A signal to begin is an easy-to-master technique that teachers use to get the attention of students in preparation for a new activity or when the teacher wishes to provide instructions to the whole group. The purpose of the signal is to get the full attention of every student so that instructions and explanations can be communicated with maximum understanding. The signal can even be used to attract the attention of students when they are in danger or if they are being unsafe. The teacher will use the same signal to begin multiple times each day with the intention of training students to respond automatically. It takes no time at all for students to learn to respond in an instant. Students must be taught what the signal means and what they are required to do when they see or hear it.
Signals to begin are typically employed when students are all busily working on their own projects or tasks. It ‘signals’ that the teacher wants to ‘begin’ a new activity or amended the instructions of a current activity. As their attention is not on the teacher and the class may be noisily chatting away, a clear signal is needed to get their full attention. If you have worked with large numbers of children before, you will know that getting the attention of 100% of the group is no easy feat. A signal to begin helps with this problem as it trains students in what to do (so they do it automatically) and turns this otherwise difficult task into a game. It also means the teacher can get ‘all eyes on me’ and dead silence in a few seconds as opposed to 60-90 seconds.
Hint: A special signal to begin such as a clapping routine looks very impressive when the principal pops his head into the room or if there are visiting VIPs such as parents or other dignitaries.
Here are 8 types of signals that teachers commonly use:
Different students will respond to different signals and there are no issues with experimenting with one or more types. Regardless of which type of signal chosen, it is important to explicitly train students what the signal looks like and what they are required to do. Good practice also involves explaining to students why the signal is so important (safety, transition, timing, efficiency etc.). To initially teach a signal, the teacher spends 2-3 minutes demonstrating it, explaining what to do and its importance, and finally practising its use a few times – this should be framed as a fun activity and include plenty of positive prompting. Having the whole class practise a few times is essential – an explanation alone is not enough. Once this has been mastered, students will eagerly await your signal, particularly if they see the routine as a challenge or a game. The teacher might choose to initially offer a reward of some kind such as points for the first few students who notice and respond.
Regardless of which type of signal chosen, it is important to explicitly train students what the signal looks like and what they are required to do.
As you have read so far, the signal to begin is not sufficient in itself – the teacher’s demeanour, positioning, voice and tone needs to be very ‘teacher-like’. This means being authoritative without being authoritarian; exuding an air of confidence and control – there is no yelling or threats of detention – students need to be eager to comply and impress the teacher. At all times, the teacher remains calm, in control and strategic in all of their actions (including when to use the signal, how to manage non-compliance with minimal necessary force and which behaviours to ignore).
Hint: The signal to begin is not only useful for whole-of-class activities – it can be used for small groups and even when working one-on-one. You might get into a routine of saying ‘okay where are we up to?’ when moving from desk to desk – this is a signal to begin.
Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and a #1 best selling author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of ITAC, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.
Source: Behaviour Management Skills and Strategies for the Modern Classroom: 100+ research-based strategies for both novice and experienced practitioners.
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