Sounds like my school…

(See below for a full explanation behind this). We’re training teachers to work in some of the toughest schools in Chicago (the nation?),  so its helpful to have a shared vocabulary. And part of that shared vocabulary comes from this guy:



We roll out strategies throughout the year, and mentor teachers model them for their residents. Full disclosure: This was HARD for me. I have excellent classroom management, but a lot of it is fully my personality, and you can’t reproduce that.

Mentor: Then get them quiet.

Resident: But how?

Mentor: Stare at them.

Resident: I do stare. Nothing happens.

Mentor: Funny, works for me.

Not helpful. But its tough to retrain yourself to be more transparent, even if it does help me grow professionally–discomfort is not fun! Some of these can be cheesy or overdone, and I definitely don’t think teachers should be robots, but being able to say “strong voice” and have both parties know what that means and looks like is really helpful.

My favorite of these strategies, and one that makes my school distinct from other schools I’ve taught at is narration.

Narration is exactly what it sounds like: narrating what’s going on. It’s always positive, and can be either behavioral or academic in focus. It’s immediate, and does wonders to help guide class in the right direction.

Here’s an example:

Pass across your papers, one per pair, and work with your partner at a voice level one. You have three minutes. Go.

[slightly softer] the first row is all ready to work, I hear Samantha discussing problem one with Jose, Evelyn is writing while Samuel tells her what to do, the left side is at a voice level one.

It’s even better when students might be confused about what to do–instead of repeating the directions over and over, students can catch on to what should be happening by the narration.

Elizabeth has her notebook out, Amy is writing down the first problem. Alan is checking his work on number one.

Sometimes my students don’t do what I want them to do because they aren’t sure what that is. So confusion looks like noncompliance. But its such a little thing, they don’t want to ask, and sometimes you get yelled at for not knowing what you should be doing, so I’ll just sit here and hopefully I’ll figure it out… Students hearing the narration above get everything they’re supposed to do. I should get out my notebook and write down the first problem, and then I should check my work.

It works like magic on volume too. Ten minutes into your Around the Room and its getting a little loud? “Eli is working silenty. Esme and Diana are at voice level one”. And like magic, the volume just drops. No one got yelled at. No one did anything wrong. Just a quick reminder about what RIGHT looks like (never wrong) and we get back on track.

Try it out–if you feel awkward doing it in class, narrate your spouse or kids or roommate. Dave is clearing his plate and putting it in the dishwasher…Think of it as I spy. Narrate all of the good you see, and see how many students try to match it!

Have you ever narrated before? Are you going to try it?

Full Backstory:

My school is part of Chicago Public Schools, but also part of a network of schools within that. (That is not code for charter. We are not a charter school, the key difference is in our governance structure–we follow all CPS requirements AND all of our network requirements.)

Our mission is twofold, both training teachers and turning around failing schools. This is a teaching blog, not politics, so my whole point here is that I teach in one of our training academies and am in fact one of the trainers. Trainers–mentor teachers–are assigned resident teachers for the year. Typically each mentor teacher is assigned two residents, but this year I have only one (this is lovely, but I feel bad for her. I am a lot to take alone.) Our residents are selected by June, spend the summer in training and remain with us Monday-Thursday (Friday they have grad classes) for the school year.


4 responses to “Sounds like my school…

  1. Thanks for this – I used to narrate regulary and I’m glad you reminded me about it. I used to think of it as a behaviour management strategy, but I see from your post that it can also help students’ mathematical development. Also, this sounds like an interesting book!

    • Mary

      I’m required to model it because I’m training someone, and narrating the academics came about because there was no behavior to narrate in my honors classes. And I find narrating the academics to honestly be even more helpful!

  2. My wife used narration in her elementary classroom and found it very useful. I’m glad you are doing what you do. It’s so important to provide specific and intensive training to people who are going into such an important job. Thank you.

  3. Interesting bit. I think I’ll try that tomorrow. I like how you acknowledge that classroom management has a lot to do with your personality – because my personality is definitely different from the people at the district office.

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