One of the challenges of open plan classrooms is the capacity for noise to become an issue. The two main causes of this are alternating activities and varying standards of classroom noise.
Here are 3 tricks I use to make sure my students are working well, and quietly, despite the noise that may be around them.
The Quiet Critters are by far my most popular method of noise control. They are a pom pom, an eyeball and some little foam feet. The Quiet Critters get very lonely but have very sensitive hearing, so while they love sitting on a student’s desk a teacher must take them away if that particular student is hurting their Quiet Critter’s poor ears.
During times when I’m not in a position to patrol the classroom, such as when testing or taking reading groups, I distribute the quiet critters to roughly 2/3 of the class. After, I instruct the students that if they hear someone talking they may take their quiet critter away (things like asking for help and sneezing do not count). In this case they may have 2 quiet critters.
Draw-back: the students may have a negative reaction when their quiet critter is taken from them, so make sure they know they can earn it back.
I introduce this to students as a way to help them learn, particularly when there are activities that are going on which require discussion. A student raises their hand when they feel the chatter is too loud, and continue working. The rest then join in, until the room is quiet.
Draw-back: my children require some motivation to pay attention to this, so if they are able to quiet down within 30 seconds of someone raising their hand, they will receive reinforcement. I also tell them this doesn’t count if they raise their hand and stop working, as some will sit there with their hand up, or make it their job to notify other students, rather than completing their learning tasks.
This strategy requires groups and a reward of some sort. I place the students in groups, one student from each group is a noise monitor while they work. On the board I draw the groups and give them all the same amount of points, or if they are sitting in their groups I place counters in containers on their tables.
Each noise monitor may remove one point or counter from a group if they feel they are too noisy, but must be able to justify this to the teacher if asked. Asking others for help and helping others do not count. The teacher may attribute counters or points to groups who are working particularly well. The winning group receives some special treatment, such as an ‘early’ eating time, or they do not have to tidy up.
Draw-back: there are individuals who are naturally louder than others, or who find it difficult to manage themselves. Their position in particular groups can become a point of contention. While an awareness of their impact on others is a good learning experience for them, be careful not to create a situation where they may be blamed for the result of their group.
These three strategies have served me well, and the children have received comments from teachers who pass through as they work quietly, sometimes silently, amongst the bustle of an open plan learning environment.