Yesterday was the first day of school, and a common phenomenon happened. Students would put away their folders and notebooks when we weren’t quite done using them.
It was frustrating to wait for students to get their tools back out of their desks, so I thought of a way to help them understand why they ought to wait to be told, “We are NOW done. You may put away your ___.” I made up a word picture; a story.
A family’s getting ready to have dinner. The kids are given plates and silverware. They sit down at the table. Mom brings over some rolls and butter. Dad checks on the casserole in the oven.
The kids butter their rolls, eat them, and get up from the table. When they bring their dirty plates and silverware over to the sink to clean them up, Dad asks, “What are you doing? The casserole is just about done.”
“We are cleaning up our plates. We’re finished,” the kids announce.
Incredulous, the dad explains that rolls are not the meal and that they should wait at the table. “It wouldn’t make any sense to clean your plates before eating the delicious casserole!”
“Your notebooks are the plates from this story,” I told my class. Their eyes lit up with understanding.
(I had been telling the same kids to get their folders back out of their desks many times. I could see that the class was sensing my frustration. Rather than repeating what was turning into an ignorable mantra, I invented this word picture.)
“When you place your folders back in your desk, it is like those kids washing up their plates when all they ate was a roll! You should wait until I tell you that we are done with our notebooks, before you close and store them away,” I explained.
How many times are we too busy or rushed to take the time to make motions meaningful? How often do you tell students to do tasks or complete assignments with the expectation that they will just do it because you told them to? In addition to having clearly defined reasons available for your students, I challenge you to invent narratives that not only explain your motives, but deepen students’ understanding.
My quick short story instantly did what lots of complaining couldn’t touch. A couple of times I saw students preparing to close their notebooks before we were finished with a task after I had shared my story. All I had to do was jokingly ask them, “You want desert; Don’t you? You shouldn’t put your plates in the sink until the dinner is decidedly over.” They knew exactly what I was saying, even though I didn’t use the word, “notebook.”
How have you used symbols, nonverbal communication, storytelling, or other tricks of the trade to clearly communicate classroom procedures and pedagogy? Was there an instance that worked particularly well? Please share.