Shouting out…

…the bane of every teacher’s life. No amount of warnings, consequences and conversations with parents resolves it.

Last year, I emailed a colleague about a child’s shouting out. I quote: “I know he cannot help shouting out. He is not doing it to intentionally annoy me but it is annoying me now. It has been 4 weeks into this academic year and a life sentence is beginning to appeal to me.” (I joke about life sentences frequently to maintain my insanity!)

It starts off with a few blurts of “I know…” or correct answers to questions that the teacher has asked. It initially seems harmless and easy to ignore for the first 2 instances in the first 20 seconds of the lesson. But after the fifth reminder about raising a hand to answer questions, or even announce that they had fish fingers for dinner last night, it does become tedious and too much to deal with. (Even on the best Mary Poppins days!) It’s annoying, unnecessary and unfair to the children who actually respect the class rule for raising hands to speak. (We love those little darlings.)

When shouting out happens, it slows the pace of the lesson. I’m not really wanting to sound like an Ofsted inspector here, but it’s true. The children lose track of what the teacher is saying. I lose track of what I’m saying so it’s no wonder that the children have absolutely no idea what they are learning about or what they need to do to accomplish their learning when they are at their table. I’ve probably explained the task 20 different times in 20 different ways. I’m certain that I’d be confused about what to do too.

I know children can’t help shouting out. They get excited. They know the answer, or think that they do. They want to tell you something so desperately, that waiting a minute feels like waiting for an eternity. Who’s got time for that? Children don’t shout out intentionally. They don’t realise how annoying it is, they just want to be the first to tell you the answer or for you to be the first to know about what they had for dinner last night. Life in the classroom is a competition for the teacher’s attention, for praise and acceptance from your peers. As adults, we mistake this shouting out as arrogance and selfishness. We fail to realise some of the reasons why a child might shout out. It could be that maybe some of the children we spend our day with may not have had much attention at home last night, or went on a family day trip to a castle where they discovered the answer to the question you’ve just asked. They aren’t trying to show off. They’re just excited to know the answer or tell you their news. The shouting out is an involuntary response to being certain that they know the answer or eagerness to (over)share. It’s probably similar to the involuntary squeals I let out when I enter stationery shops and see a sale on pens and other potentially useful, one day, teachery items!

How do I get the shouting out to stop?

You can give reminders about expectations. Refer to the class rule for raising your hand to speak. Notice how other children are waiting patiently to share an answer and flip it around to praise the children with hands up. I often declare “Ben is sitting with his hand up, so I’m going to ask him to answer the question right now.” But when the child is still shouting out, what do you do?

Honestly, I feel like I’ve tried everything. Not everything has worked as effectively as I had hoped it would. I’ve tried rewarding  a child for putting his hand up instead of shouting out, the reward was hardly ever earned though. We tried using a reminder card with a picture of a child raising their hand to show him whenever he shouted out. I even tried showing it to him whilst I was asking the question but he still shouted the answer out. I tried to give him plenty of chances using a stick of 10 cubes. Each time he shouted out, he lost a cube. However many cubes he had left over at the end of a lesson, was the amount of minutes he could use an iPad for at the end of each lesson. This was effective for a few days until he started losing all ten cubes in quick succession. Once his minutes on the iPad were gone, he’d realise the consequence and be angry at himself for shouting out to lose his minutes. He was also angry at me for following through with the system, which meant that he definitely could not go on the iPad in the lesson.

Eventually, I realised, I just had to ignore it. It’s taken me 6 years of classroom teaching to master it. Ignoring something is difficult to do. I know. It took me a whole term to tune out my current, and most frequent, shouting out offender. I don’t even realise that he does it as often now. Although I’m certain that he still does because cover teachers, who take my class, remark on it. Always. However, once you start to ignore the shouting out and carry on teaching regardless, it becomes less of an issue. The children in my class ignore him too. If he shouts out, we carry on. To help us do this, we use other ways to answer the questions instead…

Lolly pop sticks: I ask a question, I pick a child at random using their names on the lollipop sticks in the mug at the front of the classroom and that child is the child who answers the question. The children seem to love it. They respect the lolly pop sticks more than the rule to raise your hand. So for now, it’s working and until it stops working, I’ll keep using it. It’s also helpful for when you ask questions and the same two or three children keep providing answers. Children seem more likely to listen to the learning because they never know when their name might be pulled out next. It keeps them on their toes.

(The lolly pop sticks are also useful for picking random, mixed ability pairs/groups. Children can’t argue that I’m being unfair because it’s completely random. And if they still think I’m choosing groups deliberately, I let them choose the sticks instead, just to prove that I’m not! 😊)

Multiple choice answers: This is a strategy that was presented to me by assessment guru Dylan Wiliam at some assessment training. He suggests tracking AFL (assessment for learning) in your lesson by asking a question, (show it on the big screen) but give 3/4/5 possible answers to choose from as well. Children can then work out, or think about the answer, and show 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 fingers according to which answer they want to give you. Then all 25-30 children can give you an answer at the same time…without shouting out. It’s so quiet and takes some getting used to in the first few days. It also benefits the shy children who don’t like to share answers because they are unsure about talking in front of others, even their peers. Maybe they think that they know the answer but are only 25-50% sure they have the correct answer. Finally, you might begin to notice the children who have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. Not because they haven’t been listening, or are confused about the learning. Simply because they just don’t get it, yet. (The power of yet!) Those children will be the one who look around them to check other childrens’ answers first, before they show you their answer.

So if you have a class full of children who shout out too much. See if these ideas work for you. They aren’t the only ideas out there. You may find more ideas on educator websites or with your school’s SENco or members of senior leadership team.

Anyway, I feel like I’ve babbled on for too long now. My rant has turned into an anecdotal reflection and overshare of my classroom practise on those blue moon, Mary Poppins, days when I manage to keep all 28 children inside the classroom without anybody being excluded. *sigh*

Until next time…

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