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How to Handle a Noisy Class
"Model the noise level that you want from your students."
Do you worry about the noise level in your classroom?
Even the best-behaved and high-achieving classes can occasionally be too noisy.
And while classroom noise can mean productive learning is taking place among students, here are some tips to help you keep the noise to an acceptable level.
• Never talk over noise or shout to be heard in your classroom.
• Don’t allow noise to get out of control. Once students are very loud, you will have to take extreme measures to get them to stop being noisy. You’ll find it easier if you begin to control noise levels as soon as class begins.
• You should not try to assume control of a noisy class without enlisting the cooperation of your students. Ask for suggestions from your students about how to manage noise.
• Some noisy activities are just not okay. Teach your students that it is never acceptable to talk during a movie, talk when you are giving instructions or lecturing, shout at any time, talk during a test or other quiet activity, or talk across the room to classmates.
• When you plan activities that have the potential to be noisy, consider moving to a part of the building where you can’t disturb other classes.
• Don’t plan group work activities without teaching students how to control the noise level of their groups. One way to do this is by using distances as measurements. For example, students should find a one-foot voice useful for working in pairs and a three-foot voice useful for working in groups. When you give directions for an assignment, tell students the acceptable noise level for the activity.
• Model the noise level that you want from your students. If you speak softly, your students will follow your lead. If you shout, you will dramatically increase the noise level in your class because students will see this as permission for them to shout, too.
• Be consistent in enforcing the noise levels that you expect from your students. Set reasonable limits and stick to them if you want students to learn how to manage their own noise.
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Adapted from First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide, Second Edition, by Julia G. Thompson
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Julia G. Thompson
Julia Thompson has been a public school teacher for more than thirty years. Thompson currently teaches in Fairfax County, Virginia, and is an active speaker, consultant, teacher trainer, and workshop presenter. Her most recent book, Discipline Survival Guide for the Secondary Teacher, Second Edition, written with busy high school teachers in mind, has just been released. Author of the best-selling The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide and The First-Year Teacher’s Checklist, she also publishes a Website (http:juliagthompson.com) offering tips for teachers on a variety of topics, maintains a Twitter account with daily advice for teachers at TeacherAdvice@Twitter.com, and a blog at http://juliagthompson.blogspot.com.
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20 Ways To Get A Noisy Classroom’s Attention
by Terry Heick
Okay, so this isn’t about rethinking teaching and learning in a connected world, but that doesn’t change the fact that for many of you, simply beginning class can be the most challenging thing you do all day.
It’s not easy. My go-to for years what to simply start teaching, somewhat quietly, and hope students caught on, but I found that stressed some students who were trying to hear and couldn’t, so I had to come up with different strategies.
While muting an entire classroom for 35 minutes at a time so they “listen” isn’t ideal, every teacher needs to quiet a noisy classroom at some point. So recently, when I saw Todd Finley’s post on edutopia offering some fantastic ideas, I had to offer some of the tricks I had learned.
And note, much of what works is indeed about your personality. Classroom management isn’t a “strength” for me because I’m always nervous about being a “mean teacher,” and tend to use learning models that depend on open-ended learning, student self-direction, and inquiry and project-based learning.
That said, students deserve to feel protected in a classroom that is efficient, protected, and under the control of a caring adult, so I have to make adjustments for my teaching style and how it relates to my natural personality.
So below are 20 (well, 19) ways to get a noise classroom’s attention. Some may work better than others depending on your grade level, teaching style, personality, or the personality of the class itself–down to who shows up to school that day and who doesn’t. Experiment, and let me know in the comments which strategies you use that I didn’t include.
20 Ways To Get A Noisy Classroom’s Attention
1. Help students understand
No matter the grade level, let students know right away exactly why you need them immediately responsive when you signal for the class to be quiet. Visualize the impact somehow–lost learning, future earnings potential, lowered intelligence each generation, which makes makes it harder on their great-great-great grandchildren, etc. (That’s obviously sarcastic–don’t use that unless you know what you’re doing.) Regardless, help them understand that it’s not about authority, it’s about knowledge.
