Illegal Word Bursts
By Chick Moorman
Third grade teacher Mary Fullenwider had a problem. Not
a life or death problem. Not a critical problem. Not even a new problem.
Just a nagging, reoccurring, frustrating problem. Her problem was that
she had a handful of eight-year-old students who repeatedly interrupted
class discussions by blurting out spontaneous comments.
Her students weren't attention-seeking youngsters whose
comments were rude, humorous, or disrespectful. In fact, their intentions
were positive: to share a thought or ask a question about the topic
under discussion. It was just that these students spoke up without being
called on, disrupting the flow of conversation and frustrating other
students who were waiting patiently with their hands up.
Mary tried talking to the entire class about the problem
and asking for their cooperation. The problem persisted. She attempted
to ignore the outbursts. Only a minor improvement resulted. Finally
she decided to go to plan C.
"I decided to confront the behavior every time I heard
it," she said. "I designed a confrontation message that identified the
student and the behavior, made it clear that the behavior violated our
classroom procedures, and described the behavior that was appropriate.
"I knew I had to be consistent or it wouldn't work. I
memorized the statement so I would be ready to use it exactly as I intended.
When Roland interrupted the next morning, I immediately implemented
"'Roland, that is an Illegal Word Burst," I said. 'It
doesn't match our picture of polite conversation. In our class we raise
our hands and wait to be called on. That way, we have time to think
before we speak, and everyone has the same opportunity to share."
Roland sat there a bit stunned. He wasn't sure what to
do, but he didn't interrupt again until midway through the afternoon.
Then I gave him my confrontation message again, almost word for word
as I had said it earlier that morning. Same result.
Now, only a few weeks into the school year, Roland and
two of his classmates have made considerable progress in remembering
to raise their hands. They know what is expected in this third-grade
classroom and realize their only hope of sharing in class is to follow
Mary's confrontation message worked because she was constant
with it. She used it every time she heard an Illegal Word Burst. No
exceptions. Her students quickly got the message that this issue mattered
to their teacher. Because of her consistency and determination, their
behavior changed to match her expectations.
Chick Moorman is the author of "Spirit
Whisperers: Teachers Who Nourish A Child's Spirit." He also publishes
a FREE email newsletter for parents and another for educators. Subscribe
to them when you visit www.chickmoorman.com.
Chick Moorman is one of the world's foremost authorities on raising
responsible, caring, confident children. For more information about
how he can help you or your group meet your teaching needs, visit his