In Whole Brain Teaching, the Classroom Rules are not just posters that hang on your wall. These rules are meant to be woven throughout all instruction to increase students engagement, decrease problem behaviors, and add boosts of FUNTRICITY all day long!
Rehearse the classroom rules, with gestures, several times a day. The more entertaining you make review, the more your students will delight in following the rules.
Rule 1: Follow directions quickly.
The secret to lightening fast, classroom transitions.
Twenty years ago in Yucaipa, California, when we were designing the fundamentals of Whole Brain Teaching, we had no problem agreeing that Rule 1, for classroom management, should be “Follow directions quickly!” Slow transitions from reading to writing to math to lining up, at every grade, not only wasted time but also were breeding grounds for disruptive activity.
Ponder these truths. Our students open their books slowly because we never take time to teach them to open their books quickly. Kids, of every age, take forever to get out a piece of paper because we have never taught them to do this rapidly. Children, day after day, week after week, line up in wacky fashion because the only time we teach them how to line up is when they are actually lining up... which is precisely when we have no time to teach anything!
Here is a simple, two step procedure, classroom tested by thousands of teachers, for helping your kids to follow directions quickly.
Do not go to Step Two below until your kids instantly respond, merrily respond!, to your Rule 1 cue. The more entertaining you make this rehearsal, the more engaged your students will be in following the rule. One of our mottos at WBT is students learn the most when they have the most fun learning.
Using the Three-Peat, if you say, “pencils ready!,” your kids exclaim, “Pencils ready! Pencils ready! Pencils ready!” and wiggle their pencils in celebration, until you signal it is time for silence. Listen to me my dear colleague! Don’t try to teach lining up right before the bell rings. You don’t have time. Rehearse lining up five times a day, when you are not fighting the clock. You say, “Lines!” Your kids exclaim, “Lines! Lines, Lines!” and line up according to the pattern you have established. You say “Seats!” and they exclaim, “Seats! Seats! Seats!,” celebrating when they are sitting down. For extra motivation, time these activities with a stopwatch. Then, as you gasp in delight, watch as your kids race to set new transition records.
The more you rehearse any procedure, and the more entertaining you make the rehearsal, the quicker your students will perform a classroom transition.
Rule 2: Raise your hand for permission to speak.
In the middle of your Civil War lesson, a chatty kid blurts out, “What time is lunch?!” You blurt back, “How many times do I have to tell you to raise your hand to speak! Raise your hand! Raise your hand!” You match your student’s emotional blurting, with your own.
Welcome to Teaching Purgatory. Too often, we treat students like we don’t want to be treated. Chained together for a year, we mirror their outbursts with our own. We try to put out a kid’s little flame, with our big fire.
Why do children (and teachers) blurt? In scientific terms, there are more connections from the brain’s limbic system to the pre-frontal cortex than vice versa. Translation: emotions control reason more easily than reason controls emotions. Another scientific point: our brain’s mirror neurons condition us to imitate behavior we observe. You blurt me. I blurt you. And so on. Scolding doesn’t change behavior. If chastising a child transformed them into a model student, Coach B would write best sellers, “Scold Like a Pro!,” “The Five Secrets of Power Chastisement,” “If They’re Not Crying, They Didn’t Get It: Confessions of a Former Sweetie Pie.”
If scolding doesn’t change behavior, what does? Practice. You have your choice between two tennis coaches. One coach scolds you for your bad technique. The other coach helps you practice good strokes. Which one will improve your game? Don’t know what to do with an unruly student or class? Practice good behavior.
Here’s Whole Brain Teaching’s two-step procedure, classroom tested across the U.S., for transforming Blurters into Hand Raisers.
Then continue, “Class, let’s do that again. But this time when Renaldo interrupts me, I’ll say Rule 2 and you exclaim, making the hand motion, ‘Raise your hand for permission to speak!” You talk. Renaldo starts to blurt. Immediately call for Rule 2. Your kids respond in a flash, “Raise your hand for permission to speak!” Their limbic systems delight in shutting down a classmate’s limbic system.
