TECHNIQUE #28: Brighten Lines
An alternative title for this post might be ‘Hand Jive’. Brighten Lines is all about normalizing snapping, slapping, hand raising, pencil smacking, and yes, Rock, Paper, Scissors to focus and shift attention from one task to another. #28 reads: ‘Ensure that changes in activities and other mileposts are perceived clearly by making beginnings and endings of activities visible and crisp.’¹ On the anecdotal side, my first day ‘ever’, I watched as a 5th grade classroom teacher, Ms. L, swiftly initiated an activity calling out, “Chicka, Chicka…” and the sea of learners promptly called back with, “Boom, Boom”; and there was silence. I was mesmerized. I have never seen a teacher control attention in such a subtle and “unique to the group” manner. Ms. L, clearly, has established this rapport with her students and the professional command that she has with her students, not over, is exemplary. Call and response habits established by teachers and used consistently in the classroom seem more and more attractive to me. However, they can and do, devolve quickly if not implemented efficiently.
Before I briefly outline specific phrases, routines and formats for Brighten Lines, let’s take a look at the adults learning how to use the technique. Uncommon Schools advertises their professional development workshops as: ‘Training the Trainer’ Teaching the teacher is not necessarily the easiest crowd to engage. I thought this footage was a hoot, but it demonstrates how well Brighten Lines can be done, crisply or softly…it’s not always about making lots of noise. I also enjoyed watching a group of teachers really enjoying themselves “snap to it”, (quiet snapping in lieu of loud clapping).
Teach Like a Champion 2.0¹ outlines three types of tactics for Brighten Lines:
- Clean Finish
- Clean Start
- Interactive Lines
Clean Start: Shifting to a new activity on a cue. “Okay scholars. You have 3 minutes to write a response. Ready? Go!“. Here, we are encouraged to begin new tasks with something that “pops”; creating the illusion of “On your marks, set, go”; designating a special event and keep everyone from jumping ahead or malingering behind. Inversely, (and I like this suggestion) you can set the tone for the activity by lowering your voice. If the task at hand is a reflective written response, (as opposed to solving 5 math equations), introduce the prompt, in a slower cadence, using pauses and whispers. Here’s an example TLAC¹ prompt: “Ah, fascinating question: Just who is the hero of this book? [Pause]. You have 3 minutes to reflect in writing [Pause] Who is the hero, and how do you know? [Whisper] Begin.” Engaging in different styles of tone and inflection can set the pace for a race or a journey; either way, you’re still only allotting 3 minutes for Independent Practice (IP).
Clean Finish: This is not intended as an Exit Ticket nor to signal the end of class. As a critical skill toward more efficient time management in the classroom, this can bring students attention reliably back into focus, away from IP tasks and onto the next. Ending a task on cue informs students that 3 minutes means 3 minutes. I can’t believe I went almost a decade in the classroom without the use of a timer/online stopwatch. Simply by using a timer, students cue to a sound, (saving valuable time in the classroom by not having to verbally explain that time is up) and, mentally begin to switch to the next task at hand. If you’re not a fan of a buzzer or alarm sound, other techniques abound. I’ve observed a very effective use of chime bells, manually, softly gonged, marking a need to transition and then 2 minutes later,chimed again, at the end of a station rotation in a Reading classroom. The students in this classroom are conditioned, consistently to adapt, mentally to end the task they are working on and transition. In my experience, at times, the stopwatch can create anxiety for students, not unlike the feeling the Salvador Dalí’s time piece paintings elicit; over time, however, it can become a normalized part of the classroom routine. TLAC offers up: “I’ll need pencils down in 2o seconds. Finish last thoughts”, “Pencils down, (wait for pencil on desk slapping sound), Eyes up.“, establish 3 hand claps, pause, students echo the claps, or, devise your own. The importance is to join the group, collectively, quickly, from a”universally” understood cue, with as little narration as possible. This reminds me of “Times Up!” from the television show, ‘Chopped’.
Interactive Lines: Students participate in marking the latitudes between activities on an established classroom cue by the teacher. This is where I envision dissension among the ranks, or an invitation to exaggerated behavior. The theory behind Interactive Lines is that student buy into the transition process, that interactive experience (kinetically or tactile) draws the focus onto something new. For example: The teacher says, “Ready, set…”, students add: “Go!”, Teacher: “Three, two, one…”, students chant: “Done!”, teacher: “And in 5, 4, 3, 2,..”, students slap pencils on desk and everyone raises their hand. Best of all their is ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors‘, as you can see in the video clip below. Teacher, Bryan Belanger has exceptional control over the use of Brighten Lines; he has obviously worked toward establishing a consistent, “universal” routine with his classroom. I’m quite impressed.
I can’t stress enough the need for “normalization” of these types of routines and techniques in the classroom. Classroom observations of teachers who utilize strategies similar to Brighten Lines have established a very unique rapport with their students. I believe that correct implementation and facilitation of these strategies can create a solid academic and social cohesiveness within classrooms; not unlike sports teams, social clubs other organized groups; at the younger the grade level, even akin to a secret tree house handshake or code.