Sometimes I can’t believe the amount of energy that I put into worrying about the littlest things. Each year, as I plan for the start of school, I go back and forth about what type of signal I am going to use to get my students’ attention. The common sense part of me tells me that it really IS NOT important what type of signal I use, as long as I use it consistently and hold students accountable for responding to it. The intuitive side of me says that choosing a signal carefully IS important. That everything we say, don't say, do and don't do sends a message about what we value. And of course, my intuitive side wins the battle. So here I am again, the beginning of August, sweating the small stuff, trying to reach a decision about my signal for attention. Here is what I am thinking:
What I Won’t Do
Use Signals that Have No Meaning for Students
My first year back in the classroom (2 years ago), I used the school wide signal. It goes like this. The teacher calls out Ah-go! The students respond Ah-Me! In some language, ah-go means "I am ready to talk" and ah-me means I am ready to listen. I am pretty sure that students are not translating the phrases, thinking in their heads, "The teacher just said that she is ready to talk so I am going to now tell her that I am ready to listen."
Use The Same Call and Response Signal All Year
Call and response signals tend to lose their effectiveness in my classroom after awhile. The response starts to become just a rote thing the students say mindlessly while they continue to do what they are doing. Now, I understand that holding my students accountable for stopping to listen is the teacher’s responsibility. I realize that I need to train them to stop and turn to listen to me when they respond and if they don’t, I need to re-teach them. But the truth is, I think the signals just get a little boring as the year goes on, Changing it throughout the year adds some novelty and gives a purpose for modeling and practicing again.
Use The Same Signal for Every Situation
If my class is spread out all over the place, working in teams, or if we are outside doing something, I might use one type of louder signal. But if they are pretty much gathered in one area, working independently during something like writing workshop, I’ll probably use a quieter signal.
Use a Chime or Bell
I need a signal that uses what I have with me on me, like my voice or hands. We are a traveling class, sometimes we are learning outside, sometimes in the media center, sometimes we are on a trip, sometimes around the school, and of course often times in our classroom. Also, if my students use the chime or bell to get their classmate’s attention, I find that they don’t just hit it once, they hit it several times which becomes an annoyance.
Use A Signal that Creates Anxiety
I tried counting down last year from 5, expecting students to be ready to listen by the time I got to 1. Although it usually worked, I realized as I was doing it that my counting down sounded like a threat.
I remember my very first year of teaching, I would turn out the lights. I stopped that after being in a workshop and the presenter used the lights to get our attention. How annoying not to be able to see what I was reading or writing as we waited for everyone to stop what they were doing and turn their attention to the presenter.
I've seen call and responses like Ah-Go, Ah-Me become a shouting match, with the teacher shouting Ah-Go! and students shouting back Ah-Me! but still talking, so the teacher shouts Ah-Go even louder and students shout back even louder Ah-Me! I don’t need unessesary shouting in my class.
What I Will Do
Use a Real-life Signal
What do we usually do when we need someone’s attention. We ask, May I have your attention please?” This is a respectful signal for attention. Sometimes I might say, "I apologize for interrupting you, but I need your attention for a minute please."
Explain What I Will Do When I Say the Signal and Why
Instead of saying, "When I say 'May I have your attention please?' you need to stop and give me your attention", I will say "When I say may I have your attention please? I will not talk until I have everyone’s attention. I will wait and make sure that I have everyone’s attention so that no one misses anything"
Involve my Students in Signal Creation
Last year, around ¾ of the year, I pulled my students together and said, "You know what, I think we need to choose a new signal. The purpose of a signal is to get everyone’s attention and I don’t think this one is working so well anymore. I don’t really like Ah-go, Ah-may, what do you think?" One of my students responded that they did not like it either because it did not make sense! He said, "We should have a signal that makes sense, like ice cream sundae, or chocolate chip!" So we had fun brainstorming ideas and voted on a new signal. There was a tie between fainting goats and banana split and I used those the rest of the year. They were the most effective signals I have ever used. When the students choose it, you know it will be meaningful to them.
Make the Signals a Class-attention-getting Signal, not Just a Teacher-getting-attention Signal
By this I mean that students will understand that this is our method for getting attention before we speak. If a student comes to me and says "May I make an announcement/" I will say, "Yes, ask the class for their attention. or say banana." My expectation will be that all students respect the speaker in the same manner that they respect me.
Use More Than One Signal
I referred to this in What I Won’t Do. I will use a signal that is appropriate for the situation. If my class is deep into their work and I need to tell them something, I probably don’t have to do a call and response. Simply saying, "Excuse me class, could I please have your attention?" would work fine. I will use the call and response signal, first Banana/Split and then the one my class comes up with, during group work and active activities. In very large group situations that involve other classes, I like to use the "If you can hear me, clap 3 times." signal.
Model, Practice, and Provide Feedback
I will still spend time having students practice when new signals are introduced. I will remain calm and reteach, asking them to reflect on how they did and try it again if they did not get it right, I will be sure to model giving attention quickly when other teachers or students ask for it. I will provide feedback by thanking my students for their speed at turning their attention to the speaker or for helping each other get ready to listen.
What signals do you plan to use this year?
Do you use the same signal all year?