Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Red Light, Green Light: What's Your Signal?

Music Wand from Tree Blocks
Every classroom teacher has a signal for getting a class’s attention. The library is the largest classroom in the school, so it only makes sense to have a signal there as well. Training your students in the procedure for getting their attention takes some initial explanation, rehearsing and reinforcement, but the payoff can be huge. In literally seconds you can quiet a room with the wave of your hand- or maybe a wand.

Harry Wong teaches us that a procedure is how you want things done. So, you must first decide what your signal will be. Let’s say you choose to ring a bell. You will begin to teach the procedure by telling your students that whenever they hear the bell, they should stop, look and listen. You have something important to say.

Tell students that next they will rehearse the procedure. Ring the bell. Students should stop, look and listen. You will tell them how well (or not) they did. Usually they do well the first time. They need practice. So, send some students to the circulation desk and some to the tables. Give everyone a few seconds to talk to each other and ring your bell again. This time, count the seconds. If they do well, go about your regular schedule. Half way through the period, try it again.

Remember that this is a procedure. Not following procedure brings more rehearsal, not punishment. For example, if they don’t respond fast enough to the bell, they should try again five minutes later. They should not have to write “I will stop, look and listen at the bell.” That teaches them to hate writing (and maybe the library). I remember years ago, I had a really big bell. My kids learned to stop talking when I was walking to the drawer where I kept it. I never even had to ring it. They saw me walk to the drawer and the library became silent.

The third step is reinforcement. Once students have learned a procedure, from time to time, acknowledge those who do a good job. If you notice that one table was especially quick to stop at the signal, point that out. I did that last week at a staff training. When I gave prizes to that table, it was amazing how fast the others remembered the procedure. Point out the good and the rest will quickly follow.

What are some signals you can use?
• Give me five- raising your hand, children raise theirs too; sometimes kids count backward- 5,4,3,,, (eyes on speaker, quiet, be still, hands free, listen)
• Raising your hand
• Ringing a bell
• Flicking the lights
• Music
• MusicWand from Tree Blocks
• A wooden frog
• Clap your hands in a pattern- students clap it back
• Say, “if you can hear my voice, raise your hand” (use a very small voice)

If your school already has a signal, adopt it. All you will have to do is tell the students. Rehearse. Reinforce. You’ll be amazed at how much time you save after they learn the procedure. It’s never too late to start a new procedure. You’ll be really glad you did.

What signal do you use?

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