2. Clap once, clap twice
This one is the old standby. After clearly explaining to the students on the first day of school how this will work, stand at the front of the room and say out loud “Clap once if you hear me, clap twice if you hear me,” while modeling the clap.
3. Use a timer
If you’ve got some easy way to instantly project a time for all to see, set it to 3-5 seconds, and let students know the expectation is that each time that the timer reaches zero, the class should be completely silent.
You can also tie this to a reward, offering some sort of bonus time once a week or month, and detracting “time wasted” from that bonus time.
4. Stand in a designated spot
And let students know whenever you stand there and raise your hand, a certain finger indicating a requested noise level, etc., that the expectation is that they’re fully quiet within a certain time limit, or even a silent countdown on your fingers.
5. Count backwards from 4
Or count backwards out loud from 4, and experiment with slowing your countdown for certain classes to “adjust” to their characteristics, but without giving them too much flexibility.
6. Thank students that are already quiet individually
Thanking each student that is quiet, even with bonus items, etc., is a way to positively reward a desired behavior.
7. Use a notable name
Iggy Azalea. Ed Sheeran. Lebron James. Seth Rogen. Use a key word or phrase that grab’s attention–or even have a monthly theme, and whenever students hear a name from that category, they know to be quiet, and reward their performance.
8. Use a stop light
This was from Finley’s list on edutopia, and it’s perfect, Green they can talk, yellow they’re becoming quiet, red they’re silent. eBay, Amazon, etc., all carry products like these. Post it where everyone can see it.
9. Use an app
Quiet Classroom, or Too Noisy, for example. Experiment and see what works.
10. Have them stand
This one may not work for some classes, but many of my classes that had trouble becoming quiet weren’t being defiant–they were just full of energy. Have them stand and stretch, then begin
11. Use proximity
Stand near, or even touch select talking students on the shoulder while beginning to speak. (In some schools, classrooms, grade levels, etc., touching any student for any reason ever isn’t okay–obviously if this is the case, don’t.)
12. Record them
This wouldn’t work every day, and would only work if you have signed permission from each student’s family and the principal and….but if it fits, start recording, with some visible evidence of doing so–maybe a screen capture of Skype. Or even a fake red light that implies recording video. Tell them it’s for a project for a video all parents will see at the end of the year (for elementary), a YouTube channel, documentary, etc. You know them better than I do–what would convince them?
13. Get the right ones on your side
For more challenging classrooms, especially 8th grade and above, this one is incredibly important. Know who the key “players” are in the classroom, and get them on your side right away. Help them use the leadership skills they have to promote learning in the classroom, and periodically let them know–perhaps away from other students for older kids–how much it helps.
14. Use non-verbal cues
Using non-verbal cues that reflect a behavior system, perhaps one based on positive reinforcement. This can allow you not only to communicate simple messages, i.e., please be quiet, but also more complex messages, such as “The noise level so far has cost us two minutes from our game-based learning lesson on Friday.” How? Use GBL for 15 minutes each Friday, and hold up one additional finger every time students lose a minute. Through that routine, they’ll get the picture.
15. Gamify it
Give points, take away points, offer badges, let classrooms level up, let them compete against one another, section off groups within a classroom to compete against one another; let their “scores” be rest so those that struggle don’t celebrate being “last” and get worse.
16. Turn the lights off
Who knows why, but most students love the lights off. You don’t have to turn them off and on like a madman–just off, and wait.
17. Resist the temptation to get emotional
Once students sense you’re upset, the implication is that you’re lacking control, and that has a snowball effect. Even if they aren’t, in fact, doing what you want them to, don’t let them in on that secret.
18. Ignore certain misbehaviors
Trying to quiet a noisy classroom is less about discipline, and more about routines. If a student makes a joke that gets the class roaring just as they were quieting down, smile a quick smile, let it go, and move on.
19. Be silly
Record audio, Vines, or Hyperlapse videos on Instagram that aggregate their progress and relative success.
20. Scream at them, slam the door until the glass shatters, flip desks, etc.
Then you’ll get fired and won’t have to worry about it any longer.
20 Ways To Get A Noisy Classroom’s Attention; 20 Ways to Quiet a Noisy Classroom; adapted image attribution flickr user usdepartmentofeducation