Whether you’re beginning a lesson or transitioning from a larger activity to a more focused one, getting the class to settle down can be a challenge. It’s very stressful because our class time is so limited, but students sometimes do everything in their power to derail the class. Using a concrete, readily understood, non-verbal procedure is the cornerstone of settling students down.
No matter the age of your students, a non-verbal procedure - clearly indicating that all eyes and ears should be attentive to you - is the goal. Some teachers hold up a hand, others hold their finger to their mouths in a “sh” gesture. Select a gesture that comes naturally to you and that you can hold for a number of minutes.
Your facial expression speaks volumes, and when used in conjunction with the procedure, your students will naturally settle down. Children do, for the most part (even the teens) desire to please the teacher, and when you’ve incorporated a positive face, they find it a bit more difficult to refuse.
Make sure that you use the procedure in the same manner and for the same reasons. That is, if your class has been working in groups, the students should expect to see your procedure as a signal to change gears. Changing up your method will negate the impact of your chosen procedure.
Students should be able to demonstrate and convey their understanding of the procedure. They should also be constantly reminded that it’s coming. For example, before you begin a louder activity, remind them that you will be using the procedure to signal that you need their attention once again.
This might seem like overkill, but expressing authentic gratitude reinforces a positive classroom environment. For little ones, a big smile and a big thank you are appropriate. For high schoolers, a simple thanks works wonders.
No matter the situation for needing students to settle down, yelling or shouting is likely to result in more talking or silliness. When we shout, we lose an opportunity to convey calm, confident authority. We lose an opportunity to be a role model of authentic control.
If you use a deviation from the procedure you run the risk of not getting the desired result. Holding your hand higher or lower conveys a lack of confidence in the procedure. If you don’t subscribe to its usefulness and effectiveness why should the class? Clapping your hands longer, louder, or faster (if your procedure is three claps) also negates the purpose.
Rolling your eyes or making an audible negative sound, such as sighing heavily, negates the procedure, detracting from the intended impact.
The patience in the use of the procedure is half the battle. We can have high expectations, but our patience in garnering the appropriate student response is even more important. Wait time is a way to say, “I know you can do this, and I expect you to do this.”
All in all, students need consistency and clarity in understanding our expectations of them as a class. A non-verbal signal or procedure can help us make great strides in settling a class down in a calm, positive and authoritative way.
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