Friday, July 12, 2013

Whisper Shouting

*from a chapter on overhearing student conversations*

I was in the back of the room when I heard it. A whisper-shout. You’ve all heard the whisper-shout. Children don’t understand how sound travels, but they do know that whispering makes your voice quieter. How quiet they aren’t sure. This is why a child will crawl into your ear canal to tell you a secret and you still won’t be able to hear it because they refuse to vibrate the necessary vocal cords too much in case anyone else is in there with them. Conversely, if the person you are trying to whisper at is more than thirteen inches away you must whisper-shout at them, putting as much breath behind your whisper as possible. That way they hear you, but the teacher in the back of the room does not. How could he? You’re whispering.
Whisper-shouting is not uncommon in classrooms, and being able to hear them is not a special skill, though I let my students think that it is. “It’s a superpower,” I tell them, “which I learned in Teacher School. I can hear anything.” They don’t buy it at first, until I make them believe. Thou Shalt Catch Behaviors Early. I am extremely focused on catching little things early in the year, that way the class becomes convinced they will get caught if they try to get away with things. It’s the same way elephant trainers get full-grown elephants to stay by tying them to a stick in the ground. When the elephant is a baby it is unable to pull the stick free, so as an adult it doesn’t even try. Catch students pulling at the stick early in the year, by second quarter they’ve stopped trying so hard.

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