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Teachers & Teaching        < Previous        Next >



Teachers Who Get Kids to Listen


Q. How do great teachers get kids to listen?


We know how bad teachers try to get attention: yelling, screaming, threatening, even blowing shrill whistles. Ewwww! But there are better ways.


Educational consultants Harry and Rosemary Wong, authors of the popular book, The First Days of School, applaud the methods of Barbara De Santis, a New Jersey teacher whom they call one of the most effective teachers in the country. Among other things, she can get the attention of her students in less than five seconds.


She just tells the class: "GIVE ME FIVE."


The she counts aloud, and the students have a "word picture" for each number that relates to the five fingers:


1 - look at the teacher


2 - be quiet


3 - sit still


4 - keep your hands free


5 - turn only your head


Then the students are all set to listen.


The Wongs wrote of this successful, organized teacher: "Barbara has taught for five years and came into teaching from private industry on a career change through the New Jersey alternative certification program.


"One of the traits of career changers is that they come from the private sector which is procedure and results-oriented. For the most part, they are intelligent, confident, mature, professional people who have come from a background that values results. Thus, producing student achievement is part of their culture of generating results. Student achievement is their forte!"


This teacher has developed a script for the first day of school, meeting her pupils in the hallway and guiding them to their seats in the classroom, arranged in alphabetical order. There's already an assignment on the board, called a "Do Now." Classical music is playing.


The first words out of her mouth to the pupils is that she has high expectations that they will have a wonderful year together. Order and cleanliness within her classroom are paramount. Self-reliance is key. There's a PowerPoint presentation on her classroom procedures, and daily homework reviews to keep each student on task. Everything is built around strong academic skills and what she calls "conscientious citizenship."


An example of the self-control and quiet she builds in to her classroom: manners are stressed, and everybody uses sign language - no yelling and screaming here. And it's a tremendous way to get kids to pay attention and look at whoever's speaking. For instance, the sign for "please" is made by placing the flat right hand over the center of the chest and moving the hand in a clockwise motion. The sign for "thank you" is made by touching the lips with the front of the fingers of the right hand.  The hand should be an "open-b." Move the hand away from your face, palms upward. Smile. (To see these and other signed words, go to


A big student favorite is her interactive, three-step procedure called "Get it; Got it; Good!" She'll ask a student if he or she understands the idea; if so, the student will reply "Got it!" and the class all replies "Good!", in "indoor voices." Her method is thought to make students of all ability levels respect each other and celebrate each other's successes.


Homework: For more about great teaching, and an excellent archive of stories about teaching, see:


By Susan Darst Williams Teachers 04 2008


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