We call this approach Wrong Way-Right Way. Practice the Wrong Way. Then, practice the Right Way. Over and over. You’re building reason’s strength to rein in frisky, student emotions.
Rule 3: Raise your hand for permission to leave your seat.
Use the same approach for Rule 3 as you did for Rule 2. Rehearse the rule, “Raise your hand for permission to leave your seat” with the hand gesture; students raise their hands, then walk their fingers through the air. Then, use Wrong Way-Right Way.
Reynaldo, on your cue, leaves his seat without permission. Great job of breaking the rule. Reynaldo leaves his seat again, you call out Rule 3, and the kids exclaim, “Raise your hand for permission to leave your seat!”
If you practice the wrong way and then right way, five times a day, pretty soon you’ll see more right way behavior. No student ever wants to feel like they are doing something wrong... that’s why they deny they’re engaged in incorrect behavior.
“Maggie, stop doing that!”
“I wasn’t doing anything!”
This is the wonder. With the procedures described on this page, you take a classroom disruption, blurting or wandering, and transform it into a classroom unifier. Whenever a rule is broken, a rule is strengthened.
That’s the way it is, my friends, in Teaching Heaven.
Rule 4: Make smart choices.
The Ancient Secret for Wise Decisions
Let’s think about the first three Whole Brain Teaching classroom rules. Each will help solve one teaching problem. Implementing Rule 1, “Follow directions quickly,” will speed classroom transitions. Implementing Rule 2, “Raise your hand for permission to speak,” will produce orderly discussions. Implementing Rule 3, “Raise your hand for permission to leave you seat” will keep your classroom from turning into kiddie bumper cars.
Rule 4 “Make smart choices” is a much larger, grander principle.
Making smart choices is perhaps the fundamental rule for all human behavior, in or out of the classroom. As Coach B can testify after teaching philosophy for four decades, philosophers from Socrates in 5th century B.C. Athens to Jean Paul Sartre in 20th century Paris disagreed about almost everything, except one guiding idea: Humans should use their reason carefully... they should make smart choices.
Socrates believed smart choices involved self-knowledge; Plato argued that the smartest choice was to study mathematics in order to contemplate eternal truths; Sartre held that the smartest choice was living authentically, never blaming others for your life situation. Despite their disagreements, philosophers have believed the good life was found through exercising our reason in wise decision making.
WBT educators have discovered that Rule 4 is wonderfully powerful. The rule covers every area of a student’s life at school, at home, out with friends, on the Internet, engaged in a sport or hobby, Everything. From childhood to adulthood, we need to make smart choices. Rule 4 is especially powerful in covering all varieties of disruptive student behavior, in or out of class.
Happily enough, implementing the Smart Choices rule is easy.
Rule 5: Keep our dear learning community happy!
Need a rule that stops back talking students in their tracks? Discover a golden signpost on the road to Teaching Heaven.
When we began to develop Whole Brain Teaching’s rules, our goal was to cover every classroom problem.
We wanted a couple of principles that were as specific as possible and one or two others that covered every variety of disruptive behavior. Thus, we have three rules that target individual classroom problems. As described above, we use Rule 1: “Follow directions quickly” to address slow transitions.
Rule 2: “Raise your hand for permission to speak,” targets kids who are spontaneously chatty.
Rule 3: “Raise your hand for permission to leave your seat,” keeps students seated during instruction.Unfortunately, these three rules don’t cover every classroom misbehavior.
Rule 4 “Make smart choices” is marvelously general, addressing every decision a child can make. Rule 4 can be applied to any issue not covered by the first three rules.
So, why do we need Rule 5, “Keep our dear learning community happy?” Rule 5 addresses your most challenging students... the ones who will quarrel with you about Rules 1-4!
Pupils who dawdle along, can claim they are following directions quickly.
Chatty kids can claim they weren’t speaking to anyone.
Your most challenging students can even deny they are out of their seat... when they are standing in the middle of the classroom! “I’m not out of my seat. I’m just getting my pencil sharpened.”
