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Desisting Moves

Desisting moves carry the message, “Stop what you are doing and shift your at- tention elsewhere,” or “Get with it.” They are most applicable when students are drifting off course. All the moves in this category are ways of telling students that they are doing something we want them to stop doing. Some are subtle, even silent. Others are more up front, out loud, and forceful. Some imply or state spe- cifically what the students should be doing instead. Each can be a constructive way to signal we mean business and to get a student to shift focus or re-engage.

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Table 5.1 identifies a range of desisting moves, ordered from most to least forceful (or authoritative) and gives an example of each. To use these moves most constructively, it is essential that our selection and delivery is aligned with our motive to ensure that students’ attention is focused on what’s im- portant while maintaining a positive feeling tone in the classroom. Hence, we need to apply two guidelines in this category: (1) start small (use the least authoritative or forceful move that will get the job done) and (2) escalate only as necessary, especially with any of the more direct and forceful moves toward the top, to signal that we mean business and deliver the message in a calm but firm tone and ideally privately to save face for the student while constructively re-engaging him.

Videos: “I” Messages (1 & 2), Signals, Private Desist, Gestures, and Private Desists



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Move Sounds or Looks Like 1. Punish, or deliver a consequence

“That will cost you half of recess.” “You will be making up this time and the work this afternoon on your own time.”

2. Exclude, or remove, the student

“Leave the group, Michaela, and come back when you feel you are ready to focus.”

3. Sarcasm Should not be used. See page 50 for more detail.

4. Threaten with a consequence

“Stop it now or leave the group.”

5. Judgmental reprimand “Stop that annoying tapping.”

6. Order “Get back to work now.” “Sit on your hands until you’re absolutely sure you’re not going to touch anyone.”

7. Specific verbal desist Naming the behavior to stop and giving the student the appropriate replacement behavior: “Stop dancing, Jim, and get back to your lab report.”

8. General verbal desist Vaguer language to stop a behavior: “Amanda, cut it out.”

9. Private desist General or specific but spoken to the student privately.

10. Group pressure “Rafael, none of us can leave for gym until you’re with us.” The classmates chime in, “Yeah, Rafael, come on!”

11. Peer competition “John’s ready. Are you, Beth?”

12. Move seat “Jimmy, move over to table four, please.” “You two are such good friends that you will be continuously distracted if I let you sit together.”

13. “I” message

(1) a nonjudgmental description of the behavior, (2) the way it makes you feel, and (3) the tangible effect: “When you are talking in your table groups while I am giving directions, it frustrates me. There are some real challenges to doing this task, and some of you won’t be aware of what to look out for.”

14. Remove distraction Without speaking to her, Mr. Glade walks by Antonia and picks up the object she is playing with. He puts it in his pocket and continues the discussion with the class.

15. Offer choice Observing Antonia playing with the eraser, Mr. Glade says quietly, “Antonia, you can put it away or give it to me.”

16. Urge “C’mon, Jill, let’s get in gear!” or “Okay, let’s settle down and be really good listeners.”

17. Remind “What are you supposed to be doing, Shelly?”

18. Flattery “You’re too conscientious to waste your time this way.” “That kind of behavior is beneath your dignity. You are better than that.”

Table 5.1 Twenty-Four Desisting Moves



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We believe the use of sarcasm is too costly to the overall psychological and emotional climate of the classroom.

Table 5.1 Twenty-Four Desisting Moves (continued)

Desisting Moves to Avoid

A move that can sometimes be seen and heard in today’s classrooms that we believe should not be used is sarcasm. It can be damaging.

Regrettably, some teachers use sarcasm to redirect student attention and it usu- ally does get students’ attention: not only the student to whom it is aimed but to many others in class who may dive for emotional cover when it is delivered, hoping they won’t be the next target. Sarcastic remarks, like these, are intended to mock or deride a student:

p “Did you leave your head at home again, Grant?”

p “Imagine that! Grant is so busy watching what is going on outside that he doesn’t know where we are in the book.”

p “Mackenzie (who is combing her hair and looking in the mirror), your hair is ready for the cover of Seventeen, but I’d rather you were looking at the test tube and what is going on in it.”

Move Sounds or Looks Like

19. Signals

Timer goes off, raised hand and countdown 5-4-3-2-1, music begins to play, or something similar established with the students in advance and used routinely without verbal comment to call all activity and noise to a halt (momentarily or to make a transition). Or, without breaking the flow of talk with one student, the teacher holds up a hand in a “stop” gesture to a third student, signaling him to cease interrupting (or whatever else he’s doing) and perhaps implying by facial expression and body language, “Wait a minute. I’ll be right with you.” Note: bright or flashing lights and buzzing, humming sounds have been associated with triggering epileptic seizures and should therefore not be used as signals.

20. Pause and look Teacher pauses and looks at the child or group until the behavior ceases.

21. Name dropping Dropping a student’s name into the flow of conversation (not to call on the student but for purposes of attention): “Now the next problem—Jess—that we’re going to tackle has some of the same elements—Jess—but the exponents are simpler.”

22. Offer help “How can I help you get started with this, Hilda?”

23. Touch Teacher places a hand gently on the student’s shoulder or some other neutral place— or points to a specific part of the text in front of the student. This may or may not be accompanied by the teacher’s stopping the activity and making eye contact.

24. Proximity Being or moving physically near the student whose attention is wandering or likely to wander.



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Table 5.2 Thirteen Alerting Moves

Move Sounds or Looks Like 1. Startle Doing something out of the ordinary or surprising to capture attention. Noticing that

attention is wandering as a group listens to a recording, the teacher abruptly hits the Stop button and pops a question: “Why do you suppose Jefferson felt that way about Hamilton?”

2. Using student’s name in instructional example

“President Kiesha Royston sits impeached and convicted. Who then would become president? And we thought life was tough under Kiesha! Now Vice President Christiane Baker becomes president. It’s time to pack our bags and move to Canada!”

3. Redirecting partial answer

Wendy has begun to answer, and you say: “Take it from there, Andrew. How would you finish what Wendy is saying?”

4. Prealert “That’s right. Take the next one, Dwayne. Check him, Holly, and be ready to step in if he calls for assistance.” (This is aimed at keeping Holly on her toes.)

5. Unison “6 times 6 is—Jane? That’s right. 8 times 8 is—everybody?” The goal is to get all students to respond at once; other versions include students responding to questions or problems on individual whiteboards that they hold up all at once (see dipsticking in Chapter 11, “Clarity” for more ways to do this).

6. Looking at one, talking to another

Looking at Royce, who is distracted and inattentive in the moment, the teacher says, “Antonia, give us an example of—” (This lasts but a moment.)

7. Incomplete sentences

“. . . and so, as we all know, the thing that we put at the end of a sentence is a—” This might be accompanied by open hands and raised eyebrows at the group or hand gestures encouraging someone to respond.

8. Equal opportunity The teacher establishes some sort of system (calling sticks or name cards, for example) so that students know they will each be called on sooner or later, and perhaps at any time. Students also know that they’re not off the hook once they are called on and could be called on again at any time.

9. Random order Students are called on out of sequence of their seating p

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