Quieting a Class the Montessori Way

September 08, 2017

We have all been there. All of a sudden, the noise level in the classroom gets so loud, you wonder how anyone can possibly concentrate. Normally, it just takes a quick walk over to the ‘noisy table’ and a quiet word to help the students settle back down. Now, however, it seems like the whole class is noisy. What can you do?

My favorite way to quiet and bring calm back to a disruptive environment is to not do anything at all. I don’t mean I ignore the situation; I meant that I allow my own calm presence to set the tone. I started doing this as a public high school teacher over 20 years ago. I had a particularly boisterous twelfth-grade literature class right after lunch that really had trouble coming in and settling down. Instead of getting mad or angry, I would calmly pick up my book, sit down at my desk, and start reading. After a few minutes, the students would realize that I wasn’t trying to get their attention, and they would all start to quiet down. It worked like a charm! It kept me calm, and the students learned to self-regulate their behavior.

This same technique may be applied in the Montessori environment.

Find a chair in a conspicuous space and sit quietly. Don’t frown or smile: Just sit. If a child comes to you with a question, smile and signal to him that you aren’t answering questions right then. Continue to sit, without talking. Soon enough, the children will sense that something is amiss, and they will regulate the noise level without your intervention. When it does quiet down, you may quietly say, “Thank you.” And leave it at that. No need to lecture or say anything else. Stand up for your chair, and carry on about your day.
If you need a quicker, but just as respectful, method to restore calm, try flicking the lights once.

Avoid flicking them multiple times as this can be distracting and may cause more disruption.

I’ve also used a small handheld chime to get the children’s attention. I ring it softly, one time. The chime doesn’t have to be loud or rung multiple times. It simply acts as a subtle reminder to use inside voices. I had a friend who used a Tibetan singing bowl as a chime. It had a lovely sound and was esthetically pleasing to the eye as well. Another colleague used a rainstick, turned over just one time, to gently remind students to calm their bodies and their voices.

Because the goal is to bring calm and quiet to the environment, avoid using a method that adds to the noise level. Loud cow bells or whistles are not helpful for calming a classroom. Neither is ringing a bell multiple times.

Another method that is popular in conventional settings is the “call and response” technique. Call and response can range from things like clapping a pattern and having students clap it in response, to simple chants. While this technique is meant to get the children’s attention, it can be disruptive. Imagine you are deeply engrossed and focused on your work, oblivious to the noise around you. All of a sudden, you hear the signal to stop what you are doing and clap a pattern. Now you’ve lost your train of thought and must work at getting your attention back on your project.

When choosing a strategy to calm the environment, we have to think about everyone in the class. We have to find a method that is courteous and that does not reinforce the behavior we wish to diminish.

Do you have an effective method of your own for calming the classroom? If so, we would love to learn about it. Please feel free to share in the comments below.

Michelle Irinyi — NAMC Tutor & Graduate

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