In a previous post, we checked out Tom Sallee’s “Two Lies of Teaching,” reproduced here in a slightly reworded version:
- If I say it, they’ve learned it.
- If I don’t say it, they can’t learn it.
I also referenced Columbia’s research on student listening. Bottom line: the more you speak, the less people hear, and the less they learn.
Too Many Announcements
Many of our words are wasted not on teaching, but on announcements, directions, and updates.
Imagine yourself waiting at an airport. Think of the constant stream of “important announcements” broadcast over the speakers. There are so many, that you simply stop hearing them.
In the classroom, your voice becomes background noise when used too much.
You have a limited number of words to use each day before your voice’s effectiveness diminishes. Like a traveler rationing food, this forces you to consider: is it worth it to use my limited resource on this?
Of course this doesn’t mean you can’t communicate! Just don’t talk so much. Alternatives (many of which come from the wonderful Rick Morris‘s work) include:
- Don’t yell for attention. Instead: clap your hands, raise your hands, or play a sound. Then wait for the room to quiet down. It might take a few rounds before everyone gets settled. That’s fine. Just wait.
- Display a big timer instead of constantly announcing how many minutes are left.
- Write your announcement in big words on the board, and point to it, but don’t read it out loud.
- Have students make announcements.
- When possible, create routines that students know so well that no directions are required.
The less you talk, the more potent each word becomes.
Rather than over-explaining, bounce the responsibility back to the group. Reduce their dependence on you by saying things like:
- “Can anyone answer that question?”
- “What do you guys think?”
- “Does anyone disagree with that?”
- “Can someone explain that in a different way?”
- “What do you think will be the hardest part?”
In addition to conserving your words, this also reduces the perception that you’re the only source of information and directions.
The Nuclear Option
Sometimes you have to get information out orally. In this case, you must repeat it, and repeat it in as many contexts as possible. Based on the Columbia report, you’ll need to repeat it like ten times.
My students’ most difficult homework was to remember to bring their recorders on Wednesday for our music program. Since it wasn’t really work, they’d forget to write it down. The music program was lame if they didn’t have their recorder.
Here’s how I fixed their forgetting:
- Announce it multiple times and change pitch, volume, and rate of speech.
- Ask students to repeat it: “Greg, what are we bringing tomorrow? Tim, what are we bringing tomorrow? Karla, what are we bringing tomorrow?” (Don’t get mad when someone doesn’t know!)
- Encourage interaction: “Tell your friend what they’re bringing tomorrow.”
- Make it silly: “Now tell a friend using a British accent. Now tell a different friend using sign language. Tell a friend, but say it backwards.”
- Draw it: “Everyone draw your recorder in your planner and make it smiling because it’s glad to be at school.”
Sound ridiculous? It worked. And kids loved it. Plus, it really only took a minute or so. If it’s important enough for kids to remember, it’s important enough to be announced well. You must devote appropriate time for important announcements. Don’t blurt out assignments as kids are packing up and then be surprised that they forgot.
It’s easy to become accustomed to talking all day long. Be mindful of your class’ attention. It’s a limited resource, and you should spend it wisely.