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Friday, May 7, 2010

Using one voice in the preschool classroom

The thing about working with preschoolers is you are always having to either talk over lots of little voices or find creative ways to capture their attention. Lots of little voices all going at once is to be expected but lots of teacher voices all going at once should not be part of the plan.


Too many teacher voices

If there are two or more teachers in the classroom and each are talking equally loud to get the attention of the entire class - the result is often more chaotic then helpful. The children need to know who to focus on and for a few moments - there should be only one voice.

Not so helpful

I have observed many classrooms where one teacher is in the front speaking to the children and the other teacher will call out across the room telling the children to listen. Each time one teacher raises the volume of his or her voice to help the other teacher it creates a conflict as to who the children should look at and listen to at that specific moment.

Who is in charge?

The lead teacher would normally be the main voice in the classroom. While the lead teacher is gaining the attention of students, all other teachers should use softer voices or even body language to support the lead teacher's efforts. If a student continues to be disruptive - the most helpful thing the assistant teacher can do at that moment is to discretely walk over and quietly address that child individually by reminding or encouraging the child to listen to what the lead teacher has to say.

Ultimately, every teacher should have a voice in the classroom but the goal is to use each voice effectively so that the children are not confused by who is in charge at a given moment. When one teacher is in the lead - then let that voice be the dominant voice.

One Voice

The next time you are in the classroom and you see another teacher ask for the children's attention, read a story, sing a song, or call for clean-up time; consider being the supportive voice that works behind the scenes helping to discretely guide children towards the main voice at that moment.

Remember...more than one dominating teacher voice along with lots of little voices does not lead to effective classroom management and communication.

Ideally, every teacher in the classroom needs to work together to create ONE focal point and ONE voice.


Launa Hall said...

I love this insight, Deborah! I have witnessed the same thing in classrooms, and isn't ideal. I'm reminded of the concept of "arm's reach discipline." Only the child within a short arm's reach should be able to hear your gentle redirection. If more that that can hear you, you're either too loud, or too far away, or both.

Leahn said...


Wow it's so true! I work as a language assistant in a primary school in Spain and we have found that children need to focus on one teacher. We have a system where one adult talks and the other supports in the background. We literally pass the 'baton' between us like in a relay race when it's time for the other to take over. It works really well.

In another school I work in we don't do this and like you say its chaos!

Just found your blog and will keep reading thanks.


Alissa said...

We were having the exact same discussion in our pre-school just this past week. What you were saying is so true. It is especially important for boys (or girls) who have behaviour problems. They need to see one person as the dominant adult in their setting, so that a healthy respect for thier authority can develop. Especially if you are a female teacher and the child comes from a household where females are not always respected the way most of 'us' grew up.

Deborah (Teach Preschool) said...

Launa- I love the term "arm's reach discipline"! I am going to borrow that!

Leahn and Alissa,
I really appreciate your comments on this issue!

Teacher Tom said...

I think is is a real probably for a lot of cooperative teachers, who have a half dozen or more "assistant teachers" in the room at any given time.

Frankly, I've found having a male voice really helps cut through the "clutter" of adult voices in the room, plus I tend to have a rather loud voice anyway.

That said, I try very hard to make sure my assistants understand that when I'm speaking (like at circle time) they are to handle unruliness, etc. nonverbally, usually by taking the child onto a lap until they can calm down.

This is an important topic I don't see discussed very often. Thanks.

karen nemeth said...

Yes yes yes! This is such an important point. This is the kind of situation I'm thinking of when school districts ask me if it's a good idea to just make the class size bigger and bigger and keep adding more and more adults. Before long, it becomes a big buzzing mess. More grownups just makes more background noise! Even more to the point - the children who are challenged to learn the speech sounds of English may suffer serious setbacks in a classroom with too many voices! I hope your explanation will help many people reflect on their practices and work towards one voice in the classroom!

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