After chatting to a colleague this week about the many ways a teacher attempts to get quiet in the classroom, I decided to explore the different options. I’m a strong believer that setting clear routines in the classroom are key to solving behaviour issues. By demonstrating to pupils that they must respect the classroom, equipment and the routines set, you are modeling your high expectations. Explicitly using the word ‘expect’ in your lessons highlights to pupils that you have high expectations of both their work and their behaviour, it also makes clear that they are in control of changing both.
Silence is golden
There are so many ways to get quiet in the classroom, but often if the routine you choose is not introduced with conviction none of them are successful.
A popular option in the game of getting silence. Counting down when you want silence gives pupils time to finish what they are doing and focus on you for the next instruction. This option can be a really positive way to show the class that this is a transition period and it is important to listen. This technique gives agency to the pupils to finish the task they are on. However, this can also be a chaotic choice.
Firstly, it requires you to use your voice and often in a particularly noisy class it means you will have to shout over the noise. This can often mean that the beginning of the countdown is lost on pupils at the back of the room or that you have to actually repeat the countdown or make it longer. Those of you who use this technique daily will no doubt have experienced saying ‘Onnneeeeee’ for a good five seconds. Does this defeat the object of the countdown? Personally, I believe this technique can be unsuccessful. It often needs accompanying with writing names on the board of those who are still chatting. Alternatively, it comprises of you drawing attention to those who are ready to listen in the hope it will encourage the rest of the class to fall silent.
If this technique is introduced it is important the routine is practiced a few times to model to pupils exactly what you expect when you reach the end of the countdown. Providing an incentive to be quiet by the end is also an option. ‘Those who have pens down, eyes on the board and hands on the desk when I reach the end of the countdown will receive a merit’. Explicitly describing the behaviour you expect is key. Avoiding ‘you must be silent’ and instead describing ‘pens down, eyes on the board’ is a clear instruction for pupils.
Eyebrows raised, staring at the class
Perhaps this is not the technical term for this technique, but all teachers will be familiar with this. Standing at the front of the room, preferably at the beginning of the lesson, looking at the class and remaining silent until all pupils eventually are facing you. As you can imagine this can be very problematic. With a class that you trust and have a strong relationship with this can be enough to get quiet and signify that you are waiting for a certain behaviour to begin the lesson. In order for this to work pupils must be aware of what this expected behaviour is. In a class with far-reaching behavioural needs this approach can fall flat. It can often result in the teacher stood waiting for over 5 minutes and wasting learning time. It then leads to a prolonged negative discussion about how much time you have just wasted and how unhappy about it you are. This can be a very negative way to start the lesson. In my first few weeks of teaching I recall trying this and in reflection realised that giving pupils a starter worksheet to begin working on as they entered the room would have been a much more productive use of those first five minutes.
The noise level we are using is…
Creating a scale of possible noise levels is often a great way to explain tangibly to pupils the noise level you expect in a task. By creating a scale (as below) you can clearly state to pupils ‘During this task we will be working with partner voices’. This shows pupils that you are encouraging cooperative learning but equally it is not an opportunity to shout across the classroom about last nights TOWIE episode. Creating a display of the scale in the classroom can be a great prompt for lessons and acts as a learning script for you to remember to set a noise level for each task.
1. Silence- independent working
2. Partner voice- working in pairs
3. Table voice- working in a group
4. Class voice- working with the rest of the class
Hands in the air, just don’t care
Another popular choice to get the attention of the class is holding your hand in the air. I am a big fan of this option as it involves no shouting or raising of your voice yet still shows the pupils you are in control. By setting incentives or giving pupils a time frame to get their hand in the air, this technique can actually be fun for the class. ‘When my hand is in the air you have 3 seconds to get yours in the air too, the last one will have to collect the rubbish from everyone’s table’ ‘First person to put their hand in the air will be first to leave on the bell’. There are various ways you can encourage pupils to react quickly whilst having fun with it. I have tried various ways of doing this.
However, there are times when this just does not work. If your lesson is practical and pupils are moving around often it takes some time before pupils notice your hand is in the air. Sometimes this results in pupils bawling ‘Miss has got her hand up everyone’; this is helpful but equally not what you had in mind. A solution I have found to this is introducing some form of sound effect first. This could be an online timer making a sound. The beginning of a popular song being played. You could even state the hook line to a song. After the sound effect you would then put your hand in the air and pupils would hear the sound and realise you have raised your hand. In less than 3 seconds all pupils are facing you. The option I have found particularly successful is clapping a tune then raising my hand. Some classes find it fun to clap the sound back, others simply raise their hand. You can even ask a pupil to clap a tune to make things more fun. This is an approach often used in primary school, however I have had success with classes from Year 7 right through to Year 11.
The Magic Carpet
The final technique I have tried out is a little bit different. A colleague who specialises in drama once observed me and noticed that I often move around the class whilst giving instructions. I initially did this to ensure all pupils were listening and alert to questions. However, I was advised to try standing on one spot and finding my centre, this way pupils would clearly know where to look for instruction. It was suggested I place a rug in a certain area of the classroom and stand on it when I give instructions. Therefore, I bought a multicoloured rug and placed it at the front (partly to make my room look jazzy too). For the first two weeks of term when I clapped and raised my hand for quiet I made sure I was stood on the rug. This was a personal reminder to find my centre. I found, after following this routine for four weeks, that when I stood on the rug at the front of the class pupils began looking to the front as they assumed I was about to give instructions. Magic! This approach is minimum input but does take a lot of practice!
Pick one and stick to it
I have outlined just a few of the options you could adopt in your classroom to get silence. There are many other successful techniques. For me, establishing silence swiftly and calmly works best in my classroom. Pick one technique to use and spend a week or so really practicing it with pupils and reminding them of the routine. Within two weeks the routine will be embedded and you will be surprised when you notice pupils are looking to you to raise your hand or are ready and waiting quietly for the end of the countdown. Have conviction in the method you choose, outlay the expected behaviour and reward pupils when they successfully complete the routine. Be resilient with the technique you choose, it is never too late in the term to establish a new routine or change the current one, as long as you reiterate the routine every day until it sticks.
Always end the day with a positive thought. No matter how hard things were, tomorrow’s a fresh opportunity to make it better.