I work in a secondary school as a teacher of Learning to Learn (L2L). In L2L, I often interrupt the lesson to get students to stop ‘what’ they are doing and to reflect on the ‘how’ of learning. Until recently, I have used the time-honoured ‘5-4-3-2-1’ countdown method. However I have begun to suspect that using my voice to do this repetitive task is perhaps not ideal, either for the children or for my vocal cords!
There are many websites that list ways of getting students’ attention (for example, see here). These include the use of a timer, clapping, call and response, use of lights, use of music, counting down, giving warnings, always standing in the same spot, and so on. A primary colleague told me recently she has a hollow wooden frog in her classroom, and that when she wants the children’s attention she simply ‘strokes the frog’ a few times with a wooden stick, and the children fall silent. I wanted to explore whether a similar method could be imported into a busy secondary classroom.
I was not able to locate any research on how best to get students’ attention. However there is research to suggest that student voice can be beneficial in improving some aspects of behaviour management – especially classroom routines (e.g. Lewis & Burman, 2008). So I decided to introduce a new method for getting the students’ attention that I thought might work well, and then ask the students for their thoughts.
Having reviewed a number of different methods, I decided to combine two approaches to gaining students’ attention: to use wind chimes, and to stand in the same place every time I ask for their attention. First, I acquired some wind chimes. I chose fairly large metallic ones, so that they could be easily heard in a busy classroom. When struck, it takes about 15 seconds for them to stop making any noise. This struck me as a more reasonable period in which stopping talking, rather than the usual ‘5-4-3-2-1’ countdown. Next, at the front of the classroom I marked out a 1 metre square, using duct tape. Finally, I informed the students that from now on, whenever I need their attention, I will hit the wind chimes and stand in the square. By the time the wind chimes have come to rest, I will expect them to be facing me in silence, with empty hands, awaiting my instruction.
What do year 7, 8 and 9 L2L students think about the use of wind chimes/standing in the same place as a method for getting their attention?
I decided to interview 3 students from 3 different L2L classes (years 7, 8 and 9), to ask their opinions about the use of wind chimes as a method for getting their attention.
To do this, I prepared a short interview, with a mixture of short and long answer questions (see attached). To save time, I interviewed the students together in a group, and types their responses as they spoke. The interview took around 15 minutes, and was conducted during a lunchtime.
Results and discussion:
My own experience of using my previous system (counting down from 5 to 1) was that it was unsatisfactory (especially the use of my voice against those of 30 students), and left significant room for improvement.
The students’ interview responses are attached. The key findings can be summarised as follows:
- Students felt that the wind chimes are a “nice idea”, but that it was not working very well yet. A consistent finding was that they are not loud enough – they couldn’t be heard above the level of classroom discussions.
- To improve the use of wind chimes, students suggested:
- Hitting them a bit harder so they’re louder
- Using them in combination with a timer
- Giving a warning first – say a 2 minute warning.
I was quite surprised by the findings of this small inquiry. I had felt that the wind chimes were working better than when I had used my voice. However none of the students interviewed found the wind chimes as effective as I thought they would.
Perhaps because it was “my” new idea, I had over-estimated the impact of wind chimes as a method for getting students’ attention. In terms of next steps, I don’t want to abandon wind chimes just yet – they are after all saving my voice! Instead, I will combine the wind chimes with other methods – using the wind chimes as 2 minute warning, and initiating a board timer.
This small research inquiry only took a few minutes to administer. However I found it very insightful – students were very clear and consistent in reporting that wind chimes are not as effective as I had anticipated. They also gave me several practical suggestions for ways in which I could improve my strategy for getting their attention. It has helped me realise things about my practice that I would not have otherwise realised.
If I did this inquiry again, I would consult students before implementing a new strategy for classroom management. It is easy to forget that even a year 7 student will have been taught by many teachers, and thus have a much broader experience of classroom management techniques than I do! Also, I noticed that several of the students’ responses were similar – I think this may be due to the fact that they were interviewed in a group. In future, I will interview students separately to endure that responses are their own.
I will seek to improve my use of wind chimes by using them as a 2 minute warning in combination with a board timer. I will also take care to hit them harder in future, to ensure that they can be heard! Related to this, next I would like to explore the use of ‘reflection tools’ as a method for helping students think about the ‘how’ of learning’. [See reflection tools inquiry, also published on Praxis].