A gag for the chatterbox;Friday's Child

29th January 1999 at 00:00
Serena is anything but serene. To say she talks a lot is like saying that Bill Clinton likes women. The girl is a compulsive chatterer.

While in 10 years' time she might be seen as a bubbly asset to any cocktail party, at the moment she's a liability in a classroom of 26 other 15-year-olds who all have things to say.

She seems determined to relate everything that comes up in class to her own experience. Take last week's drama class, when pupils were given a scenario to improvise. The theme was conflicts with parents, and each group had 15 minutes to devise a piece. From across the room, the teacher could hear Serena dominating her group, talking about a recent row she'd had with her father about going to a party on a school night.

When the teacher intervened after a few minutes, steering the group back on task and encouraging the others to take an active part in the process, Serena stopped rabbiting and actually seemed to be listening to the others. But only momentarily. Once the teacher had moved off, she was back at it, leaving her group with only a couple of minutes to cobble a scene together.

In whole-class discussions, too, she manages to take centre stage at every opportunity. Discussing a poem in English about loss, her teacher found Serena zooming in to describe her feelings on the death of her grand-father. It was interesting to begin with. Articulate and expressive, she cleverly angled her introduction to make it appear relevant. But after a few minutes she drifted to the anecdotal. Across the room, eyes began to roll heavenwards as she came to sound more and more like an Alan Bennett monologue.

In the staffroom, Serena is a frequent topic of conversation and source of mutual commiseration. Teachers swap notes on such things as how she managed to insert the subject of her new boyfriend's dad's new car into a humanities lesson. What, they ask each other, is her problem?

If they scratched the surface, they might discover that she's an only child and her divorced mother has just taken on a new, demanding job. Serena's monologues could be long-winded cries for attention.

But identifying the problem isn't enough. Good classroom management entails finding a modus operandi for dealing with her benign but irritating disruptions. While some of her teachers are resigned to letting her blather on, a couple have found themselves losing their temper or becoming sarcastic. Neither response is constructive. What they need is to work out strategies that allow her to say what she needs to say but in a controlled, structured way, possibly with the help of the school counsellor. The bottom line is much more direct, but positive, intervention.

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