Planned Ignoring in the Classroom: Strategy & Examples

Instructor: Stephanie Matalone

Stephanie taught high school science and math and has a Master's Degree in Secondary Education.

In this lesson, we will go over what planned ignoring means and when it can be used. We will discuss why it is effective in the classroom and talk about specific ways to implement it.

Silly Billy

You are trying to go over the homework from last night, and Billy interrupts you yet again by giggling after telling a joke. This is a common occurrence for Billy to interrupt you, and you have tried everything! You called home, gave him detention, scolded him, etc. Ugh!

It sounds like Billy is participating in attention-seeking behavior. When you yell at Billy or ask him to stop, you are giving him the attention he wants, even though it is negative attention. When you ask Billy to stop, you are simply reinforcing the behavior. Thus, he will keep doing it!

What to do?

So, what should you do with Billy? One option is to simply let the behavior slide with planned ignoring. It may seem counter-intuitive at first, but by ignoring Billy when he acts out, you are refusing to give him the attention he craves and eventually the acting out will cease.

Planned ignoring should only be used for minor behavior infractions, and you as a teacher need to decide which behaviors you will ignore ahead of time. More severe issues--such as a student bullying another student or getting into an altercation--should never be ignored. You have to find a balance between ignoring certain behaviors and disciplining others.

Now, don't be alarmed if Billy's interruptions increase when you first start to use this strategy. In the beginning, Billy may try harder to get the attention he is used to from you, but you must be patient and stick to your guns! Eventually, Billy will see that these behaviors are not getting him what he wants, and they will stop.

The Strategy

So what does this actually look like in the classroom? The first step it to identify the behaviors you will ignore. What is your limit? Will you ignore Billy just when he calls out? How about if he starts talking to another student? You must decide what behaviors you will let slide, and which are crossing the line. Then, think about the reason behind why these behaviors exist. Does Billy just want to bother you, or is he bored? If he is talking to his friend because he is bored, maybe the planned ignoring will not work with that behavior, and you should address the problem by giving him a classroom job. If Billy is calling out because he wants to get a rise out of you and make the class laugh, then he is just seeking attention, and the planned ignoring should be successful. The word 'planned' is key here!

After you have determined which behaviors you will ignore, do it! When Billy calls out and makes a joke, keep going with your lesson, and do not address him. It will be hard at first, and Billy may act out more for the first few days. You must be strong and stick to your plan! The other part of this strategy is to respond positively when Billy is not acting out and is doing what he is supposed to. Show Billy that he will not get the attention when he is misbehaving, only when he is behaving properly! In other words, praise Billy when he is quietly on task and tell him what a great job he did on his exam. Planned ignoring works best when it is coupled with positive reinforcement!

Another Example

Let's talk about another student besides our friend Billy and see when it is appropriate to use this technique. Let's say you have a student named Tammy who always gets up out of her seat during independent work time. She always has an excuse: she needs to blow her nose, sharpen her pencil, itch her foot, etc. You have tried telling her to sit down, but it's not working, and she is getting other students off task.

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