Looking after your voice?

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When I started teaching, I thought all you needed to be a good teacher is good presentation skills and a loud commanding voice. Obviously, I believed I had both, and I assumed that was enough as the most effective teachers I came across had both. A teacher’s voice is among his/her most important assets. I learned that the hard way.

I used to constantly raise my voice at the beginning of my teaching career. I raised my voice to get the students’ attention. I raised my voice to tell a student off. I raised my voice to ask them to be quiet. I raised my voice to explain and teach concepts. I went by just raising my voice for a good couple of years. After a full day of raising my voice, I’d feel really tired and exhausted, and the last thing I could do is socialize with friends, as that too requires that I use my voice. It didn’t take long before I started to feel pain while speaking, and I developed very serious voice problems.

I couldn’t be more grateful for these voice problems, as they drove me to seriously revise my classroom management procedures and my classroom engagement techniques. I jumped online and browsed many websites about preserving your teacher voice. I believe they have not just helped my voice heal and become stronger, but they also made me a better teacher.

I will share a few of the tips and tricks I learned:

1- Breathe, breathe, breathe…: sounds like common sense, but in actual fact it isn’t. We tend to breathe shallower shorter breaths when we get anxious, and a noisy classroom can definitely make a teacher more anxious. Practice deep breathing and maybe some meditation techniques when you are free. Pretty soon, these techniques will become internalized and you’ll use them unconsciously. Deep breathing before reacting to a situation will also help you calm down and think clearly.
2- Warm-up your voice: there are plenty of vocal warm-ups that actors and singers use before putting on a show. Your voice is like a muscle, the more warmed up it is before a workout (i.e. teaching), the better it will perform and the lower the chances of straining. Here is an example of a website with good vocal warm-ups.
3- Silence…: sometimes when classes got noisy, I used to try to raise my voice over the students’. But I discovered a simple technique through reading and professional learning: SILENCE! When the students are noisy and not attentive, just stand there silently and use body language that expresses disapproval (I tend to cross my arms). It requires a lot of patience, but I noticed most high-school students catch on and realize that you need them to be quiet so you can resume. Also, try to keep your voice level as low as possible, so that the students have to actually pay attention to be able to hear you.
4- Use a variety of non-verbal signals: there are many examples of these online and in many books written about classroom management. Bring a small bell into class maybe, and ring it three times and wait, then two times and wait, until finally the class is quiet. Some teachers raise their hands up in the air, and everyone is expected to follow until they are all quiet. Some teachers put their hands on top of their heads, then touch their ears, noses and so on until all students start copying and return their attention to the teacher. There is also the infamous ‘noise-o-meter‘ to teach students to self-regulate the noise-level. These are just a few examples I came across. Of course, you will need to teach the students those procedures so they understand what is expected of them.
5- Use short and simple vocal cues to signal class: of course, there is the infamous “Stop… Look… Listen…”. Teachers often use this cue/signal with appropriate gestures, such as pointing at your eyes when saying “look” etc… Another one that I use often, especially when students are working in groups and get very loud, and I need to gather their attention back to me (I found this one in ‘The Effective Teacher’s Guide‘) Raise your hand and count off each finger saying, calmly but assertively:

  1. Stop what you are doing
  2. Mouth is quiet
  3. Look at your teacher
  4. Hands are still
  5. Listen for directions

These signals have the advantage of telling students how to behave or what is expected of them, as opposed to telling them not to do something.
6- Using the whiteboard: I often use the whiteboard to show recognition of positive behavior, or as a gentle reminder of what is expected. If I assign a certain task in class, I write two columns on the board: ‘students who appear to be on-task’ and ‘students who appear to be off-task’. Obviously, students want to get their name up on the former column, rather than the latter. Students who end up on the latter column know that this is their warning, and that consequences will follow if the behavior is not self-corrected. Obviously, this strategy needs to be updated regularly, as some students might end up on the ‘on-task’ list and then slack off. Positive rewards can also be put in place for students who are on-task for the whole lesson, though I do not necessarily like material incentives and prefer rewards like free-time or a choice of a game to play at the start of the next lesson.
7- Get students to teach: whenever I can, I try to ask students to research certain topics or concepts and then teach them to the rest of the class. Additionally, when some students are struggling with a certain concept, while some students have fully grasped it, make use of peer-tutoring and get them to teach the struggling ones.
8- Eat and drink the right stuff: I conducted a short informal survey at the school I work in, and most teachers barely drank any water during the school day! Water is very important for looking after your voice. Additionally, these teachers mostly had coffee or tea to keep them awake during the day. Caffeinated beverages dehydrate the body, coupled with insufficient water intake, and teaching all day, that’s a recipe for a strained voice. My reading has also made me realize that excessive intake of dairy products produces a lot of mucus and contributes to voice problems.

Of course, all of these tips and tricks are ones I learned from my reading, research and personal experience. I hope you find them useful! Please feel free to leave comments, as well as more tips and suggestions!

Additional reading:
Keeping Your Voice Healthy
Voice Care
How to look after your voice

Ongoing student reflection?

