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I like the Page Pen idea. It will cut down on some of the direction-giving I have to do and should eliminate students from asking me to repeat the page number I had just said. But what if there are a number of books we're using during the lesson? How will they know which book I mean if I only write a page number?

This kind of question is exactly the kind of question that must be addressed as new ideas are worked into your program. It's almost impossible to anticipate, with complete certainty, how an idea is going to work in the classroom. In order for the idea to become completely effective, you--and your students--will need to debug it.

By living with the idea and problem-solving your way through new situations as they arise--and the multiple book scenario is not something I had envisioned when I first created the Page Pen--you and your students will be able to make adjustments and modifications to the original idea so that it maintains its effectiveness.

And so, with that thought in mind, I asked the group what they thought might be a solution to the "Which book do you mean?" quandary. We then heard two workable suggestions.

You could write a letter or two in front of the page number to indicate which book to use. WB 17 would mean 'Turn to page 17 in your workbook.' T 126 would mean 'Page 126 in the text book.'

Oh, yeah. That makes sense. The only change I would make to this plan would be to make the text book the default book so that instead of having to write 'T 126,' I could just write 126. The lack of a letter code would tell my students that I meant their text books.

You could put pictures of the different books on the whiteboard and just write the page number next to the picture of the book you want them to use.


And just think how great it would have been had this been an actual classroom and the students had been provided the opportunity to create the solution to the multiple-book problem. That would have been a truly sweet thing.

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I like the idea of not echoing, or repeating, what my students are saying. I think that will cut down on a lot of the talking I've been doing. However, I like to be able to rephrase what my students are saying in order to clarify their thoughts for the other students. Is this a bad thing?

No, not really.

But why does the teacher have to be the one to do the rephrasing? Couldn't the students do it themselves?

Asking a student to rephrase or restate something another student had just said will not only help to highlight misunderstandings but will also act as an ongoing assessment of how well students are actually listening to each other.

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I've been using the sign for 'off-topic' with great success. Showing the sign to a student is so much better than me getting bugged about the off-topic comment and then verbally dressing down the student who made it.

The other day, at the end of a lesson, one of my students raised his hand. When I looked his way, I saw that his hand was forming the 'off-topic' sign. Should I have called on him? What do you think about allowing students to share a comment they know is not related to the lesson?

I think I like the idea. That's assuming, of course, the lesson is over and you're about to transition into some other activity.

Allowing students to share a not-related-to-the-lesson thought is just another way to redirect their energy. And knowing ahead of time that the comment about to be shared is not germane will help to keep the negative emotions in check.

Win-Win, baby.

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Is it okay to be a "pirate" every now and then?

During the course of a discipline seminar, I always share how I used to be a pirate in the classroom. That is, I used to raise my voice to show my students that I was either serious about some matter or unhappy with overall student behavior. The reason I resorted to this time-honored teacher tradition was that, at the time, I didn't have any type of structure or organization in place in the room. My only discipline tool was a raised voice and a boatload of negative emotion.

Anyway, midway through Friday's presentation, a teacher asked, "Is it okay to be a pirate every now and then in order to show your students that they should not try to push you around?"

Well, the short answer is, "No." The long answer is a bit more involved because there are several issues to be addressed.

The first issue has to do with safety, one of the five basic student needs. Pirates aren't safe and, as a result, students will eventually withdraw--both mentally and emotionally--from a classroom in which a pirate is sailing about discharging broadsides at unpredictable intervals. Unfortunately, a withdrawn student is a student who is not engaged in the lessons and interactions being conducted.

Of equal concern is what effect the pirate has on the oh-so-important matter of teacher/student relationships. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that the actions of a pirate can sink a relationship more readily than the North Sea storms that devastated the Spanish Armada. (I'll dial down the nautical metaphors in a moment. Be patient.) According to a study done by Peart & Campbell, the quality of relationships in a classroom contributes 78% of total student achievement. That's too important to be handled in anything other than a professional and respectful manner.

A final thought has to do with the slippery slope known as "every now and then." I can almost guarantee that if a teacher grants himself license to be Blackbeard on occasion to prove a point, it won't be long before every-now-and-then becomes once-a-week and soon morphs into once-or-twice-a-day.

The shortened cycle is driven, in part, by the fact that the students learn to ignore the calm, soft-spoken teacher. They're waiting to see some saber rattling before they become compliant. And who can blame them? The one lesson the pirate can clearly teach is that a raised voice and an angry demeanor are the key indicators of how serious he is about something. Equally learned, though, is the fact that a normal voice can be dismissed as meaningless babble. The predictable result? It's going to take a raised voice to elicit any kind of student response.

So, avoid the temptation to be a pirate. It's a no-win situation that will only get worse the more you do it. And besides, shouldn't there be someone in the classroom who can exhibit more self-control than the students sometimes exhibit?

Suggestion: For an excellent text on how to navigate the sometimes stormy seas of teaching, read Robert MacKenzie's "Setting Limits in the Classroom." You can find the revised edition on for $9.00. The original version is available for a buck. That's cheaper than a cup of coffee and way more satisfying.

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One of my students has a very soft voice. Almost every time she speaks, someone calls out, 'Echo!' It then takes 5 or 6 repeated cries of 'Echo!' before everyone finally understands what she had said originally.

What should I do?

This is a frequently asked question which means, among other things, it's something that occurs in lots of classrooms. The reason I'm making this point is that teachers sometimes feel as if they are the only ones suffering from some problem. We're each in our own little boxes without the ability to communicate with others in our profession. And when we run into difficult situations, we have a tendency to feel somewhat responsible for the behavior itself.

So, when you're experiencing difficulty, please rest assured that you're most likely not alone. There are brothers and sisters in the struggle who currently find themselves in your same situation. It's just that you're not aware they're out there.

Anyway, I'd like to offer some advice.

The "Echo" technique is worth your effort. Don't give up. Don't quit. Stay the course and win the day. Before you know it, the soft speaker has slowly become a more understandable speaker.

The "Echo" technique is one that requires time and practice in order to work properly. It requires a lot of patience on your part and experience on their part. (When they said, "Rome wasn't built in a day," they weren't kidding. Nothing is ever built in a day. Maybe a house of cards, but how long is it going to stand? The bottom line: effective teaching takes time.) So count on a month or so of using "Echo" before everyone has it figured out. But by month two, they'll have it down and the "Echo" procedure will really fly.

Make an effort to support students who hear "Echo" a lot when they speak. They need you to defend them until such time as they can speak in a loud, clear voice. Allowing students to dog pile on a soft speaker will only make the child withdraw and resist. So, go to bat for that child. Express your opinion that your classroom is built on respect and that no child will be treated with anything less than complete and sincere respect. When students know you're in their corner, and they'll know whenever this is the case, you'll see more of them making the effort to improve. It's a form of pay-back for the protection you've afforded them.



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