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Jerry Webster

Teach Like a Champion – Technique 38 Part One

By February 13, 2011

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This is one of the most important techniques, in my opinion, in Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov.  Check out the videos that Alex Salinsky from Uncommon Schools added with his comment.    This week our technique is:

Technique 38: Strong Voice

You've seen those teachers (you may be one yourself,) you know the ones, who when they walk into a room everyone sits up straight and is ready to start.  It's not just an aura you're born with, it's a set of skills acquired over time.  Lemov can't tell you how you become that teacher, but he does lay out 5 principals of strong voice, a technique that establishes your authority as the teacher in a classroom:

  • Economy of Language
  • Do Not Talk Over
  • Do Not Engage
  • Square Up/ Stand Still
  • Quiet Power.

How do these play out?:

Economy of Language: Fewer words are stronger than more. Speaking briefly and to the point when giving directions.  It shows you are prepared, and doesn't expect students to figure out what you want.

Do Not Talk Over: If what you are saying is important and worth attention, then students have a right and responsibility to hear it.  You have a clear cue for attention and then wait until you have everyone's (remember 100 Percent) attention.  By never competing for attention, you make it clear to students that you are in charge and what you are saying is important.

Do Not Engage: Students quickly learn to get you off task once they find they can engage you.   You say:  "Jonathon, please take your foot off Shaquanna's seat." Jonathon says "But she called me nappy headed!"  If you say, "Shaquanna, is that true?" you've given Jonathon what he wants.  He's shifted your attention from his behavior to Shaquanna's and also off the academic task of the moment.  He's won, because you've changed the subject, he's created drama and a teacher inquisition, and taken the class's attention off of what you are teaching.  No, strong voice repeats  "John, just take you foot down.  Thank you (when he complies.)"   Check out Christy Heulskamp's deft handling of an inappropriate comment.

Square Up/Stand Still. Your physical presence speaks a thousand words.  Body language is important, often more important than what you say.  Be sure both shoulders are directed at the person to whom you are speaking.  Be sure eye contact is direct.  Stand straight or lean in close.  If the student is several feet away, move closer, into his or her space is best.  Stop moving when you are giving important directions.

Quiet Power: When teachers are nervous or worried that their students won't follow directions, they tend to speak faster and more loudly.  Kids pick that up.  They get the message that they are in control.  When you feel anxious, you need to lower your voice.  When I taught second grade and things were getting off the hook, I turned off the lights, and lowered my voice.  They hated it.  "Why did you yell at us?" they would say later.  I of course would laugh and say "I never yell.  But you knew I was serious, didn't you?"

Strong voice is so important that I will be continuing next week with part two, to help you, readers, to get fully understand.


February 14, 2011 at 10:23 am
(1) Alex Salinsky says:

Jerry, I’ve been following your series on Teach Like a Champion with interest.

Wanted to let you know that we have a couple of Strong Voice videos hidden in the depths of our Facebook page:

Ms. Heulskamp avoids the death spiral with a Do Not Engage and some Economy of Language

A little more subtle, Ms. Bronson does a self-interrupt and a quick Stand Still/Square Up to respond to a disruptor.

There is another Strong Voice clip not on the Facebook page. This one has a voice-over from Doug Lemov explaining Catching It Early.

Hope that helps!

Uncommon Schools

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