A Lighter Atmosphere and Tighter Ship

Just want to respond to a couple emails asking me about the train whistle I mentioned last post (Disorganization-Proofing Your Classroom). First, to give credit where credit is due, I got the idea from Jerry Cummins at an awesome math workshop he facilitated about 15 years ago.

As for the practicality of it, we all need non-verbal ways of getting students’ attention, some of which are not only non-verbal but silent (e.g., the “teacher look”). Yet sometimes, like when kids are collaborating in groups, you need something less subtle. You can flip the light switch a few times—a good option unless you’re on the other side of the room or there’s so much natural light that kids won’t notice blinking overhead lights. You could go with a standard whistle, but then you’re also likely to get other classes’ attention (and your colleagues’ wrath)—besides, don’t you prefer the image of a classroom conductor over a referee? I did, so I went with a train whistle. One toot meant eyes and ears on me, and two meant re-orient your desks from groups to facing forward. And students—even high school kids—were faithfully responsive to it.

Is there entertainment value in a teacher wearing a tool belt (again, see Disorganization-Proofing Your Classroom) or blowing a train whistle? Absolutely—for a day or two, kids will let out a hoot with every toot. But I’m not about gimmicks for gimmicks’ sake. On the other hand, any time you can create a lighter atmosphere and run a tighter ship, go for it. That’s what a tool belt and train whistle did for me, and they can do it for you too.

One more thing: I recommend my train whistle over the ones you usually see at toy stores. I ordered it from Wooden House Toy Store in Los Gatos, CA, and it cost around $10 back in ’95. And if they’re not still around or no longer carry it, here’s the name on it: Graysons (no apostrophe) Train Whistle 5 Chime.

All aboard…


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