According to Rob Plevin, this simple routine can take your students from rowdy to rapt in a quarter of a minute – what have you got to lose?
If you’re not already using routines (or ‘procedures’ to some) in your classroom, then you should be. They can literally transform your teaching overnight, putting your basic instructions on autopilot and making your job much easier.
The first big benefit is saving time – and lots of it. Countless minutes (each of them precious, of course) are lost in the classroom by having to repeat instructions again and again to students who aren’t listening.
However, once you’ve invested what it takes to establish routines the job of getting everyone to follow your instructions is largely done for you; the routine reminds them exactly what to do, and how to do it.
Routines give your students a map to follow, and 100% consistency, which is crucial. They also offer young people a greater chance of experiencing success in your lesson – and for our tough, most challenging learners this can be something they rarely get to enjoy.
By giving them very clear steps to follow in order to complete a given task, the likelihood of them doing the right thing is increased dramatically. And the more opportunities you have to praise students and thank them for behaving appropriately, the more quickly their attitudes and behaviour will change for the better.
Not only can the technique I’m about to explain get a group of learners quiet in as little as a few seconds once the routine has become established, it also strengthens teacher–student relationships, injects some humour into the session and gives challenging youngsters the attention they crave.
Moreover, it works equally well with 8-year-olds, 18-year-olds, 18-year-olds and even 63-year-olds. Indeed, when I tried it at a teacher training seminar in Dubai I overheard one of the participants remarking, “He just got a room of 150 rowdy people quiet in 15 seconds!”
It relies on two key principles: responsibilities and routines. Some of your students will respond very well to being given a responsibility. In fact, it’s probably your most challenging young people – the ringleaders – who will respond best to responsibility, because they crave attention.
A great way to give them this attention (in a very positive way) is to give them a job, and for this classroom strategy we are going to award three or four of your liveliest learners the job of getting the rest of the class quiet. These students are going to be our ‘shushers’ and it is their responsibility to ‘shush’ the rest of the class members (in a special way) when asked to do so.
To give our selected few every chance of success we are going to train them. Each nominated shusher is asked to give their best and loudest shush – complete with angry scowl and finger-on-lip gesture. After a few practices, the shushers are then told that whenever the teacher shouts out ‘Shushers!’ they are to give their best and loudest shush in unison. The rest of the class are told that when they hear the shushers shush, they must stop talking and sit in silence.
After two or three practices they all get the idea and we now have the makings of a very effective routine in place.
To give the shushing routine the best chance of success there are three additions which I have found to be useful.
First, your shushers need regular feedback. They should be told when they are doing a good job and given hints and pointers when they are slacking or messing around. Remember that the students you use as shushers are likely to be natural livewires so they will need careful management to make sure they continue to perform well.
Ideally, any constructive feedback or corrective instructions should be given quietly, and out of earshot of other learners.
Second, I like to give each of my shushers a uniform to wear so they can be easily identified. The ‘uniform’ is actually just a silly hat or joke shop cap, but they love wearing it, although I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it helps them feel special, perhaps it just makes the whole affair less serious, but whatever the reason, it seems to work.
Finally, I have found that shushers sometimes need a little extra help to get a particularly rowdy class to settle. I give them this by using another routine prior to calling on them – the countdown. This is simply the process of counting down from ten to one out loud, while giving encouragement along the way:
|10…||Okay everyone, by the time I get down to one you should all be sitting on your own seats with your bags away and your hands on the table… Excellent, Carly and Sophie, you got it straight away.|
|9…||Brilliant over here on this table – let’s have the rest of you doing the same.|
|8…||You need to finish chatting, get that mess away and be sitting facing me.|
|7…||All done over there at the back, well done. Just waiting for a few others.|
|6…||Come on, still some bags out at the back and people talking.|
|3…||We’re just waiting for one group now. Ah, you’ve got it now and you’re sitting perfectly, thank you.|
|2…||Well done everyone, nearly there…|
By the time you reach one, most of your students will be settled and responsive, leaving the shushers to deal with the small minority who are still talking. Obviously, you can shorten the countdown or even disregard it completely, if a group is relatively settled to start with. At these times, the shushers alone can bring silence to your room.
So there you have it. A great way to get rowdy groups of students settled in record time. Now, let the lesson begin…
Rob Plevin is a behaviour management trainer who has successfully taught in some of the most challenging settings.
He is the author of Take Control of the Noisy Class (Crown House, £18.99), from which this feature has been adapted.
This article is as told to Helen Mulley in interview