I was observing a kindergarten class when students started talking out of turn during a reading activity on the rug. The teacher took less than 30 seconds to address this, and then facilitated the rest of the activity without further interruptions. How did she resolve this problem so efficiently?
Did she banish the offending students to their seats? Threaten to call home if they didn't quiet down? Write their names on the board under "Lunch Detention" or "No Recess"? Have them move their cards to red on a traffic light behavior chart?
None of the above. All this teacher did was calmly request the class' attention, and ask a student to remind his classmates why it's important for only one person to talk at a time. "Acoustics," the student replied.
Yes, kindergarten. And yes, acoustics. I had heard prior to visiting her class that this teacher was a star, and now I could see why. Like all great teachers, she understood that students usually do what we want them to do if they understand and accept why we want them to do it. In this case, the teacher wanted only one person to talk at a time, and had a brilliant idea for getting students to understand and accept the importance of this: she taught them about acoustics.
Of course, even in well managed classrooms, teachers need to redirect students from time to time. But as long as students buy into the rationale for our expectations, we can usually forgo punitive measures when students do the wrong thing. Instead, we just need to revisit why they should do the right thing.
Image by Sheftsoff, provided by Dreamstime license
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