Editorial - Rejoice in the sound of silence

13th December 2013 at 00:00

Paul Simon may well be America's greatest living storyteller, but he's useless when it comes to numeracy. In his song 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, rather than the 50 ways promised (and eagerly anticipated by the world's adulterers), Simon lazily delivers only five: slip out the back; make a new plan; don't be coy; hop on the bus; and drop off the key.

As much as I would like to spend the rest of this column taking Simon to task for this error (is it any wonder the US struggles in Pisa when its cultural icons come unstuck in this way?), I know, being a fan of his work, that it's unlikely he'll be reading: he doesn't much approve of education. "When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school," he once sang, "it's a wonder I can think at all."

It may have seemed like "crap" back then, Paul, but paying attention could have saved you from looking very silly now. You may be able to think, but a little more attention would have ensured that you could count, too.

Rest assured that when it comes to our own numerical offering of 35 ways to keep a class quiet, all are present and correct. Not only that but we have harvested the best tips from around the world to make sure that the strategies on offer are superior to the advice in Simon's song (I fail to see, for example, how getting on a bus would indicate to your lover that the affair was over, unless it had "Make your marriage work" on the destination board and they happened to be watching).

So what are teachers doing when the kids get rowdy? What techniques for nixing noise and destroying disruption have our global group of educators offered up to help you? Well, there's a storytelling educator in Japan, a singing South Korean, a Star Trek-loving American, a game-playing New Zealander and a London teacher who excels in effective use of "the stare". There's a riddle writer in El Salvador, a guitar player in Hong Kong and a whispering Australian. There's even a magic necklace in South Africa.

The diversity of this collection of control mechanisms is best demonstrated by comparing a teacher in Grenoble, France, with one in kersberga, Sweden. The former shouts the surname of the offending student, shocking them into acquiescence. The latter takes a more minimalist Scandinavian approach: she waits in silence, and apparently the children follow suit.

My favourite, though, is a teacher in Thailand who uses a singing egg timer. Quite how she came to find that this method was effective, we will never know. But the fact that she did - indeed, the fact that there are so many different and imaginative strategies on the list - is testament to how innovative teachers can be in their quest for a few quiet minutes to ease a heavy hangover. I jest, of course. At this time of year, with Christmas parties galore, you'll probably be needing more than a few minutes.



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