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Shout It Out: Children Can Manage Their Own Volume Levels

If your ears are ringing and your throat is sore, perhaps it’s time to change your tactics

  • Shout It Out: Children Can Manage Their Own Volume Levels

It’s Friday afternoon. Your throat feels like it has been sandpapered, and your head is thumping. Lunch consisted of a throat sweet and a hot lemon flu drink. The weekend cannot come soon enough.

As the children crash into the classroom from lunch, full of noisy, excited chatter, you wipe at your dripping nose with a soggy tissue. When you open your mouth to call for silence, all that comes out is a croak.

“Ssssh, everyone,” Stacey says to the rest of the class. “Can’t you see that Miss isn’t feeling well?”

The children peer at you with concerned looks on their faces, then, one by one, they fall silent.
As you teach the last two lessons entirely in mime, writing instructions on the board, the children’s behaviour is impeccable throughout. Watching them tiptoe out of the classroom at the end of the day, you realise this is the quietest they have ever been for you.

I’ve been told this story on a number of occasions – about teachers who lost their voices, and whose pupils behaved better than they ever had before. Not only are children generally very sympathetic when their teacher is ill, they are also perfectly capable of controlling the overall level of noise that they make – if they have a sufficiently strong motivation to do so.

Losing your voice may be unpleasant, but it pushes you to be more creative, and use non-verbal techniques to control your pupils. Gestures, hand signals and facial expressions are a great way to communicate. They show the children that you can ‘say’ an awful lot, without even opening your mouth.

The key is to figure out strategies to keep the overall volume in check, and to encourage the children to manage their own noise by themselves.

One handy method is to get the children to experiment with different noise levels. If they can adapt their volume for ‘paired voice’, ‘group voice’, ‘classroom voice’ and ‘outdoor voice’, then hopefully they will be able to manage ‘Miss has got a headache voice’ when the need arises.

Another good idea is to use a set of electronic traffic lights with an alarm that goes off if the volume gets too high. As the lights change from green, to amber, to red, the children have a visual warning that their noise levels are increasing.

For a homespun noise-o-meter, stick a dial to the back of a shoebox, and then use a paper fastener to attach an arrow. Move the arrow around as the volume levels increase, and challenge the children to stay out of the ‘danger zone’.

One of the very best ways to get children to keep their noise levels down is to give them a strong motivation to do so. Clearly, you can’t claim to be ill for the rest of your teaching career – the kids would soon spot the subterfuge.

So, rather than asking them to take pity on you, bring in some animal visitors as a great reason to keep quiet instead. A reading dog that comes to your class; some chicks to hatch out; a pair of guinea pigs whose delicate ears might get hurt if the children are too loud.

And if the thought of cleaning up after a class pet doesn’t appeal to you, I have the perfect alternative. You know those pom-pom-shaped bugs given out as promotional gifts – the ones with the sticky feet and the long ribbon tails? These are ‘Quiet Critters’.

They live in a soundproof jar or tank, and are very shy and nervous, so they only come out to play when there is very little noise. Quiet Critters love to sit beside the children and learn with them, but if the volume gets too high, they scurry back to their home.

Of course, noise is all part of the job when it comes to working with children, and it wouldn’t do for them to be too quiet for too much of the time. Because as the saying goes, silence is golden, unless you have kids. Then silence is just plain suspicious.

Sue Cowley is an author and teacher trainer. Her latest book Road School is out now from Crown House Publishing.

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