Ready or not, here they come!

For some of you, you may already be getting classrooms ready for the new year, while the rest of us are squeezing out the last days and weeks before heading back to reality.  The start of a new year is always exciting, as we face a fresh crop of students, along with new challenges and the prospect of presenting some creative ideas and  lessons to an eager audience.  During the first week, a lot of time will be spent teaching your routines and expectations to students, and this will set the tone for how the classroom functions across the year.  I thought this an appropriate time to give a few ideas on “crowd control”, as classroom management skills are essential for creating the optimal learning environment.

The idea to write on this topic came to me several months ago, while I was attending a program-wide workshop on collaborative teaming.  In one session of this workshop, the presenter would speak, give us instructions for completing an activity within smaller groups, and then pull us all back together for whole group discussion.  This session was attended by approximately 120-140 people, many of whom chose to sit with friends, or co-workers they haven’t seen in a while.  This session was after lunch, a time when peoples’ attention spans start to give way, and socializing starts to creep into small group “discussions”.  I am telling you this to give you a mindset for just how noisy it was in this room when the workshop presenter made her first attempt to get this large chatty group back on task for whole group sharing.  She started at the front center of the room and started walking towards the back.  At a normal conversational volume, she said, “If you can hear me now, clap once.”  Some of us clapped.  She kept walking and said, “If you can hear me now, clap twice.”  More of us clapped. She continued walking and said, “If you can hear me now, clap three times.”  The entire room clapped and then remained completely silent, knowing that she meant business about getting our attention.  I was so impressed!  What was more impressive was that the next time she went through her quiet-down routine, she didn’t even have to get to three.  I’ve attended many of these things over my career, and never once saw someone command a room the way she did.  I was thinking, “Wow, I’m going to stick that one in the bag of tricks!”

I’m sure many, if not most, teachers already have their own attention-getting signals or strategies and aren’t stuck on “Okay now guys, quiet down”, which is rarely completely and quickly effective.  As we ask students to do more work in small groups, pair-shares, and cooperative learning situations, I thought it would be helpful to give some other simple ideas.  These are some I’ve tried or have seen used with Kindergarten students, which may be effective for all elementary grade levels:

-          Lights Out:  Students are taught that when the lights go out, they are to stop what they’re doing, put hands up in the air, get completely quiet, and look to the teacher for instructions.  This remained effective all year long!  If you have a lot to say, do allow the little darlings to put their hands back down.  :)

-          Clap Response:  (To the tune of “Shave and a Haircut”) Teacher: clap, clap, clap, clap, clap       Students: clap, clap    Students are taught that after their response, they are to remain quiet and ready to listen.

-          Countdown from 5:  Teacher says “5” with enough volume to be heard over noisy classroom banter, while holding up a hand and then counting down fingers in silence.  Students are taught that they must be quiet and ready to listen by the time the last finger goes down.

-          Children, Children:  This one’s a little silly, but could be fun and effective if it fits your personality….Teacher (using an exaggerated southern drawl) says, “Children, children, can you all hear me?”  The students are taught to respond, “Yes, Mama”, and learn that the expectation is that they should be “all ears” for Mama.  You know you don’t want to make Mama mad!

One thing to keep in mind is that these strategies only become effective through reinforcement and consequences, as children are learning to use them.  Make sure to praise students heavily in the beginning for carrying out the routine as you've explained.  Practice a lot during that first week!  Then consider a consequence for those that just can’t seem to carry out your expectations after they've had numerous opportunities to learn.

As always, I invite our readers to share their own tricks and tips on the subject.  I’d especially appreciate hearing from middle and high school teachers, as many of my suggestions are most appropriate for elementary students.

Hope your school year gets off to a fabulous start!