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When I started teaching Drama under the MYP Arts curriculum area, I had a few problems understanding what the IB-MYP meant when they wrote that reflection has to be ‘on-going’ in any MYP Arts course (refer to these excerpts from the IB-MYP Arts Guide to get what I mean). I felt very pressured to constantly come up with reflection questions for students. It took me a very long time to actually create a reflection structure and framework that satisfies the MYP requirements, is easy to explain to the students and is efficient to administer. Through careful reading, research and collaboration with MYP teachers in other schools, I came to understand that in the MYP Arts, Criterion C (Reflection and Evaluation) has three main strands:
1- the ability to reflect on progress, challenges and easies
2- the ability to evaluate own artwork (strengths and weaknesses)
3- the ability to receive feedback constructively

At first, I created a set of reflection questions that I would use with the students at the end of every lesson to prompt their reflection. But I wasn’t yet satisfied, as that required either writing up questions on the whiteboard and getting the students to copy them and answer, which is time-consuming; or printing worksheets with reflection questions, which is a waste of paper. Finally, I came across this wonderful website/blog by an IB Theatre/Drama teacher: The Black Box. I asked if I could borrow a reflection help-sheet that this teacher created, and I tweaked it so that it would better suit my class. This help-sheet includes sentence starters in four different categories: ‘strengths/easy/good/fun’, ‘weaknesses/hard/problems’, ‘improve’ and ‘feedback’. These four categories cover all the strands under Criterion C (Reflection and Evaluation). At the end of the lesson, I would allow the students some time to write their ‘four-sentence reflection’ on a piece of loose-leaf paper that they would keep in their portfolio. Here is a link to the reflection help-sheet and here is a photo of it:

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Once the students practice writing their four-sentence reflection a few times, I then assess Criterion C (Reflection & Evaluation) using a task-sheet. This task sheet requires them to watch a video recording of their performance, write their four-sentence reflection, conduct a self-assessment of their work through a checklist, and then write up a performance evaluation:

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The students are then also asked to self-assess themselves on their ability to reflect and evaluate using this modified rubric (they give themselves a mark out of 8 in the Student’s Self-Assessment column):

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I also make use of reflection to help me assess other criterion, by allowing students to evaluate and self-assess themselves. For example, in this task below, the students create an improvised performance, watch a video recording of themselves performing, self-assess their skills and techniques using a checklist, and then give themselves a mark out of 10 for Criterion B (Application):

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Student self-assessments and self-evaluations are a form of reflection, and I make use of them when gathering data to assess Criterion D (Personal Engagment). Here is a modified version of a group-work self-evaluation I found on this website: TeacherVision. I use this self-evaluation to assess ‘ability to work actively and supportively with peers’ which is one of the strands under Criterion D (Personal Engagement):

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Another attitude I am often interested in assessing is ‘Audience Etiquette’ or ‘Audience Skills’. To gather data about this attitude, I also make use of the following self-evaluation:

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These are all examples of how I use written reflections in my drama classroom. We also carry out a great deal of oral reflection and evaluation in the class. For example, after every drama game or warm-up, we reflect orally and debrief on what was the benefit of this game/warm-up and what skills do we practice by playing it. Additionally, after every performance, some students are selected to step into the ‘director’s shoes’ and give positive feedback or useful suggestions. Lastly, performers themselves are asked to deliver a short oral explanation of their performance and how they worked in the group, what they found challenging and what was easy.

I believe I have finally fulfilled the MYP requirement of having ongoing reflection. The students are constantly reflecting orally, in addition to carrying out at least one form of written reflection every lesson: four-sentence reflections, or self-assessment checklists, or performance self-evaluations, or self-assessments of attitudes, in addition to allowing them the opportunity to self-assess each of the MYP Arts Criteria of Assessment.

The Whiteboard: a marvelous tool!

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I believe one of my strengths as a teacher is how I organize my whiteboard. There is always a section that lists the lesson’s learning objectives and the lesson’s learning activities. I also post all the theoretical content I am presenting for the lesson, and remind students of what will be assessed for the lesson.

Every week I have a different focus for formative assessment, which could be a specific criterion from the subject (this lesson’s was Criterion C – Reflection & Evaluation), but it could also be a specific behavior or attitude such as ability to work with peers, audience etiquette, neatness of developmental workbook/portfolio etc… If the students are performing a challenging task, I also post the step-by-step instructions to successfully complete the task.

I believe organizing the whiteboard plays a huge role in classroom management as it gives students an idea of what to expect. It also saves the teacher the pain of having to answer the question ‘what are we doing today?’ for every student that walks in! The date and title of the lesson also play a huge role in helping students organize their journal reflections.
Here are some visual examples of my whiteboard:

If you have any feedback or suggestions for improvement, please feel free to leave me a comment!
Wishing you all a wonderful weekend 🙂

Why I decided to start this blog?

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Personally, I have been blogging for over a year now. I have set up personal blogs to share my experiences with my friends back home since I have moved to the other side of the world. I have set up blogs as part of my Masters degree where I reviewed a few iPad apps and Web 2.0 applications. I have also set up blogs to share my views about ICT uses in the classroom.

As part of my teaching, I make use of blogging to give students an experience of what it means to be authoring content on the Internet and what are the necessary rules/protocols they have to keep in mind as digital citizens. I also make use of blogging in the classroom to create whole-class resources for a specific unit of work. Finally, I have my own subject blog that I maintain regularly: AIA DRAMA BLOG

I have always been a reflective teacher. I am the type of teacher that constantly reflects on his practice, finding ways to improve and develop my skills as an educator. Sometimes, that can be rather taxing, and it can be a source of stress. Other times, it has driven me to grow and develop as a teacher.

I have been lurking on social media like Twitter (@moash245) for a while now, just following websites such as: Edutopia, WeAreTeachers and Web 2.0 Classroom, and retweeting good articles and resources. I have come across a huge range of resources that have contributed greatly to my professional development. I am now more confident to start sharing my reflections with the world, in my quest to become a more connected educator. I have learnt a lot through my teaching experience, and I still have a lot more to learn. I would like to share my experiences with others and invite their views, perspectives, advice and ideas. That is why I have decided to transfer my reflections from a private journal that no one else sees, to a blog that is visible to the world and that allows other educators to pitch in and help me grow and learn more.