Of course, your most resistant spirits can argue that all their choices are smart, no matter how obviously foolish.
So, what’s a beleaguered instructor to do? You need one rule that can’t be disputed. We’ve never discovered a child who could convince their instructor that their disruptive behavior kept their teacher and classmates, their entire learning community, happy! Rule 5 is the argument stopper, the backtalk squelcher.
If a parent or administrator is troubled by the rule, explain, “I know Rule 5, ‘Keep our dear learning community happy’ sounds a bit vague, but it initiates critical thinking. I want my kids to discuss what is, and isn't, a happy community of learners. Before long, they see that the only happiness in a learning community, in class and across the campus, is when no one engages in behavior that keeps others from learning."
Here’s a two-step procedure to implement Rule 5.
As an explanation of the rule, say something like the following to your class, “It doesn’t take toys, or anything you can buy, to keep my students and I happy. In school, we only want one thing, one thing in the whole wide world, and that’s for everyone to learn, grow, get smarter. Your growth as students, and my growth as a teacher, will fill all our hearts with happiness.”
Pick a lively student, Sarah, and say, “I’m going to pretend like I’m teaching and then I’ll say to you, ‘Sarah please pay attention.’ I want you to respond, with real attitude, ‘I am paying attention!’” Model for Sarah, several times, how she should reply. This will be wonderfully shocking to your class... a student gets to backtalk you! And so, the little skit is played. When Sarah talks back, you exclaim, “Great job Sarah! That was a wonderful example of breaking Rule 5! When anyone talks like that, it makes us all feel bad, even upset! Class, give her a Ten Finger Woo!!” Your kids extend their wiggling fingers toward Sarah and exclaim, “Woo!” (More fun than applause.)
Then say, “This time when Sarah back talks, I’ll say ‘Rule 5’. I want you to respond using our gesture and quickly say, ‘Keep our dear learning community happy!’” Follow this routine once or twice until the class instantly implements the Rule 5 response.
For several days, and whenever necessary thereafter, practice a routine like the one just described. We’ve found that the key to stopping challenging behavior is to practice the class response, before disruption occurs.
The only problem we’ve discovered with implementing Rule 5 is that students employ it too eagerly! Your dear kids will start calling out “Rule 5!” whenever they hear the slightest backtalk. When this occurs say, with a broad, honest grin, “I appreciate how quickly you are using Rule 5... but believe me, I will let you know when I think it’s necessary.” Oh happy day... your kids have your back at the faintest whisper of ornery behavior!!! Rule 5 empowers all your kids, everyone takes mutual responsibility for creating a happy community of learners.
Diamond Rule: Keep your eyes on the target.
The Diamond Rule is a recent addition to Whole Brain Teaching’s instructional jewels. Chris Rekstad, co-founder of WBT, told Coach B he had a truly remarkable collection of challenging kids. Foolish Coach, he didn’t believe him, and went to see for himself. Oh goodness! Even when Coach had his teaching engine fired up to its highest power, he kept thinking, “half these kids aren’t even looking at me!” Then, he thought how often, especially in the afternoon at conferences, a large handful of instructors found other objects of attention besides their dear teacher.
Instruction begins, and is maintained, by visual fouce. Your kids won’t learn much, if they aren’t looking where they should be … at the speaker, their books, the board.
The gesture for the Diamond Rule, “Keep your eyes on the target” is pointing two fingers at your eyes, then pointing two fingers toward your audience. Explain the variety of targets in the room and how instructional targets shift from one activity to another. When anyone answers a question, the target is the speaker. When quiet reading is underway, the only target is you book … and so forth. You can introduce the Diamond Rule in the first minute of the first day or save it until later in the term. Like a miser, you’ll delight in the beauty of this pedagogical jewel.
Next, as always, start Wrong Way/Right Way practice. “Show me how students two grades higher, very grown up, would behave when someone is teaching.” Happily enough, students love to imitate mature behavior. The last thing kids want is to be kids. You talk and suddenly your third graders are staring at you with their version of fifth grade intensity.