Yesterday was my sister-in-law's birthday--yeah, the one who doesn't like me. We all went to a Chinese food restaurant. It's a good restaurant that I've been going to for my entire life. We had a big party because I have a big family, but somehow I ended up at the very end of the table with my brother, my sister-in-law, and my niece. This was fine except that I was trapped in the zone of baby talk. Don't get me wrong an interesting anecdote about something cute my niece did is great, but I get really bored with an endless list of everyday things she does. This time my brother and his wife started listing everything she likes. You wouldn't think that she could like that many things being under two, but apparently she can. The part of the conversation I was tuned in for went as follows.
"She likes Sesame street."
"What she really likes is Cookie Monster."
"Because she really likes cookies."
"She likes bananas."
"What's weird is she likes tomatoes."
"She likes avocados."
"She really likes Monster's Ink."
"She likes monsters."
This list kept going and going but I wasn't really tuned in past this point.
Somewhere in the middle of the list, which went on for over ten minutes, my eyes glazed over as I stared into the aquarium of fancy goldfish behind them. I started to think about the power of words. I thought about how if you are master of your words and choose them carefully then words inspire attention, but if you spill out careless and meaningless words, it might as well just be dribble.
About a week ago, I realized that my refrain from the use of expletives--except in extreme cases makes them more effective. Two of my teacher friends from BFF Team brought up the fact that they will never forget something I said a couple of weeks ago because I dropped the f-bomb and they had never heard me swear. I hadn't really noticed it because in that context I found the word aptly placed.
In general conversation, I try to use less words and more powerful words. In teaching, it is a lot harder. The volume of words which come out of my mouth during one day of teaching is too much. I remember when I first started, I just felt exhausted at the end of the day because I basically play narrator for my students all day long even if I use no direct instruction during the day.
Then, there's the issue of repetition in daily instruction. I've battled with this issue for a long time. When I was in school, I did not understand why my teachers constantly repeated themselves. The number one reason I would tune out in a classroom is because I was hearing the same thing over and over. As a teacher, I have realized that repetition is necessary for at least 70% of students.
So, how do you repeat yourself, without becoming the adults from Charlie Brown? The best answer I've found is to make your repetition interactive and memorable. In teaching third grade writing, I repeat the idea of a three pronged paragraph every single day. We use a hand model and the kids say with me and count on their hands, "topic, detail, detail, detail, conclusion." In math, one example is rounding. I am always having to repeat the rule of five. So, we say together, "one through four stay on the floor, five through nine climb the vine."
I try to use this with the rules to. I have a difficult class this year. No one wants to hear me and I don't want to hear myself saying, "I need it quiet," "It's too loud," "Focus on work" a billion time a day. We say the rules together. I say, "What is rule number one?" They answer, "Rule number 1, follow directions quickly."
Now, it is harder for me to follow this rule with directions and redirections than it is with instruction, but it is something I am continuing to work on.