Everyday Routines. Classroom dialogue and behaviour management, hand-in-hand.

I’ve often felt that it is helpful to link behaviour management techniques to learning routines so that the behaviour routines have an explicit purpose and, at the same time, the learning routines have a structure and some rigour to them. If you can get everyone listening whenever you want and involve everyone in productive purposeful talk whenever you want, you’ve got some basic foundations for great lessons pretty much nailed.

To use the language of the WalkThrus techniques, this means switching from everyone listening via Signal, Pause, Insist to everyone talking via Think Pair Share, in a context where Cold Calling and Check for Understanding are well-understood norms.

WalkThrus cluster for this set of techniques

Signal, Pause, Insist

It took me a long time to realise how powerful this could be – the simplicity of a well-understood, rehearsed signal for attention. Mine is to raise a hand and say ‘3..2…1.. and Listening’. It builds in a visual cue – the raised hand, a count-down for take-up time and then a reinforcement of what I want which is for everyone to have stopped talking and to be listening.

The signal needs to be taught and rehearsed explicitly. It can be a school-wide thing or one of your own. Save your voice, use a signal.

The pause is key. You need to give take-up time; it’s a simple fact of human communication; you can’t just switch-off an intense discussion like a robot. Also the pause is time to scan and regain eye contact.

Insist is ideally non-verbal: You just wait, making eye contact. You mean everyone and you will not proceed until everyone is listening. It might also involve a reinforcement. James…, Buchra… you should be looking and listening now, thanks -insisting everyone is with you but also managing expectations so that, next time, James and Buchra don’t require that extra prompt.

Now, with everyone listening, you’re ready to engage in question and answer sessions or give explanations. If you can to do this any time you want, you are more likely to switch between the ‘holding attention’ mode and other activities including Think, Pair, Share.

Think, Pair, Share.

I’ve written about this extensively in various places including this original post.: The ‘Washing Hands’ of Learning: Think Pair Share

The value of pair-share or ‘talk partners’ is the way that it complements the controlled questioning of cold calling, allowing all students to articulate their thinking – not just the few you sample. It’s a safe little rehearsal bubble where all students can express their thoughts and practise explaining things.

Timeframe: This is important – if we know how long we’ve got, we can regulate the time to use it effectively.

Goal: This matters a lot. If we’re asked for ‘three factors in rank order’ or to ‘explain the idea as if to a younger student’ – or whatever, it helps to focus our discussion. It makes it productive.

Cold Call: The norms of cold calling need to be present. While I am talking to my partner, I know that I might be asked to share our discussion – it keeps me focused; it makes me do the thinking. Also, if the teacher chooses who talks, it stops me relying on my friend . Tom, you and Sofia where having a good discussion – what were your three key conclusions? Even if Sofia normally does all the talking in our pair.. at least I have to listen so that I can respond for our pair; I have to check my understanding of what she’s saying.

Circulating: One great benefit of Pair-Share is that if helps tee up the cold calling in a confidence-building way. You use the time to spot students answers – if the are jotting things down – or hearing what they are saying. This can be a great springboard for less confident students: Rebecca, you were making an excellent point – could you explain it to the class. Rebecca already knows you think her point was excellent – so she is more confident in sharing it if called on to contribute. You can also listen out for errors and misconceptions in the paired talk and use those to re-teach parts of the material as needed.

Implicit in this is that you are routinely checking for understanding. You’re hearing what students are saying as they express their ideas. There’s a rhythm to it, each reinforcing the other. If students know you often use Think, Pair, Share, they understand that they will often have time to talk through their ideas. Without this, extended teacher exposition interspersed only with teacher questioning can be stifling; students can be silent all lesson – never getting the chance to articulate their thoughts. That makes it harder to sustain their focus. If you have a good rhythm, moving from everyone talking to everyone listening – via Signal, Pause, Insist – at intervals, you have a nice blend of controlled questions and productive student talk, linked to your expositions and explanations.

Sometimes teachers are nervous about releasing the control of ‘everyone listening’ but my firm advice is to make it an explicit goal to be able to switch between talking and listening modes with some fluency. This flexes your behaviour management skills – the calm routine use of Signal, Pause, Insist – and gets maximum value from your questioning, with paired talk and cold calling working in tandem. Each part reinforces the others and, in practice, it’s hard to isolate them.


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