An expression that has been popping up in many of the blogs by new TFA corps members is “behavior narration.” This is, evidently, the big new ‘thing’ that the new TFAers are leaning as a classroom management tool.
Back in 1991 when I was a CM, myself, the first edition of the book ‘Assertive Discipline’ was the guide that our classroom management training was based on. Back then the big thing was writing students names on the board for the first consequence and putting a check by the name for the second consequence. This technique was such a disaster, for a lot of reasons I won’t go into right now, but let’s just say that in later editions of ‘Assertive Discipline,’ Lee Canter denounced that technique that he once considered so vital.
So after a little research I found that Lee Canter is still out there and wrote the small guidebook for TFA in which this ‘behavior narration’ technique is suggested. Here is an excerpt from that guidebook:
When you finish giving directions to the students, you immediately monitor the class looking for students who are complying, and then in a voice that is loud enough for all the class to hear, simply “narrate” or“describe” what you see them doing. With elementary level students you can single out students by name.
When I say GO, I want everyone to go directly back to their seats, take out their books and immediately get to work, and I want you to do this without talking. I’ll be looking for students who are following my directions.Ready, GO! Lisa is going directly back to her seat without talking. Kyla has taken out her book and is already getting to work. Juan has gone back to his seat, taken out his book and is working without talking.” (Behavioral Narration)
Since middle-secondary level students often do not want to be singled out by their teachers for “being good,” with older students you would want to narrate “groups” of students who are following your directions.
When I say GO I want everyone to go directly back to their regular seats, take out their books and immediately get to work and I want you to do this without talking. Ready, GO!” I see students walking back to their seats without talking. Students at table three already have their books out. Students at table five are working without talking. (Behavioral Narration)
I found a video of a TFA corps member demonstrating this technique in a video here
. The class is very small and very well behaved and you have to skip to the last minute to see how she uses it to help the students organize the work they just completed.
Certainly every good teacher does point out, from time to time, that he or she likes the way this student or that is doing something. The main problem is that it violates another rule of teaching which is to reserve your words for the essentials — if you blab too much, students will start tuning you out and all this narration is a form of blabbing.
I’ve never taught elementary school, and I can see how this technique, when used in moderation can be something that helps. But from what I’m reading on people’s blogs, this is being hailed as the thing to do for all grade levels, including middle and high school.
If you think back to the middle school and high school teachers that you had growing up, you surely never remember any of them using this technique. Why? Because it is useless for that age group. This is one of those things that will work when the teacher already has control for other reasons and will not work for a teacher who has already lost control for other reasons.
I have written a book about classroom management and another one that has two chapters about it (and if you go through the early blog posts of mine, I do give some advice about it including some videos of workshops I’ve done on it) and I never mention this technique. In all my years teaching I’ve never overused this method, though of course I compliment a group, a row, or a person from time to time, so I’m not saying to never do this, but just not to think of it as a real ‘technique’ that does very much. Certainly it won’t ever ‘tame’ a class that has gotten out of control, any more than Lee Canter’s old ‘name on the board, check by the name’ method did.
In some of the blogs by new CMs, they have been singing the praises of ‘behavior narration,’ but they don’t give the full context of who they are teaching. If you have a class of under ten students, then, yes, doing this is likely not to hurt. But for a ‘real’ class, if you’re depending on this as something that is much more than ornamental, you’re going to be in a lot of trouble in the fall.
Classroom management is 40% attitude and 60% having a lesson that isn’t too confusing or boring. Behavior charts with different ‘levels’ for each kid, lists of consequences on the wall, behavior narration, and other gimmicks accomplish little except to give the new corps member with abnormally tiny classes a false sense of confidence.