Teaching is hard; teaching while taking grad school classes is even harder. But I like to look on the bright side of things. Reflecting on all the grad school readings I’ve done this semester, I can say that there is at least one idea that I’ve taken directly from one of the texts we’ve read and implemented in my classroom.
Kylene Beers, in When Kids Can’t Read, What Teachers Can Do (perhaps the single best ELA teaching resource) calls it the “ding-a-ling” bell (I call it the Respect Bell). This is a rather funny name for a classroom bell, especially given the lewd connotation of ding-a-ling (but I won’t argue with Beers because she’s a genius).
So what is the “ding-a-ling”/”Respect Bell” and what is its purpose?
The idea is simple and two-fold: first, raise students’ awareness of what they are doing and saying; second, use the (annoying) aural stimulus of a ringing bell as a classroom management tool. Here’s my step-by-step Respect Bell implementation guide:
- Buy a simple hotel call bell and place it in your classroom. This simple $5 call bell from Staples does wonders.
- In a mini-lesson on classroom culture, introduce the bell to your class (wait for the bemused faces and the restaurant waiter jokes).
- State that you will ring the bell every time a person does or says something inappropriate, off-task, or disrespectful.
- Offer some vague positive incentive system, whereby an entire period spent without needing to ring the bell qualifies students for vague prize #1 and an entire week spent without a ding sound equals vague prize #2 (mention that #2 is super special!).
- RING AWAY!
If you, like me, have a classroom that is, at times, out of control, sticking to your stated rules creates an instant environment of harmonious bell-ringing. If you, like me, think that the call bell sound is one of the most obnoxious sounds in the world (hence, my constant hesitance to ever ring a call bell when I see one), you will realize how the Respect Bell can change behaviors.
At first, students thought I was a clown. Some giggled. Some thought it was downright hilarious. But, as the constant cursing and putting down continued amongst the students, the once-gentle sound of the bell became harsh and piercing. In turn, students complained. They protested against the sound. They insisted, pleaded, begged that I stop. But I wouldn’t–at least until they, themselves, stopped saying or doing disrespectful things. Surprisingly, my decision to hold my ground led students to police each other in a positive way. They told each other to quiet down, to stop using profanity and to focus in on the lesson. For a moment, I had a class that was completely silent and on-task!
Although I “wasted” some time in order to introduce the Respect Bell, I am confident that it is an effective, worthy classroom management tool. Most fundamentally, the bell increased student awareness of poor behavior using a distinct, almost Pavlovian, method. It was also easy to implement. I invested a mere $5 to set this system up.
But I think there is one more set of evidence that adds support to the idea that the Respect Bell is working: I’ve had two bells stolen in the last week. Some kleptomaniac student from 2nd period swiped my first bell and then, today, the replacement that I bought yesterday. Given that I have had nothing stolen from me since I’ve started teaching, the fact that 2 identical items have been stolen in one week tells me that there are at least some students who hate the sound of the bell and will do anything to stop it.
I can understand how the Respect Bell might truly be annoying. There are some students who seem close to deaf anyways, so the obstinacy of a select few can ruin the hearing of the rest of the class. On balance, however, I’ve noticed that the Bell’s presence in the classroom enhances the culture. When I am away from the cart on which my bell is located, the students closest to the bell ring it for me when another student says something inappropriate. Ironically, the students seem to respect the Respect Bell!
In terms of solving the problem of the missing bell, well, I won’t give in. The student who swiped my bell probably thought s/he was so clever. We learned about imagery today, so I can picture this student creating his/her own mental picture of Mr. K sobbing, at the end of the day, as he picks up the hundred candy wrappers that litter the classroom and recalibrates the desk arrangement. Little does this student thief know that I went out this evening and bought my 3rd call bell. Little does s/he know, too, that I’m going to baffle him by bringing in the bell tomorrow and pretend that nothing has happened. Little does s/he know that I am contemplating super-glueing my bell to the rolling cart, to stymie this thief’s likely attempt to dispossess me of my precious Respect Bell tomorrow.
Third time should be a charm (although, if #3 gets stolen, well, I’ll try #4 too).
For all the teachers out there, especially the first-year ones, I’d suggest you shell out $5 and start tapping away at your bell in class.