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About Rick Morris...
Award-winning, Mentor Emeritus Rick Morris is a recognized specialist in the field of classroom management and student motivation. In the words of David Smollar, staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, "Morris is well known for the enthusiasm and creativity he brings to teaching."

A gifted speaker with a proven talent for motivating educators of all ages, Rick Morris' up-beat, on-target workshop will inspire the teachers at your school to incorporate his exciting, innovative management tools into their classrooms on a daily basis. Discover why so many educators are saying, "New Management works!"

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Celebrate 100 Days in your classroom. Stay on top of a stream of ideas and share experiences with other K-6 teachers around the world. 100 Days is a classroom theme made popular through the Joan Holub bestseller "100 Days." Click for more details on 100 Days.
 
Teacher Feature...
Confessions of a Former Echoer
by Rick Morris (special to the Gazette)

Let me tell you about a bad thing I used to be good at. I used to echo, or repeat student responses during lessons and discussions. Here's an example of a teacher-who shall remain anonymous-engaged in the age-old art of echoing.

Teacher:
What are the three things plants need in order to grow?

Student:
Water?

Teacher:
That's right! Water. I'm glad you knew that. You must know a lot about plants. Now then, what else do they need besides water?

Student:
They need sunlight.

Teacher:
Yes! Sunlight. Sunlight is very important for plants as they grow. Good job! Now, who knows the third one?"

You can imagine the rest.

The practice of echoing has been around for as long as I can remember and has become, through teacher training, modeling, and repetitive use, an accepted component of classroom dialogues. Echoing student responses, an almost automatic reflex, was one of the unquestioned principles of effective teaching.

My own experience with echoing, other than the subliminal conditioning I had received as a student, began early in my career. At the beginning of my third year of teaching, I volunteered to participate in a training program based upon Good and Brophy's seminal study, "Equal Opportunities in the Classroom." Their findings were broken down into fifteen strands, one of which dealt with echoing student responses.

The motivation for echoing was two-fold: it was a way to validate and confirm what had just been shared and it ensured that comments from softly speaking students were being heard by students in the back of the room. Good teacher that I wanted to be, I learned how to echo.

Twenty years later, I've come to view echoing as a bad habit with some harmful consequences. Long-term echoing will result in 1) too much talking by the teacher, 2) poor listening skills on the part of the students, and 3) a learning environment that does not actively develop the students' oral language abilities.

According to the research, 80% of the talking done in the elementary classroom is done by the teacher which, as you can image, can be problematic. A learning environment dominated by the teacher's voice does little to promote a sense of student involvement. Echoing only compounds this problem. The cumulative effect of my own statements coupled with the repetition of student responses will produce a verbal overload. (Actually, if I'm not careful, overuse of my voice will cause it to become almost invisible to my students.)

By not echoing, I will dramatically reduce the degree to which my words fill the air. Gone also are the follow-up words of praise. Not that I'm advocating that we withhold verbal appreciation and confirmation mind you, it's just that you can get by quite well with less. A simple word of thanks or recognition will suffice. Take a look at this hypothetical exchange during a social studies lesson.

Teacher:
Who can name an important tool used by the pioneers as they crossed the prairie on the way to Oregon?

Student:
The covered wagon?

Teacher:
That's right, Amanda! The covered wagon was an important tool for the pioneers. Good job. You really know your stuff.

That's a lot of teacher talk for one answer. Why not just accept her statement and move on so that you can hear from other students? Simpler responses might be:

Thank you, or
That's a good point, or
Anyone else agree with that?

These kinds of responses, I feel, are superior to all of the gushing. (And besides, who wants to have to think of some meaningful, sincere reply for each student's comment?) In the sample above, I'd let Amanda's own words be the ringing endorsement of her acumen in social studies. And, by keeping my responses short, I'll be able to hear from many more students. Let's try that same social studies interaction without the echoing.


Teacher:
Who can name an important tool used by the pioneers as they crossed the prairie on the way to Oregon?

Student:
The covered wagon?

Teacher:
Thank you. Anyone else?

Student:
Rifles.

Teacher:
Yes.

Student:
Shovels.

Teacher:
Shovels?

Student:
Yeah, shovels. For digging wagons out of the mud.


It's amazing what I hear from my students when I put more emphasis on what they say and less on how I'm going to respond to their comments.

More than just the negative impact of the teacher talking too much is the collateral damage to students' listening skills. Although students can often be fountains of knowledge during discussions, they eventually learn to tune out most comments made by classmates. It's a learned behavior. Their experience has shown them that if a student comment is important, Echo Man will repeat it for everyone's benefit; thus, there's really no need to listen to other students in the first place. As you can well image, this subtle display of disrespect is not conducive to an effective learning environment. I think I can safely speak out for all teachers and state that students need to be attentive and truly listen to each other.

Let me offer one final thought about the counterproductive effects of echoing and then we'll move on to a workable solution.

Echoing does nothing to improve the speaking skills of students. (Note: I'm mainly referring to volume and projection. If you are working with students who have limited English proficiency, echoing and rephrasing student comments are fundamental components of language acquisition.) Students who do not speak loudly enough for everyone to hear never learn to project their voices. For them, Echo Man is really Mr. Microphone who, through the increased decibel level of his voice, will broadcast their words. What, then, is the incentive for these students to speak up? That's right; there isn't any.

Due to Mr. Microphone's thoroughly predictable parroting, soft speakers remain soft speakers, which, in its own circular way, reinforces the need to echo, the degree of talking done by the teacher, and the poor listening skills of the students.

What's a concerned educator to do? Try my solution: I stopped echoing. Period. Cold turkey. I quit.

I announced to my students that, henceforth, I was not going to repeat their comments. Reassurance was given that, although I appreciated their thoughts and insights, I was going to reduce the amount of unnecessary talking I did. (Poll your own students. I think you'll find that they won't mind not hearing from you quite so much.)

It was tough at first to stop the instinctive echo reflex; but, by the third week, it became more natural to just nod my head or offer a simple word of thanks. The students, after an initial adjustment period, adapted quite well. They enjoyed the opportunity to speak more.

What proved to be a bit more difficult was trying to reinstill positive listening skills. Since the soft speakers not yet learned to project, many comments were not loud enough to be heard by the majority of students. In order to maintain my non-echo pledge, I introduced a remarkably simple, yet incredibly effect technique which I use to this day.

The procedure I introduced to my students was this:

If you didn't hear what a student just said, say "Echo." The student who had just spoken will then repeat his comments. It's as simple and as complex as that. By making students accountable for what other students were saying, attentiveness and listening skills increased dramatically. And, by having the student echo his own comments, the speaker gained the desired respect and validation.

Granted, it will take a bit of time for your students to adjust to the new echo philosophy; but, given time, adjust they will. Before too long, you'll experience how wonderful it is when a student makes a comment and then turns to repeat it because another student called out, "Echo." (I just sit back and marvel at this student-to-student dialogue.) You won't believe the positive change in your room if you'll only stop your echoing and encourage the students to do it for you.

Sooner than you thought possible, you'll have a classroom full of students who not only listen to each other but speak in a distinct, easy-to-hear fashion.

 

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