It’s most noticeable when giving directions. And it’s so, so frustrating.
You can actually see it happening right in front of you.
As soon as your students think they understand what you’re asking of them, they mentally check out.
They stop listening.
They turn to their tablemates. They fumble with materials. They begin moving toward whatever they’ve concluded you want them to do.
All while you still have critical details to give.
In response, it’s common for teachers to increase the volume of their voice in an effort to cut through the fog.
“You’re going to be writing three paragraphs today, not two! That’s three paragraphs. Also, be sure and include a connection to yesterday’s reading. Oh, and remember, it’s independent work time, so there is no talking!”
But by then it’s too late. The majority of students have already moved on. Before long, confusion and uncertainty fill the room. Hands go up. The work suffers.
So, what’s the solution?
Well, many teachers will stop talking as soon as they notice attention beginning to shift. They’ll pause and wait. They’ll sigh and tap their fingers.
They may even throw in a lecture about how important it is to listen to all the information first before getting down to work.
And while this approach is certainly better than soldiering through it, it’s reactionary. It interrupts the flow of the lesson. It brings a negative vibe to the classroom and wastes learning time.
A better way to handle it is to utter three simple words before giving directions.
It’s a phrase that keeps students from moving on until they hear everything you have to say. It notifies them—clearly and unmistakably—that more information is coming.
The phrase is: “In a moment.” As in, “In a moment, we’re going to begin writing a response to the day’s reading.” Or, “In a moment, we’re going to line up for lunch.”
At first glance, In a moment doesn’t seem like it could make much of a difference. But when combined with four more words, which we’ll cover next week, it’s remarkably effective.
It keeps students from moving on mentally or physically until you’ve finished giving every last direction. It removes the urge to be first or fastest.
It avoids disruptions to your teaching and ensures smooth routines and focused independent work.
The most effective teachers use the phrase up to a dozen times a day. It becomes a message, and a mantra, that reminds every student to listen instead of guess and to know for themselves instead of relying on others.
The beauty of the strategy is that it gets stronger with time, as students come to understand it more profoundly. Eventually, active listening will become Pavlovian in response.
Three simple words, with four more coming next week.
“In a moment . . .”
Try them, and you’ll see the difference.
PS – The Happy Teacher Habits: 11 Habits of the Happiest, Most Effective Teachers on Earth finally has a release date. (Yes!) The book will be available on Tuesday, May 3rd.
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