Often we challenge students to follow directions. There are even times when I ask another to repeat the directions in their own words to ensure everyone was listening to me bark orders.
However, today was different.
My class was tilting towards the chaotic side after a PBIS awards lunch, and I needed to get them back on track. Instead of speaking over them, I went into silent mode and taught with non-verbal cues. I stood in the middle of the room and waited for their attention. As a couple realized I was waiting, some “shushed” and everyone was starring at me.
Using hand gestures, everyone was locked on me. I pointed to our textbook and pretended to open an imaginary book and kept showing the numbers 5 and 7 with my hands. Curious and a bit confused, students turned to page 57.
I continually passed out an organizer and began mimicking one of the students writing his name on the paper and quickly others followed. Pointing at the directions and tapping fiercely on the table at them, individuals began reading the directions.
I started to give my first example by looking back into the text for evidence and drawing my answer in the appropriate spot of the organizer. As my scholars began playing an informal game of charades, I gave a thumbs up as their verbal response equalled my expected answer. After doing this twice, I realized they understood the directions.
As they went to work in groups, my routines — which are based around many non-verbal cues — began to display themselves. At times I pointed at a “Volume Level” poster focusing on group work which means moderate volume in my room to keep them on task, but my scholars acknowledged the appropriate volume level and continued on accordingly.
As we moved onto a short formative assessment, students volunteered to share their responses and I shook my head frantically; I handed them a marker to draw out their response.
Finally, “now you might have wondered why I have been silent for the past 60 minutes,” I shared. Many asked whether I was feeling well or lost my voice (ah, the sweet innocence of sixth graders), but it wasn’t to merely get their attention.
I wanted to challenge their speaking and listening skills. Were my scholars capable of following a task without traditional directions? Were their eyes and senses strong enough to prevail in a difficult task?
At first, it was a great challenge. However, it quickly became a quest for them which they wanted to conquer. Yes, it was an unorthodox approach, but that day each of my students sharpened a different skill set by using a keen sense of observation.