to pay for their child to sit in the corner so make time out short. 

Many instructors resort to push-ups or some kind of physical consequence. The danger is in making exercising a bad thing rather than something fun and healthy. 

However, there are some exercises like a plank or burpees that are simply not fun for even the most enthusiastic people. They seem like they were designed to be punishment, so use them in small doses.