Friday, September 2, 2011

Clap on "um"

When I was teaching at Wasatch I would often get nervous in front of my students.  When I wasn't sure exactly what I was going to say I would have the feeling that I needed to fill every second with noise so they wouldn't notice I was struggling with the content.  This leads to saying "Um".  Lots of people do it.  I would be saying um while thinking of the next item of information to fill the silence; and I didn't notice I was doing it.  As long as there was sound we were good.  Well my lovely students kept track of how many times I said "um".  And it was embarrassing.  They didn't tell me they were doing it, but they gave me the tally sheet at the end of a week as a gift.   A cruel, cruel, gift.  But one that needed to be given.

I decided that just like Pavlov's dogs I could be trained.  I told those students that I needed their help to break this habit.  I had them clap, one single clap, every time I said um.  They listened to me like phone tappers listening for bomb threats and would catch every little um.  They probably would have clapped if geography had every lent itself to using the word "umbrella".  I hope they listened to the other words I was saying and they didn't just listen for the um's in between.  But I'd say overall it was a success.  I was thinking about the words I was using.  Sure there were some points where it was quiet while I formulated the next sentence but I learned it was ok.

Fast forward to the next school year.  I had moved schools and began teaching a subject I was once again uncomfortable with.  I caught myself using um too often as a crutch and so I told a few of my 8th grade students about the "clap on um" trick to help get myself on track.  Just like the first time it worked like a charm.  Today, one of those students, who has the extreme luck to be in my 9th grade class this year, caught me saying um and out of the blue, clapped.  The first time I heard it I didn't understand what was going on.  A little later I said it again and she had spread the word to 3 other students to clap.  When all 4 clapped in unison it clicked what was going on.  And I'm proud to say, they didn't get to clap the rest of the period.  Not because I cut their hands off or because I taped their hands together.  But because when you think before you speak, you don't need those verbal crutches.  


Katie Groneman said...

My space filler was, "K... so...". I taught a few of them to say "Cheese" afterward, but it didn't do me as much good as clapping apparently has for you. My repeated phrase was, "Does that make sense?" Way to be a teacher that can change!

Heather said...

Ah...the tongue tied world of school. I keep saying "Does that make sense?" too. I really need to work on that!