Saturday, February 19, 2011

That Annoying Voice

That voice….you know the one…. Over-calm and too slow. It probably drove you crazy when you heard it at a certain point in your life. If I were to just say “the voice” in relation to education, I bet most of you would know what I am talking about. We were warned about “the voice” in teacher preparation. I have read articles by self-advocates who are not too fond of “the voice”. I typically was unimpressed early in my training whenever I heard someone using “the therapy voice”.

It was with great shame that I recently caught myself using “the voice”. I cried myself to sleep that night. Well okay, I wasn’t nearly that bothered by it. But I was a little bothered by it. Why was I unknowingly using the voice? I began to pay attention and analyze my own behavior. I noticed 3 things were true when it occurred.

1) It occurred when I taught a large group lesson, but not during 1:1 or small group lessons
2) It occurred when some of my students were getting rowdy during the lesson.
3) It occurred when I was personally feeling un-calm.

My large groups tend to be with very young students (ages 5-7). They get rowdy very easily. They are very reactive as a group to my actions and energy level. By talking in a deliberate calm voice maybe I was trying to keep the group’s energy directed. Also, it can be frustrating to try to keep the attention of 10 young persons. Everyone is responding and on task but Susie. I work to gain Susie’s attention, but then Rob and James decide to have a friendly pinching contest. Maybe I am also trying to keep myself calm and on par as I gently redirect Bob and James to find seats that are not next to each other.

There is also the fact that some of my students take longer than average to process directions. By slowing things down and sometimes pausing, I increase the chances of my students successfully following my directions.

“I need everyone to STAND UP……PUSH IN your chair….and line up at the door.”

Combine an overly calm tone with a speech rate that has been slowed down and I think you may end up with something like “the voice”. It is very true that my behavior was shaped by my students. I was reinforced by the gratifying sight of on-task, cooperating students based on how I used my voice. And while older children would have rolled their eyes at me or told me they didn’t like how I was speaking. Younger children are not older children. The avidity with which the Kindergarten set will watch (gag me with a spoon) Blue’s Clues is proof of this.

Now, even though the reason I used the voice had nothing to do with condescension , there are other good reasons not to use it. Such as the fact that it tends to annoy anyone older than 8. So, I began to look for other ways to help lead my big groups using my voice. I make use of some of the following strategies:

1) Whisper instruction very softly
2) Translate spoken drill and practice into a song
3) Deliberately speak or sing very, very fast
3) Deliberately speak or sing very, very slow

None of these are foolproof or always effective. And while they can be used to maintain student’s attention pro-actively, they are not sustainable beyond a few sentences worth of information. You will have to be judicious in their usage. I truly hope someone finds these experiences helpful.


Blogger sharon Morris said...

Yes I know the voice you speak of. I have always found it interesting to watch and listen to how people amend their speech, tone etc when addressing certain community populations. For example how nurses often talk down to patients, or even worse how staff in nursing home environments speak in a condescending manner towards the residents. Referring to the elderly as 'dear'. Another common one is those in 'spiritual' communities who think if they talk in a hushed deep tone they will sound wise. Gets me every time.
Ive got such a potty mouth I shouldnt judge, but I take your point about bringing awareness to your own voice. When I do this I am often surprised by how loud I can be.

12:38 AM  

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