A lesson doesn’t necessarily have to be totally silent in order to be a success – unless you’re Marcel Marceau delivering his famous ‘a life in mime’ lecture – but if noise levels rise to the point where they are affecting others, it’s time to take action. Here are some things to consider.
Have you been talking too long? Almost all my early lessons consisted of a relatively long, didactic introduction; I meant well and wanted to ensure everyone knew what they were doing, but student attention spans are not known for their longevity and it is unrealistic to expect them to sit in silence listening for any more than a couple of minutes at a time.
Have you used intrigue to get their attention? Have you chopped the work up into focused, bite-sized sections? Have you included breaks and humorous energisers? Is the work achievable? Have you made it relevant to them? Have you tried to include topics they find interesting? Are you playing background music and changing the tune during transitions? Are you using active learning strategies to keep them engaged and on-task?
If they are chatting excessively it may be because the work and/or your delivery hasn’t captured them.
Instead, make positive statements about the behaviour you want to see:
“Thank you for your responses – I’ll answer anyone who puts their hand up without calling out.”
“Thanks to people on this table for raising your hands.”
“You have a right to be heard - but you need to talk at the right time.” “You’re a good talker, let’s hear what you have to say about the work.”
“You have a great speaking voice – we should use that – you can read the next chapter.”
Split the group into mixed ability groups to encourage peer support or to partner the offending student with someone who can help keep them on task. Use choices to introduce the idea that a seating change is likely to happen if they continue talking.
“Paul, you can either carry on sitting where you are and work without talking – or you’ll have to move to this chair at the front and work there without talking. The choice is yours.”
Either verbally or with a written note placed on their work:
“Thank you, you’ve been quiet for the last ten minutes – keep it up. Let’s set a timer and see if you can get to the next ten minutes.”
This is less of a strategy for stopping the interruptions and more of a technique for managing the flow of work in a classroom that’s hard to keep under wraps in terms of chattiness and distractions. In the midst of chaos your instructions can be easily lost; this leads to kids not knowing what they’re supposed to be doing, which leads to more distraction and lost engagement from the task. It’s a vicious cycle!
What you want to do is break down the instructions and the task into manageable chunks. It’s something that I’ve talked about before with individuals who are easily sidetracked, and it relies on separating one long activity or set of tasks into manageable, signposted ones. Be on-hand to guide them through and keep them on track when required. You can seat a noisier, more disruptive student with another who acts as a reinforcer. Use other students to help you do the job by explaining those instructions, or even moderate their behaviour while you’re talking.
7. Use small, natural reminders
The above strategies are all pretty direct ways of addressing these issues, but there are some non-verbal, background strategies you can try too. One thing that might work is to have some music playing in your classroom during a group activity. If they can’t hear the music they know they’re being too loud and need to quieten things down. Alternatively, you could have a noise meter up on the board. Every time the class gets too noisy, you move the notch up higher on the meter. If they reach the top of the meter, then the group activity gets put away and the kids go back to working on individual worksheets or something similar.
8. Get into their space and introduce consequences
Start with non-verbal gestures such as holding your arm out, palm facing them as a ‘stop’ signal. If they ignore you and continue talking, walk slowly and pointedly over to them and calmly put your hand on their desk while maintaining eye contact to let them know you don’t approve of them interrupting. State that their talking is preventing other people from learning then move on through your hierarchy of stepped consequences.
For a full explanation of how to use consequences in your classroom see THIS VIDEO.
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